Why It Matters
Although much of the Okanogan River flows through agricultural lands, critical stretches of it are still intact, and the river remains an important ecological corridor for salmon and steelhead, as well as for migratory birds and large mammals, including moose, elk, mountain goat and deer. The Okanogan forms the western boundary of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and the mouth of the river is both an ancestral and present-day fishing ground for the Okanogan people, who are today members of the Colville Tribes.
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Due in large part to efforts by the Colville Tribes and Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Okanogan now supports the largest distinct population of sockeye salmon (pictured) in the Columbia River basin. The river supports important populations of spring-run Chinook and summer steelhead. The Okanogan is also home to walleye.
The Okanogan basin provides vital habitat for diverse wildlife, including mountain goat, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk and sharp-tailed grouse. Riparian areas and wetlands also support tiger salamander, Columbia spotted frog (pictured), great blue heron and sandhill crane. Photo by Rachid S. Homsany.
How to See It
Start just south of the Canadian border at the Chopaka Lake campground for remote camping and good odds of spotting animals like moose, mountain goat and golden eagle. Further south, near the town of Omak, visit Big and Little Green Lakes and spend the day swimming, boating or, in the winter, ice fishing. Follow the river down via Highway 97 to its confluence with the Columbia and the Bridgeport Bar State Wildlife Recreation Area where you can spot birds like American white pelican, bald eagle and long-billed curlew.
For folks in central and eastern Washington, the Okanogan is a popular fishing destination, occasionally for steelhead (depending on whether the river is open or not), often for Chinook and sockeye, and almost always for non-native smallmouth bass. In late summer, the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia can be one of the most productive salmon fishing areas of the Columbia River. Check regulations.
For stunning views of the Okanogan River and its surrounding fertile valleys and rugged hillsides, take a winding drive along the Okanogan Trails Scenic Byway. The 80-mile byway spans from the U.S./Canada border to Pateros, Washington. It follows the Okanogan River and bordering the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, with historical markers along the way that tell the story of the area’s native peoples and emigrants.
For a strenuous outing try the Whistler Canyon Trail, a 24-mile round-trip trek that starts at the Okanogan River, traverses rock faces where hikers often spot mountain goats, and ends with amazing views of the Okanagan Valley. For an easier hike, visit the Similkameen Trail, which winds for four miles round-trip along the Similkameen River, a tributary to the Okanogan. This hidden jewel of a trail is dotted with interpretive signs and viewpoints throughout.
The WRC Story
In 2020, WRC embarked on an effort in partnership with the Colville Tribes to recover Antione Creek, a critical steelhead spawning stream that flows into the Okanogan River. Our goal is to re-water the stream—which is drained dry by water withdraws nearly every year—by returning four square miles of ancestral lands to the tribes. This will allow the tribes to increase water flows in Antione Creek by up to 95 percent during the critical spawning season. In December, WRC successfully acquired the 2,524-acre Antione Valley Ranch, which was once part of the original reservation and spans more than two miles of Antoine Creek. With funding from the Washington Department of Ecology, we transferred half of the land to the Colville Tribes and partnered with Trout Unlimited to permanently dedicate the water in-stream. We are now raising funds to transfer the second half of the ranch to the tribes. The project also protects prime habitat for wildlife, including sharp-tailed grouse, and will allow the Colville Tribes to conduct critically needed stream restoration. Photo by Paul Skelhorne.
Best Time of Year
- Salmon fishing
- Okanogan River