During the last ice age, a large mass of glacial ice 2,000 feet high and 35 miles wide blocked the path of the Clark Fork River near the present day Idaho-Montana border. As water rose behind the dam, it flooded Western Montana resulting in a massive lake known as Glacial Lake Missoula. Time after time, the dam failed resulting in catastrophic flooding across Eastern and Central Washington. The flooding scoured the land creating channeled scablands and leaving behind a series of pothole lakes. Today those lakes provide excellent fishing and boating opportunities. South of the metropolis of Spokane, Sprague, Badger, and Williams are perhaps the most popular lakes with their easy access via paved roads and developed launches.

Inaccessible by road and surrounded by private property, nearby Bonnie Lake offers solitude and a unique geological experience for those willing and able to negotiate the difficult access. Bonnie had been on our radar for years. Numerous friends reported unsuccessful attempts to access the lake with various types of boats. Those who were successful arrived via canoe or kayak. Now that we had an inflatable kayak, Bonnie Lake was at the top of our destination list.

Bonnie Lake lived up to the hype

The 327 acre lake sits at a relatively low elevation of 1,793′ approximately half an hour northwest of the small farming community of St. John, Washington. The closest access is a primitive launch at the Belsby Road & Hole in the Ground Road crossing of Rock Creek. Launching at Rock Creek is difficult and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends only boats 14 feet and smaller attempt access. Parking is limited. Be sure to observe the no parking signs and don’t block the rancher gates. Access is across private property and is allowed through the generosity of private landowners. Please be respectful. During our visit, we observed someone blocking one of the gates despite ample parking up by our car.

Primitive boat launch at Rock Creek

Launching our inflatable kayak was a piece of cake, but it was easy to see why boats have a tough time. Rock Creek was very shallow and the course upstream to Bonnie Lake was narrow and choked with cat tails and water lilies. At times, we didn’t have enough room on the sides to paddle and we barely cleared the rocky bottom.

We had about a one mile paddle up Rock Creek to reach Bonnie Lake. For the first quarter mile or so, we floated through a pasture of tall green grass with momma cows towering above us. We enjoyed seeing all the baby cows who seemed quite intrigued by our presence. Past that, we floated directly beneath massive basalt cliffs and an impressive (for this part of the country) arch.

Basalt arch above Rock Creek

Reaching the outlet of Bonnie Lake it was like we entered a different world. The views opened up and we were surrounded by basalt cliffs, a beautiful lake and the air was filled with the chatter of the local bird population. We saw and/or heard eagle, osprey, kingfisher, heron, merganser, kingfisher, pelican, canyon wren, yellow-headed blackbird and red-winged blackbird. Lake turtles sunned themselves on logs and a pair of otters fished for their lunch. Best of all, we couldn’t see or hear any other humans.

Beautiful Bonnie Lake

Bonnie is a long, skinny lake. We paddled about two miles upstream before turning around. We backtracked to an island and spent some time there fishing and swimming. We did see a party camped at the head of the island. They had brought their gear in with a couple small boats and appeared to have a comfortable setup.

We thoroughly enjoyed our six mile kayak at Bonnie Lake. The two mile roundtrip paddle along Rock Creek was a bit challenging to navigate, but it was still enjoyable. Bonnie Lake, on the other hand, was pure joy. We enjoyed easy paddling, stunning scenery, quiet, and abundant wildlife.

View from the southern end of the island

Recreate Responsibly

If you visit Bonnie Lake, please recreate responsibly. During our visit, we observed visitors blocking access to rancher gates—not a good way to endear us visitors to the locals! We also observed a massive pile of human waste and toilet paper on the island in the middle of Bonnie. It was unbelievably large and no attempt had been made to bury it. In all our travels, we’ve never seen anything like it. I cannot fathom who could possibly find this acceptable. Please bury your waste or pack it out… and if that is seriously how much poo you produce, you may want to consider some dietary changes!

Oh sure, he’s cute here.
But not so much in real life.

The Adventure Continues

Please join us for our next post as we begin our fall travels. It has been a record hot and dry spring and summer in Eastern Washington. We’ve been surrounded by fires for a month now. We’re looking forward to new scenery and fall weather as we begin a nearly 5,000 mile, 11 state adventure! And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase, you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain this website and is much appreciated!

4 Replies to “Kayaking Washington’s Bonnie Lake”

  1. I haven’t been on Bonnie Lake in years, but this post sure brought back memories. Thank you for that.

    I’ve been here probably 8-10 times and once camped on the north end of the island. And yea, we buried our waste. Camping on this island is really fun… talk about quiet! and dark!

    And I find it very frustrating that some rude people will do the things you mentioned possibly screwing up access to this wonderful get away. Please people, recreate responsibly. I really wouldn’t want to be the one that destroyed this wonderful adventure for others.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thanks for your tips on the area, Tom! We’d love to camp on the island sometime so that we could have more time to make it to the end of the lake.

  2. This was VERY interesting! I had heard about Bonnie Lake but, had never been there. Enjoyed all the pictures and the narative.

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