A little over two hours east of Seattle, the Yakima River flows through another world – a dramatic, semi-arid gorge where sunlit cliffs stretch into a blue sky.  Umtanum Creek, flowing into the Yakima from the west, has carved an inviting little canyon of its own. Umtanum Creek Canyon is an easy, satisfying hike, just right for a spring day (and scorching in summer).

Kids will like the big, bouncy suspension bridge over the river. Immediately after the bridge, cross the railroad tracks into Umtanum Creek Canyon. The pungent aroma of sage fills the air. The kids take off like a shot.

©Carl Gronquist

The trail passes through meadows and shady riparian zones along the creek. In a flat half mile you’ll come to remnants of a homestead: old fence posts and some gnarled fruit trees.  After another easy mile of vistas, sage and a campsite or two, the canyon begins to close in. Red and gray basalt cliffs are fringed with vivid pads of green grass. Life is lush here. Evidence of beavers is everywhere:  dams, gnawed trees, and lodges. Get lucky and you may even see bighorn sheep.  And don’t forget to watch for rattlesnakes.

Around 2.5 easy miles, just past a tall Ponderosa pine, the trail traverses talus at the base of the cliffs, crosses the creek again, and soon thins to a narrow, overgrown tread. On the way back, find a grassy spot, let the kids soak up some sun, and be glad for a day in the Cascade rain shadow.

©Carl Gronquist

Umtanum Creek
Length: 3 miles one way
Variety: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Difficulty: easy
Season: Winter, Spring, Fall
Trail Open to: Hikers, Dogs
Passes Permits: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife permit
Facilities at Trailhead: Large parking area, Toilets
Maps: USGS Umtanum Creek

©Carl Gronquist

Directions: Take I-90 to I-82 at Ellensburg, exit 110. Take Exit 3 (Thrall Road), right onto Rt 821,into Yakima Canyon. Parking for Umtanum Recreation Area is near milepost 17.  Continue down the canyon towards Yakima for more great roadside scenery.

 

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