Monday, May 25, 2020

Omak Balancing Rock

Omak Balancing Rock
1 mile round trip, 200 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate due to very steep section; bring poles!
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, no parking lot and no fees

Washington State's rarely-visited Okanogan Highland hides a quirky geological oddity: a large boulder perfectly balanced on a much smaller base rock. A short drive from the town of Omak on the Colville Indian Reservation, the Omak Balancing Rock is a fun stop, although not necessarily a spectacular destination. A coincidence created by a previous ice age, this rock can be reached by a very short hike that also packs in some nice views of Omak Lake. Although the path is short, the final uphill stretch is quite steep- use appropriate footwear or hiking gear.

I visited the Omak Balancing Rock during a drive across Washington State on Highway 20. From downtown Omak, I took Highway 155 east and turned left onto the Columbia River Road at the edge of town. I followed the Columbia River Road south for 12 miles, tracing high above the west shore of Omak Lake until I came to the lake's southern end, where I made a left turn onto Omak Lake Road, a gravel road that led downhill. I followed Omak Lake Road down to a large left turn in the road, where I pulled off and parked along the road. The balancing rock was visible just uphill. There are no signs marking the trailhead.

From the Omak Lake Road, I followed the dirt Jeep trail that led in the direction of the Balancing Rock. Most of the hike ascended very gently through dry grasslands, with nice views looking back towards Omak Lake as sunrise approached.

Balancing Rock from a distance
Reaching the bottom of a hill just below the Balancing Rock, the trail then embarked on a short but very steep uphill climb, ascending directly along a slippery and eroded path up to the rock. The rock itself is fenced off with wire, but I was still able to approach a few feet away from it.

The Omak Balancing Rock is a glacial erratic, resulting from a geological coincidence during Ice Age floods in the past. The landscape of Eastern Washington has been dramatically shaped by the floods that swept the Columbia Basin after the failure of ice dams that formed large glacial lakes in Montana. As the ice dams collapsed, floodwaters greater than the flow of all the world's rivers combined swept over the Columbia Basin. The waters carried ice rafts calved from glaciers, some of which were embedded with large rocks. These rocks were then deposited wherever the ice rafts were stranded. Omak Balancing Rock likely resulted from such a scenario and has balanced perfectly on the small underlying pedestal stone.

Omak Balancing Rock
Looking back to the north, I watched the day's first light fall on the Okanogan Highlands. Far off, I could the snowy peaks of the Okanogan Mountains past the north end of Omak Lake.

Sunrise over Omak Lake
This is a short hike and the Balancing Rock is fun to see- if you're nearby, it's worth the short detour.

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