Head Inland Before Returning to the Columbia River
The next phase of our auto tour briefly heads inland, away from the lakes that have dotted the trip so far, before returning to the banks of the Columbia River.
Return to S.R. 155, and turn left to head south 2.5 miles back to the community Grand Coulee; while in town, turn right to head north on State Route 174. Follow the highway as it begins curving west; after about 20 miles, S.R. 174 intersects with State Route 17; continue heading west on S.R. 17 for another 16 miles and — just before crossing the Columbia River — turn right onto Pearl Hill Road NE.
In less than a half-mile, you’ll arrive at the Chief Joseph Dam Visitor Center, which explores the second-largest hydropower producing dam in the United States. The dam here is named for the Nez Perce leader who in 1877 helped his Wallowa band escape the U.S. Army for several months — and who was later exiled to the Colville Reservation.
Bridgeport State Park
Return to S.R. 17, turn right to head north and cross the Columbia River and take your first right onto Half Sun Way; in another two miles, you’ll arrive at Bridgeport State Park (Discover Pass required), a popular hotspot to fish for walleye and rainbow trout. The park features tent and RV sites, a large swimming area, two boat launches and four miles of hiking trails.
Return to S.R. 17, turn south, cross the Columbia River and continue another two miles to Bridgeport Hill Road NE; turn right to leave S.R. 17 and head onto a paved country road that explores the gently rolling upland of the Waterville Plateau. Along the way, you’ll pass through the West Foster Creek Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area; the shrub steppe habitat is home to mule deer, sage grouse, white-tailed jackrabbit and other wildlife.
The Mansfield Museum
After about 11 miles on Bridgeport Hill Road NE and B Road NE, turn left to head east on State Route 172; in another 3.5 miles, you’ll arrive at Mansfield, a trading center for surrounding farms. The Mansfield Museum is a repository of local history and artifacts.
Your detour in Mansfield completed, head west on S.R. 172 for 8.1 miles. Where the road begins a 90-degree turn south, turn right onto McNeil Canyon Road — and continue following the road as it turns north, becomes C Road Northwest and enters a treeless expanse. Follow the road for one mile, where it curves left and begins heading west for another two miles — where you’ll arrive at a Y-shaped intersection; remain on the road by heading right as the road curves north.
Follow this road as it descends, largely through mountainous terrain, for eight miles; as you leave the canyon and reach the end of the road, you’ll arrive at an intersection with U.S. Route 97; here you may turn left to return to Wenatchee or turn right for a side trip to Chelan.
– Written by John King. Updated by Matthew Wastradowski in September 2020
– Top Image of Chief Joseph Dam Visitors Center. Photo courtesy of Confederated Tribes Colville Reservation.