Columbia County, a Washington Surprise

Nestled in the southeastern part of Washington, Columbia County is a place of stunning natural beauty, rich history, and diverse communities. Here, visitors can explore charming towns, experience the area’s agricultural roots, and enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities.


The area that is now Columbia County was originally inhabited by the Nez Perce tribe, who fished in the nearby rivers and hunted in the forests. In the 1800s, white settlers arrived and established farms and ranches.  On November 11th, 1875, the Washington Territorial Legislature took land from Walla Walla County to form the new County. While the County takes its name from the Pacific Nothwest’s principal river, no part of the Columbia lies in the county or even nearby.  The town of Dayton, the county seat, was founded in 1871 and named after a local judge.

The Columbia County Courthouse in Dayton, Washington
The Columbia County Courthouse


Agriculture has long been the backbone of the county’s economy. Farmers here grow wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and canola, among other crops. Livestock, including cattle and sheep, are also raised in the area. The county is also home to small businesses, including shops and restaurants, which cater to locals and visitors alike.


Columbia County farmland with a deer in a wheat field
Columbia County Farmland


Columbia County is home to two communities, each with its unique character. Dayton, the county seat, has a vibrant downtown area with shops, restaurants, and historic buildings. Starbuck, a small town located on the shores of the Snake River, offers a peaceful retreat for visitors looking to relax and enjoy the scenic beauty of the area.

Tourist Attractions

The Histotic Dayton Railroad Station
The Historic Dayton Railroad Station

Columbia County offers plenty of attractions for tourists, including historic sites and natural wonders. The Dayton Historic Depot, built-in 1881, is a beautifully restored train station that now serves as a museum. The Boldman House Museum, located in Dayton, showcases the area’s pioneer history with exhibits on local families and artifacts from the past.

Nature lovers will appreciate the county’s scenic beauty, which includes the Palouse Falls State Park. This park features a 198-foot waterfall and hiking trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding canyons. The Lyons Ferry State Park, situated on the Snake River, offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and picnicking.  It is worth noting that neither Palouse Falls nor Lyons Ferry actually lie in Columbia County, but the easiest access to both is through the Columbia County town of Starbuck.

The elevator at Starbuck, Washington
The Elevator at Starbuck, Washington

Parks and Recreational Activities

The County has several parks that provide a range of outdoor recreational opportunities. The Central Ferry State Park, located in adjacent Whitman County on the Snake River, has campsites, hiking trails, and a boat launch. The Tucannon River Recreation Area offers camping, fishing, and swimming in the Tucannon River. And the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park is a beautiful area for a picnic and history lesson.  You’ll find it a few miles west of Dayton on U.S. Highway 12.

Columbia County offers a wide range of recreational activities for visitors. The Blue Mountains, located to the south of the county, provide opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. In addition, Ski Bluewood, 22 miles south of Dayton offers family friendly skiing in the Blue Mountains. The Snake River, which runs along the county’s eastern border, offers excellent fishing for salmon and steelhead.  


Bridge Pilings Across the Touchet River

Columbia County is a hidden gem in southeastern Washington, offering visitors a chance to explore historic sites, experience the area’s agricultural roots, and enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities. From the scenic Palouse Falls to the tranquil Tucannon River, this county has something for everyone. Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or just looking for a peaceful getaway, Columbia County is definitely worth a visit.  To read about other Washington Counties, go to my blog page Evergreen.