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15 Amazing Recreational Lakes near Ellensburg, WA

Ellensburg is perfectly located to access a wide variety of lakes and reservoirs in Washington. The choice here is diverse - anything from small cozy fishing holes to full-on recreational reservoirs with no limits.
ItIsWild.com Best Lakes near Ellensburg

Ellensburg is perfectly located to access a wide variety of lakes and reservoirs. The selection here is huge, and some of the choices are truly unique.

For example, Soap Lake is a high-salinity lake with excellent recreational opportunities but hardly any fish. Quincy Lakes are glacier-carved potholes offering gorgeous views and distinctive geology.

Columbia River and Yakima River reservoirs are best for wakeboarding, windsurfing, and pulling tubes. But there are also small cozy lakes, perfect for quiet days fishing.

In other words, whatever your hobby, there are plenty of options here. Check out what Ellensburg has to offer!

Lakes near Ellensburg:

  1. Irene Rinehart Park
  2. Mattoon Lake
  3. Fiorito Ponds
  4. McCabe Pond
  5. Lake Wanapum
  6. Caliche Lakes
  7. Quincy Lakes
  8. Soap Lake
  9. Lenore Lake
  10. Priest Rapids Lake
  11. Moses Lake
  12. Potholes Reservoir
  13. Cle Elum Lake
  14. Kachess Lake
  15. Lake Easton
Lakes near Ellensburg Washington Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park

  • Website: Irene Rinehart Park
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 3 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics

A short distance west of downtown Ellensburg, Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park is a popular recreation spot along the east bank of the Yakima River. 

The 117-acre park includes pathways along the forested riverbank with seasonal wildflowers, picnic areas, and fields for sports and exercise. 

The city first sought to acquire this site in 1972. Opened to the public in 1986, the community has embraced this park as its “backyard,” naming it in honor of a city council member who was a very strong champion of public parks. 

A boat launch sits at the northern end of the park, near an off-leash area where people bring their dogs. 

Two small ponds within the park are available for swimming from mid-May through mid-September.

The rest of the year, the ponds are open for fishing. Anglers also fish along the Yakima River year-round. 

Locals sometimes refer to these small bodies of water that were once gravel pits as Carey Ponds, Carey Lakes, or People’s Ponds. Fishing in this area is a popular activity, with steelhead one of the many fish anglers will see.

Related: 8 Best Hiking Trails near Ellensburg, WA

2. Mattoon Lake

A small Lake in western Washington in winter
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Mattoon Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 3 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

A short distance south of downtown, Mattoon Lake is a 26-acre reservoir that formed within a former gravel pit. 

With Interstate 90 curving along the southern and western ends of the lake and Wilson Creek to the east, this artificial lake follows the contours of nearby landmarks rather than a natural form. 

A parking area, simple dock, and launch connected by a gravel road sit along the lake’s north and northwestern corners. 

Boats without gas engines may launch into the lake. Very little native vegetation remains, and the artificial lake does not provide a habitat similar to what native fish would have had prior to urbanization. 

No campsites are available. 

Despite the lack of a natural environment immediately around Mattoon Lake, anglers report success in catching rainbow trout, common carp, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, and bluegill. 

3. Fiorito Ponds

A lake in washington state on a sunny day
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Fiorito Ponds
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 6 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

The two Fiorito Ponds are a six-mile drive southeast of town. Sometimes spelled “Fio Rito,” these two lakes are alongside the same Wilson Creek that meanders along Mattoon Lake. 

A simple gravel road with a street sign announcing “Public Fishing” is the only way people unfamiliar with the area would know how to get to these ponds. This road offers access to very simple launch areas for boats that do not use fuel engines. 

Both ponds are open year-round, but no other on-site facilities exist. Fiorito North covers nearly 38 surface acres. Public access is available on the north and west sides of the northern lake. 

Fiorito South has 23 acres and is separated from its northern neighbor by a very narrow isthmus, and has an access point on its northwestern corner.

A variety of fish are found at the Fiorito Ponds. These include common carp, pumpkinseed sunfish, largescale sucker, black crappie, yellow perch, and largemouth bass. 

