If you need an escape from the (occasional) rain and gray skies of Seattle, you don’t have to travel very far to find sunshine. Just drive east over the Snoqualmie Mountain pass towards Ellensburg, Washington. Just south of Ellensburg, you will feel like you are in another land.
Sensing Seattle was destined for a gray day recently, Chad and I decided to hike the Umtanum Ridge Trail about 12 miles south of Ellensburg. As we exited Highway 90 (at exit 109 toward Canyon Road), we felt like we were in a different world.
We had left the dense green forests surrounding Seattle and had entered a land of high desert and a canyon cut deep by the flowing Yakima River.
We arrived at the parking area of Umtanum Creek Recreation Area, an oasis in the middle of a long and winding canyon road. From the parking area, we crossed the swinging bridge (it really moves!) across the Yakima River.
We watched various fly-fisherman try their luck at the river’s edge. At the end of the bridge, we followed the trail under the railroad tracks and then followed the trail signs.
Soon after starting on the trail, we came across a sign board. At this board, you have the option to follow a trail to the right, which is reportedly an easy hike along the canyon creek. We didn’t see that trail, so we followed the well trodden trail to the left – a somewhat steep climb up the canyon ridge. (The easier creek hike reports an elevation gain of 500 feet; the trail we followed has an elevation gain of 2400 feet!).
The wildflowers were out in force and with each bend of the trail, we came across different flora and fauna.
As to the fauna, we were told to be on the lookout for Bighorn sheep – ah if only….we did however see a squirrel, many different types of bugs, and at one spot in particular, a bevy of beautiful blue butterflies.
The air was filled with sweet sounds from cicadas
and many songbirds.
On the trail, it was fun to look up at the jagged rocks above us (again looking for those Bighorn sheep) and across the ridge at the rocks cascading down to the canyon.
Eventually, we were up high enough that we could see several parts of the canyon below, including this one area that we are convinced was the site of a meteor hitting the earth. What do you think?
Around 2.5 miles in, we had reached the top of the ridge and so we decided to turn back (the trail just keeps going and going). It was a good cardio workout going up the ridge and it provided some lovely views.
Please be aware the parking lot is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, so a Discover Pass or Northwest Forest Pass will not serve you here. $5 is all it takes, so come with cash in hand to pay via envelope (or face a big parking ticket).
After the hike, we decided to take the short drive to Ellensburg to grab some lunch. We went to Fidelina’s Taqueria (410 S. Main Street in Ellensburg), which appears to be a small house with a Mexican food truck welded to the side of it.
The interior is cheerfully colorful
and the food was delicious.
We will definitely hike this area again. There appear to be more canyon hikes nearby and we will welcome another chance to go to Fidelina’s!
Very cool hike! Love the wildflowers and butterflies! We think that is a meteor crater!
Looks like a wonderful hike! Thanks for the heads up about the cash, it’s the pits having to scramble to find an ATM.
Glad to give the heads-up on the cash. How you get to enjoy this hike soon!
I definitely have to check this out! I’m a desert native and while I LOVE the forests of Seattle, sometimes I miss the dirt and beauty of desert landscape. And Ellensburg isn’t far at all! Thanks!
There is something wonderful about the desert air, along with the beauty of the wildflowers. Enjoy!
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Sounds like a great hike to check out – thanks!
Thank, Jen. Hope you enjoy it!