Last Updated on August 17, 2022

Washington state has very different landscapes to offer including deserts, but also beaches, forests, mountains, volcanoes, and several coastal islands.

The state is separated by the the Cascade Mountains which determine what kind of climate you are going to find: wet areas filled with pineforests to the west; dry, arid desert regions to the east.

Eastern Washington State is filled with rugged terrain and sprawling desertscapes, you will find desert-like areas in the Yakima Valley and Columbia River Plateau (Columbia basin), with sand dunes and temperatures over 100°F.

Desert Sand Dunes in the Echo Basin / Frenchman Coulee area near Vantage, Washington.
Desert Sand Dunes in the Echo Basin / Frenchman Coulee area near Vantage, Washington.

Deserts of Washington

Eastern Washington Desert

The eastern half of Washington state gets very little rainfall because the rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains blocks the clouds from coming in. Because of this, much of Eastern Washington is a desert, with the exception of the eastern-most part where Spokane is located.

Yakima Valley

Yakima Valley is a semi-arid desert, with only about 8 inches of precipitation per year which mostly occurs in winter. In the summer, the landscape very much resembles that of a desert with temperatures often reaching 100°F.

Columbia Basin Desert

Part of the greater Columbia Plateau eco-region that spans both the states of Oregon and Washington, the Columbia Basin has a desert-like climate, it is an arid sagebrush steppe surrounded by forests but with very low yearly precipitation (around 7 inches) in some areas.

Echo Basin and Frenchman Coulee

Echo Basin and Frenchman Coulee are two popular adjacent gorges in the Columbia River Plateau located near Vantage. Both Echo Basin and Frenchman Coulee are very popular with rock climbers and features stunning basalt columns as well as desert-like sand dunes. The area receives very little rain but some desert plants and cacti grow in the area. Summers are typically hot but windy.

Juniper Dunes Wilderness

The Juniper Dunes are rolling sand dunes located northeast of Pasco. They are unlike traditional desert sand dunes for most of the area is covered in vegetation, alternating with sage and juniper shrubs. The wilderness area cannot be entered with vehicles but it’s a somewhat popular hiking area managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Washington Desert FAQs

Is Spokane a desert?

Spokane is not a desert. The city receives very little precipitation (17 inches per year), but that’s still too much to be classified as a desert – only regions with less than 10 inches of rain per year qualify as deserts.


Read also: List of Sand Dunes in the US

Leave a Reply