Umtanum Creek Canyon

Umtanum Recreation Area

MAY 2, 2009  A Mountaineers CHS hike.  The hike description for this trip was deceptive in its simplicity:  "Umtanum Creek Canyon is in the heart of Washington's dry, sagebrush country. The trail begins at the Yakima River at 1300 feet and meanders up a lush canyon to 2000 feet, following Umtanum Creek. We should see birds and wildflowers."   Listed at only 6 - 10 miles, 200' gain, it sounded almost too easy to be a bona fide Conditioning Hiking Series hike. 

As we drove along Highway 821 just south of Ellensburg, the scenery began to hint at what the day would hold for us.  The hills of Eastern Washington tend to be barren and colorless later in the year, but for this trip they were carpeted in green and splattered with colorful wildflowers.  As we crossed the suspension bridge over the Yakima River from the parking lot to the trailhead, the landscape in front of us was rich in color, texture and sound.  The trail follows Umtanum Creek through an ever-narrowing canyon, and I was surprised by the diversity of the flora and fauna around us.  Because it was the annual "get intimate with the shrub-steppe" weekend, we had the added bonus of interpretive signs and local birders stationed along the trail to share their knowledge with us.  We saw a flicker through one of these birders' scopes and heard a description of a cooper's hawk's nest in one of the aspen groves.  We hiked through groves of aspen trees, through ancient apple groves near an old homestead, past clumps of bright wildflowers (predominantly balsam root, showy phlox, larkspur, desert parsley and lupin), and finally along the edge of the creek where beavers had built dams and created quiet pools of water.  Everywhere serviceberry was in bloom.  We followed the trail up out of the canyon as it climbed through rockfalls along the cliffs, finally choosing a small alcove high above the canyon for our lunch spot.  A threat of rain hung above us but never developed into more than a few sprinkles just as we settled down to eat and study the map. 

Part hike, part scramble, part nature walk, this was one of the most enjoyable hikes I've been on. 

Approximately 8 miles
700' gain