4. McCabe Pond

helen mccabe pond in washington
Source: unsplash
  • Website: McCabe Pond
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 6 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnics

Six miles south of Ellensburg and less than two miles south of the Fiorito Ponds, McCabe Pond sits within the center of Helen McCabe State Park

Conveniently located near the Thrall Road exit along Interstate 82, the close proximity this park has to both Fiorito Ponds allows convenient access between these fishing areas. 

Boats are permitted on McCabe Pond as long as they are self-propelled and do not have an electric or gasoline motor. Kayaks and canoes are also permitted on this body of water.

The 6.7-acre lake at the Helen McCabe State Park wayside has a gravel parking area. 

Well-stocked with rainbow trout and jumbo trout, McCabe Pond also serves as a home for channel catfish and pumpkinseed sunfish. 

Related: 8 Best Hiking Trails near Ellensburg, WA

5. Lake Wanapum

Wanapum Lake on Columbia River near Yakima Washington
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake Wanapum
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 29 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Windsurfing, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Lake Wanapum is the bigger cousin of Priest Rapids Lake (#10). It’s a Columbia River impoundment that stretches from Wanapum Dam to Rock Island Dam, covering 14,975 acres.

Like its smaller relative downstream, Lake Wanapum is managed by GrantPUD, which offers dozens of parks and recreational areas. There is no shortage of beaches, boat ramps, and campgrounds.

Yet, one place that stands out is Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park near Vantage. It’s not just an ideal lake destination but also a highly-regarded natural area with Wanapum Petroglyphs and fossils. 

Several trails in the park offer incredible views of the river canyon and are teeming with wildlife.

Another cool location is the Sand Bar. If you’re into boating, sand beaches, and partying, you’d love it here. It’s a boat-in-only spot that’s buzzing on summer weekends.

What’s more, Wanapum Lake offers a fully-fledged resort with swimming pools, restaurants, and golf courses – it’s not as wild as it seems. The Crescent Bar provides all that, plus RV parks, beaches, and condos.

6. Caliche Lakes

Lakes ponds and hills
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Caliche Lakes
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 38 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Picnics

Located 38 miles east of the city, a drive to the two Caliche Lakes requires a trip along Interstate 90 across the Columbia River. 

Fish and wildlife authorities rehabilitated the 7.3-acre Upper Caliche Lake in 2010 to restore the prominence of rainbow trout and remove invasive species. 

Lower Caliche Lake – separated from its sibling by an isthmus less than 100 feet wide – is also accessible for day use but does not have a dedicated launch site. 

Although the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife permits camping by these lakes, no basic facilities exist.

An unimproved boat launch sits along the western tip of the Upper Caliche Lake, the slightly larger of the two lakes. 

While access is available year-round, the grounds alongside the lakes are closed to prevent the entry of vehicles from October until mid-April after the access gate is locked. 

Walk-in lake access is possible, but the grounds usually remain unused during the colder winter months. Fish found in the Caliche Lakes include rainbow trout, walleye, and mottled sculpin.

7. Quincy Lakes

Quincy Lakes in Washington
Ancient Lake – Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Quincy Lakes
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 52 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping, Picnics

A drive 52 miles northeast of Ellensburg that takes travelers past the Caliche Lakes allows them to experience the remote, rugged areas of the 17,511-acre Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area. 

Although the route passes many agricultural fields, much of this region is arid and sandy, with far fewer trees than found farther west.

The isolated mesas, box canyons, and basalt cliffs of the Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area also include large “pothole” formations that are filled with water that seeps from farmland in the Quincy Basin. 

Fishing seasons may limit vehicle access during colder months, though some persistent anglers may do walk-ins or go around the gates.

A number of these pothole lakes have a shape that somewhat resembles the Finger Lakes in New York, yet in a drier, less-populated area with a northwest-to-southeast orientation. 

Stan Coffin Lake, the northernmost lake, is 52.8 acres and supports bluegill, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. 

Quincy Lake occupies 54.4 acres immediately south of Coffin Lake. In season, fly-fishing is popular in Quincy Lake among those fishing for trout.

