The Taneum is a sprawling complex of rivers, streams, meadows, campgrounds, memorials, peaks and trails. If you’ve got the itch to explore, this is the place. The Taneum is located south of I-90 and covers the drainages of Manastash Creek and Taneum Creek (to the east) and to the west, Little and Big Creeks. Elevations range between the highest at Quartz Mountain (6,290 feet) to the lowest at 2,400 feet.
The Taneum Canyon Road is such a scenic drive you’ll be stopping for photos of wildflowers and outcroppings frequently. In May, the roads were in good condition though you’ll come to a network of gravel roads and a numbered road system including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Green Dot Road system that can be confusing. Don’t let these complications deter you from making a visit; just follow rules, regulations, signs, and be willing to explore (you may want to leave a trail of bread-crumbs as you’ll eventually come across an unsigned road or trail junction).
Oddly enough this is an area largely ignored by hikers perhaps because trails and roads are popular with other recreational users, including motorized vehicles. It’s also a popular region for hunting, but don’t let any of this cause you to miss out on this piece of heaven. This is larch country in the fall and wildflower country in the spring. Here you will find: wildflowers, lonesome campsites, road-side memorials (including a beer-can memorial), old corrals, forgotten roads, trails and places with names that will intrigue you to venture further. I know we will return.
The land is a checkerboard of ownership by several land-management agencies including the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest (these boundaries are not always clearly designated). Some of the forest service roads are okay for passenger cars, others not so much. This is pick-up truck country; some of the roads are winding and narrow; drive carefully.
This place is best appreciated by going slow and exploring at a leisurely pace whether from car or on foot. The main road into the region (Taneum Canyon Road) is paved and you’ll pass several campgrounds (some official, others primitive). Once you leave the main road you’ll also come across place-names that might raise more questions than answers. Gnat Flat? Tamarack Springs? Willow Gulch? Buck Meadows? Fishook Flats? Who wouldn’t want to find out the story behind such intriguing names?
In spring and early summer hillsides glow with balsamroot and tender-green groves of deciduous trees and thickets of willows hug small streams. If you venture beyond the paved stretch of Taneum Canyon Road you’ll need some kind of map (see additional information). Though we didn’t have all the maps necessary to untangle the web of forest service roads we were still able to get to several points of interest thanks to signs placed along the way, but be sure you remember those bread-crumbs if you don’t have the maps. Always be prepared for the unexpected and explore at your own risk.
Our first stop was Gooseberry Flats (signed) with primitive campsites and Gnat Flats (designated with a sign). According to locals, Gnat Flats were named thus because before it was logged there was a large stand of timber there and clouds of annoying gnats as well. Today Gnat Flats has mellowed to a lush meadow with tall grasses, wildflowers and primitive campsites near the road. There we stopped to admire the wildflowers including glacier lilies, lupine, ballhead waterleaf, the last grass widows of the season, a variety of lomatium and a few flowers we couldn’t identify.
From there we followed road signs to Tamarack Springs. Here we found a small spring, an old corral, site of a homestead and a memorial that made our hearts ache. Enclosed by a fence is a pile of stones with still-legible words carved into a stone reading “A White Womans Grave” – the site is maintained by the Skyriders Snowmobile Club. Upon further research we learned that a pioneer woman fell from her horse there long ago and was buried there.
Nearby are a few other memorials scattered about the Ponderosa pines and a weathered sign on a large Ponderosa so moss-covered and weathered the words were long gone. Trails without signs radiated out in different directions and there wasn’t enough time to pursue them. Apparently you can follow trails (unsigned) from Tamarack Springs to such enticingly named places as Ghost Meadows.
Other points of interest we found on the complicated road system included Willow Gulch, a hauntingly beautiful site with primitive campsites beside a stream with towering evergreens nearby and groves of deciduous trees in their pale-green spring dresses. The air was sweet with the scent of cottonwood trees, an ideal spot for a picnic.
We found Buck Meadows (not designated by a sign but obvious) by hook or crook as one might say. You used to be able to drive to Buck Meadows from Ellensburg but a major bridge has washed out across the South Fork of the Manastash River making that impossibile. However, we found our way there on the road system (most roads are numbered; not all and the Cle Elum Ranger District Trail Guide was helpful). Common sense also helped us find these pretty meadows beside the South Fork Manastash River where a causeway crosses the river (for stock, mountain bikes, hikers, motorcycles) and secluded campsites along the river.
Getting to the Taneum (from Seattle): Take I-90 east over Snoqualmie Pass, get off I-90 at Exit 93 and turn right onto Taneum Road, cross back above the freeway and turn right onto Taneum Canyon Road. Continue past Ice Water Campground to Forest Road No. 3300 and turn left. Follow signs, your nose and curiosity!
Trail, Road and Campgrounds Conditions (Mid-May, 2013) according to the Cle Elum Ranger District (conditions change weekly):
- Forest Service Road No. 31 (at Buck Meadows) will not be repaired this year, hopefully next.
- Forest Service Road No.3100 Manastash Road is open and snow free to Buck Meadows but the bridge is out – you can’t get to Shoestring Trail or Frost Meadows from that road.
- Forest Service Road No. 3120 is open.
- Forest Service Road No. 3300 – open to wheeled vehicles.
- Forest Service Road No. 3330 (Gnat Flat) is open, snow-free
- Trails: Fishhook Flat Trail No. 1378, open to motorized used
- Frost Mountain Trail No. 1366 – Status unknown
- Gooseberry Flat – Status unknown
- Hoyt Mine Trail No. 1347 – status unknown
- North Fork Taneum Trail – open to motorized vehicles only to Lightning Point Trail
- Taneum Ridge Trail No. 1363 – open to motorized vehicles, maintained to Fishhook Flats
- 4W311 Buck Meadows – Open to motorized vehicles
Additional Information: We advise displaying both the Northwest Forest Pass and the Discovery Pass since land-management agencies are not clearly defined.
An off-road vehicle map (ORV) map is also available at the Cle Elum Ranger District. Call the Cle Elum Ranger District at 509-852-1100 for more up-to-date information on roads, campgrounds and trails. Better yet, stop by and pick up a copy of the Cle Elum Ranger District Trail Guide in Cle Elum (or REI) and maps for the region.
You can also get road/trail reports from Washington Trails Association.