Step into history at Fort Simcoe

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The officers quarters at Fort Simcoe Historical State Park offer a window — or many windows — into Washington's past.

Sept. 11, 2019

At Fort Simcoe Historical State Park time stands still.

Located 7 miles outside of the tiny town of White Swan in the heart of the Yakama Indian Reservation, the roads to this 196-acre park wind through miles of hop vineyards, orchards, grazing land and corn fields.

But pull into the ample parking lot and walk out onto the wide, verdant parade grounds, and the modern world shifts away. Suddenly, you are immersed in American army life as it was pre-Civil War.

Here, in this remote location, soaring Garry oaks rustle in the constant but gentle breeze. Rare Lewis’ woodpeckers chitter in the treetops, snapping up flying insects. Elegant, multi-gabled fort buildings stand at attention, looking much as they did when built more than 160 years ago. Whether you are a military history buff or just looking for a unique way to spend the day, Fort Simcoe is the perfect place to dive into Washington history.

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This small, day-use park has a lot to offer. Read on and then plan your visit soon — Fort Simcoe closes for the winter after Oct. 31. Note: The interpretive center and officer’s quarters are only open on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.

History

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Imagine what life was like in 1850s Washington with a Saturday tour of the officers quarters (left) and interpretive center (right).

As an army fort dating to the mid 1800s, history is one of Fort Simcoe’s main draws. But the human history of this place goes back much further. Start your visit at the interpretive center and learn about this land through photographs, displays and artifacts. Derived from the Yakama word “Sim-Kwee,” which means dip in the nearby ridge, the spot was long used as a camping place by the Yakama Nation tribes. The natural cold springs, called “Mool Mool,” or bubbling water, made this place an oasis in an otherwise dry land.

Stroll to the commanding officers quarters to explore room after room of historic furnishings that provide a window into daily life in a rugged land. If you are not visiting during tour hours, you can peak through the many windows of the Gothic Revival-style officer’s quarters.

Take a tour 

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Have a little fun exploring the reproduction guardhouse and blockhouse.

If you are visiting on a Saturday, enjoy a ranger-led tour to learn even more about the fort. Simcoe was abandoned by the Army in 1859 and was taken over by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) which converted it into a boarding school for Yakama children. The BIA and missionaries attempted to assimilate Yakama children to Euro-American Christian ways and encouraged them to renounce their original language, religion and traditions.

The agency abandoned the fort in 1923. In 1956, the Yakama Tribe granted a 99-year least of Fort Simcoe to State Parks to preserve the location as a historic monument. Fort Simcoe was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Don’t forget to stop into the other buildings. Explore the reproduction guardhouse and blockhouse to get a feel for the rigors of early army life. Check out the other quarters and canons. Hike up the hill to the original blockhouse (defense lookout) and snap some photos of the Cascade foothills valley below. Take a short loop trail and check out the two grave sites.

Wildlife viewing

Fort Simcoe is home to the rare and entertaining Lewis’ woodpecker. These charming red, black and white-feathered birds chatter endlessly in the twisted branches of Simcoe’s venerable Garry oaks. Their diet includes flying insects, and they are artful aerial acrobats. Bring your binoculars and watch them perform speedy dives, twists and turns as they hunt for food on high.

Note that Fort Simcoe is home to many other kinds of wildlife, including lizards and … black bears. The bears come to enjoy the water and the acorns. Visitors are advised to use caution and NEVER interact with them. We recommend you know your bear etiquette before you go.

Picnic

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Feeling your wagon draggin' after a long day touring Fort Simcoe? Refresh with a picnic and maybe a game of Frisbee on the parade grounds.

After a full day of history and wildlife, chill out in with a picnic at the park’s ample tables and barbecues. Note: There may be charcoal restrictions at the standing grills during warmer months. Check ahead on our alert center if you plan to barbecue. You can also relax with a game of horseshoes or volleyball. Kids can enjoy the playground equipment, and the parade grounds are perfect for an easy going game of Frisbee or catch.

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windowLocation: 
5150 Fort Simcoe Road
White Swan, WA  98952
(Directions)

Park information:
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to dusk
Tour hours: Saturdays, 1-4 p.m.
Call (509) 874-2372 to arrange tours outside of scheduled interpretive hours. Check Fort Simcoe's page or our calendar page to learn more about the tours.

Discover Pass:
The Discover Pass must be displayed on your vehicle when visiting the park for day use.

Camping: 
This park is day use only.

Many of Fort Simcoe's buildings were built in the Gothic Revival style.

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