Burke Lake is south of Quincy Lake, with brown bullhead and black crappie in its 69.3-acre waters. 

The largest of the Finger Lake-like bodies is the 247.5-acre Evergreen Lake, a place to cast a line for bluegill, black crappie, tiger muskie, bass, perch, and walleye. Other smaller lakes exist.

Related: 8 Best Hiking Trails near Ellensburg, WA

8. Soap Lake

Source: wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Website: Soap Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 70 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Picnics

Soap Lake is slightly more than 70 miles northeast of Ellensburg. With the municipality of Soap anchoring its southern end, Soap Lake is incredibly different from many other lakes in the region. 

Its water layers generally do not intermix; also, Soap Lake has high buoyancy, similar to the Dead Sea, due to its mineral-rich nature. Ample lakeside parking and access are available along the east side of Soap Lake.

With its high alkalinity, the 1,028-acre Soap Lake supports few fish specimens due to the amount of minerals in the water. 

Publications for tourists a century ago touted this lake’s value as the “world’s greatest mineral sea.” Today, scientists believe the salinity of this lake resembles that found on Jupiter’s moons.

9. Lenore Lake

Panorama near Lenore Lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lenore Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 77 miles (1h 25min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Picnics

Lenore Lake sits 77 miles northeast of the downtown and approximately seven miles north of Soap Lake. It’s frequently called “Lake Lenore” by locals. 

Similar to Soap Lake, this 1,406-acre body of water also has highly-alkaline waters. With few amenities other than easy lake access from the road that passes by on the east side, fishing is the primary recreation activity at Lenore Lake

Warmer seasons bring many anglers with their trailers. This allows them to get their boat to Lenore Lake. 

Canoes, kayaks, and other vessels are also visible during summer. Although gas-powered motorboats are prohibited, vessels with electric engines are acceptable. 

The most popular catch in this lake is one of the few fish species that can handle the presence of minerals in the water. 

Lahontan cutthroat trout is stocked here as one of the only trout species that can handle that water’s salinity. 

10. Priest Rapids Lake

Priest Rapids Lake on Columbia River near Yakima Washington
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Priest Rapids Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 50 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Windsurfing, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Priest Rapids Lake is a 7,725-acre impoundment of Columbia River, between Priest Rapids Dam and Wanapum Dam. It’s a large reservoir with excellent facilities and no limits on water recreation.

The lake is managed by GrantPUD, which operates several recreational areas along the reservoir. The biggest and most versatile is Priest Rapids Recreational Area which offers a fantastic boat ramp, campgrounds, and a designated swimming area.

Like most lakes on the Columbia River, Priest Rapids doesn’t have many restrictions. You will see folks wakeboard, pull tubes, and zoom up and down on jet skis. Also, the Columbia River is notorious for its winds, making sailing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing popular here.

Another spot you don’t want to miss is the highly-rated Wanapum Heritage Center near Priest Rapids Dam. It’s free to visit and provides a glimpse into the culture and history of Wanapum Native Americans.

When it comes to fishing, Priest Rapids Lake is excellent and unique. It’s an outstanding chinook and sockeye salmon fishery. And it also offers warm-water fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, and northern pikeminnow, not to mention a typical panfish selection.

What’s more, it’s a well-known white sturgeon fishery, too. Since the early 2000s, these fish were planted, and because sturgeon never stops growing, some reached incredible sizes – 11 feet and more.

Related: 8 Best Hiking Trails near Ellensburg, WA

11. Moses Lake

Moses Lake in Washington
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Moses Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 69 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Camping, Picnics

Moses Lake is located nearly 70 miles east of Ellensburg. This 6,727-acre body of water borders the city of Moses Lake, the largest municipality in Grant County. 

The lake is named in honor of Chief Moses, a 19th-century leader of the local Sinkiuse (sometimes called Kowalchina) tribe. 

Originally much smaller, the lake grew in volume and surface area after the construction of a dam that impounded part of Crab Creek, a Columbia River tributary.

Moses Lake is a year-round fishing destination. On occasion, the lake freezes over, offering an opportunity for ice fishing near Blue Heron Park, one of two notable parks managed by Moses Lake municipal authorities. 

