Yakima River Canyon

Seasonally Confused

April is usually a transitionary month in Washington, but this April has been unusually winter-like. Kelly wanted to spend the weekend climbing and wildflower peeping, so we headed east only to find a snowstorm over Ryegrass into the Columbia Basin and passing showers at Vantage. But we still got in a some dry pitches before heading over to the Yakima River Canyon the following day for some hiking. There was fresh snow above 2500 ft, but it was a sunny and windy day.

Some past-prime Balsamroot on the Baldy Trail.

I got recommendations from Ellensburg Ethan and so we started with the Mt. Baldy trail. It seems there is a “Baldy” in every corner of every mountain range.

Some better balsamroot.

We began the hike with Jennifer, an ultrarunner we knew from Strava, and her cute little boys. Her youngest boy Will kept running up to us and talked about all his legos.

Looking south down the Yakima River Canyon.
Looking north up the canyon, to the Stuart Range.
Lovage. Thanks to Cherlyn for helping me identify all of these!
Awesome views of the winding canyon,.

The Baldy trail climbs 2000 ft steeply in about 2 miles to the top, which has a radio tower. Because Baldy is rather isolated from the other high points above the canyon, it has excellent views in all directions. We could see Adams, Rainier, and the Stuart Range clearly.

Jennifer kindly took our photo at the top.
Kelly jogging back down.

We ate lunch back at the car and then headed over to Umtanum Recreation Area. We followed the Vista Trail, which climbs about 2000 ft up to Umtanum Ridge. This is part of the Yakima Skyline Race, which will occur next weekend.

Larkspur?

While the Baldy trail is exposed on a ridge line, the Vista Trail is more hidden in a draw for much of the hike before ascending steeper uphill near the end. The vegetation is much greener on this (western) side of the canyon.

Some sort of Phlox?
Arnica?

In the last 500 ft, the ground became very muddy and slippery and then completely snowy, with about 4 inches of fresh snow from the day before. If the race had been this weekend, it would have been very interesting conditions! The fact that the race is planned for this time of year is a testament to how unusual it is for there to be snow here!

Hiking through the wet snow.
Kelly’s face expresses how she feels about the snow and seasonal confusion.

The top of the ridge was bitterly cold with strong winds sweeping off the snow, so we headed right back down, out of winter and back to spring. As our friend likes to say, we felt seasonally confused.

The Yakima River Canyon is a wonderful little spot that is easy to overlook with I-82 bypassing it completely. As a wildflower destination, it does not quite match the Wenatchee River Valley, but there a bunch of hikes here that are worthwhile!

4 thoughts on “Yakima River Canyon”

  1. Thanks for the heads up on the race. I was 100% planning on being on the south end (Gracie Point) of Yakima Skyline this coming weekend.

    1. Well I think the race climbs up the Untanum Ridge trail, at least the 50k. This is what Jennifer told me and she has raced it a few times.

  2. Looks like you would enjoy iNaturalist! I’m sure you’d get identifications of all those mystery plants if you post them there. The “larkspur” looks like crossflower. Yes to the phlox ssp.

    1. Yeah good tip, I should probably get some app for identification instead of just relying on Cherlyn haha.

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