The centerpiece of the massive project of dams and canals that have “reclaimed” the Columbia Basin, the Grand Coulee Dam is one of the civil engineering wonders of the world. Built from 1933 to 1941 under the auspices of FDR’s New Deal, at a cost of many millions of dollars and 77 lives, the dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world: 550 feet high, 500 feet thick at its base, and nearly a mile across. The combined generating capacity is more than 6,809 megawatts—half of which comes from the Third Power Plant, added in 1975. Exhibits on the construction and impact of the dam fill the large modern Visitor Arrival Center (509/633-9265, daily, free) just downstream. On summer evenings a free half-hour laser light show is projected onto the spillway of the dam.
There are three small towns—Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee, and Electric City, respectively, east to west from the dam—all of which serve the needs of boaters, anglers, and other visitors. The best place to see the Grand Coulee Dam light show is the pleasant Columbia River Inn (509/633-2100 or 800/633-6421, $118 and up), across from the visitors center.