With 24 developed acres and more than twice that much undeveloped, Blue Heron Park offers a walking trail, a disc golf course, wetland areas, and conservation space. Cascade Park is another recreation venue.

Those who enjoy casting a line to pass the time will not be disappointed in Moses Lake. Walleye, bluegill, black crappie, lake whitefish, yellow perch, and rainbow trout are just a few fish species that live in this lake. 

12. Potholes Reservoir

A large reservoir in central Washington
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Potholes Reservoir
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 69 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics

Nearly 70 miles east of Ellensburg and a short drive from Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir and Potholes State Park are in an area where geological potholes are quite common. 

Carved during the last Ice Age, these potholes often fill either full or in part with water. 

Fishing within the Potholes Reservoir can sometimes be inconsistent based on the length of winter freezes and the amount of rainfall. 

Common fish caught include yellow perch, walleye, bass, black crappie, and rainbow trout. 

Those who visit the area may also want to visit the nearby Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and see the sagebrush, grasslands, and rugged cliffs in this 30,000-acre site. 

13. Cle Elum Lake

Flowing Lake near Seattle Washington
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Cle Elum Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 35 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping

Cle Elum Lake is a large 4,566-acre reservoir in Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest. It’s known for its fantastic sandy beach and breathtaking mountain setting.

Speelyi Beach is located on the lake’s southern shore and is easily accessible from I-90. Although it’s a day-use area, there are plenty of cabins to rent in the town nearby.

If you prefer a more wild experience, Wish Poosh Campground on the eastern shore is an excellent option. It has both tent and RV spaces and is the perfect base for tackling the famous Hex Mountain

Like other Yakima Basin reservoirs, Cle Elum gets low by mid-July, becoming useless for motorized boating. So the boating season is short here, but kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding remain possible.

And when it comes to fishing, WDFW stopped planting kokanee here to aid the wild sockeye population. Yet, there is plenty of trout in the lake, and WDFW encourages the taking of non-native species like rainbow and lake trout.

Related: 8 Best Hiking Trails near Ellensburg, WA

14. Kachess Lake

Kachess Lake near Seattle Washington
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Kachess Lake
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 43 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping

Kachess Lake is a 4,378-acre mountain lake in Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest. It’s a highly-rated outdoor destination with fantastic boating and camping.

The most popular spot on the reservoir is Kachess Lake Campground on the western shore. It’s a 20-minute drive on a well-kept gravel road. Most cars won’t have problems getting here.

The campground has over 100 sites and a paved boat ramp that can accommodate large boats. However, if you plan on boating, it’s better to visit in early summer when the water level is still high. Towards the fall, launching motorboats becomes impossible.

Kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding are all great fun here. And there is even a designated beach for swimming.

When it comes to fishing, Kachess Lake is pretty good. It’s a popular kokanee spot that WDFW stocks several times a year. Also, you can catch whitefish and rainbow and cutthroat trout here.

Yet, unlike Cle Elum Lake, this destination feels truly wild and remote. Here, you can forget about life’s worries and unwind by the campfire.

15. Lake Easton

Lake Easton State Park near Seattle Washington
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake Easton
  • Distance from Ellensburg: 40 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating (10hp), Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping, Biking

Lake Easton is a 205-acre reservoir on Yakima River, just 40 miles from Ellensburg. It’s a popular family-friendly spot that gets hectic in summer.

The best thing about this destination is its state park, which means you’re guaranteed clean facilities and friendly rangers during your stay. 

The park offers a designated swimming area, a boat ramp, and a campground with tent and RV sites. Also, there are plenty of trails for hiking and biking, including the Palouse to Cascade State Park rail-trail. 

What’s more, in winter, the park turns into a hub for snow activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. So, it’s not just a summer destination.

Yet, Lake Easton has two major drawbacks. One is that fishing is lousy here. Unfortunately, it’s not stocked, and there are restrictions in place on how to fish and what to keep. And the second criticism is the proximity to the highway, which is a constant source of noise. 

Still, plenty of folks enjoy the lake and have a fantastic time here, don’t be put off by these minor drawbacks.

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