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Helen McCabe Park

The next time you find yourself in Ellensburg make sure to stop at Helen McCabe Park. The park was established in 1967, however it was in 1977 that the park was dedicated to the memory of Helen McCabe. A well-known professor of Recreation at Central Washington University.

The area had gone a long time without renovations until the Kittitas Environmental Education Network, better known as KEEN, took on improving the park in 2008. A few changes that have been completed by KEEN include fishing access points to the pond, a trail system and weed control. Over 10,000 plants, trees, and grass have been added since then.

Helen McCabe Park is the ideal place for a variety of activities; bring a date for an unforgettable picnic, walk your pet, or enjoy a leisurely day of fishing and so much more.

Come and discover for yourself why it's one of Ellensburg's Hidden Treasures!

The 64-acre park is a relatively flat site bordered by Wilson Creek on the south just above the confluence with the Yakima River. The majority of the park is within the 100-year flood plain. Wilson Creek serves as the final confluence of streams draining the Kittitas Valley before joining the Yakima River.

The 8-acre pond on site is the result of gravel excavation for the construction of Interstate-82, which begins its ascent up Umtanum Ridge just east of the site. As a result of past use native habitat on the site is heavily disturbed. The remainder of the park was and is used as pasture for cattle grazing. There is also an artesian well in the north pasture area.

In 1967 the Washington State Legislature established the scenic and recreational highway system and identified the approximately 22 miles of SR821 as a scenic and recreational highway. The YRCSB from the park to Selah Creek was the first designated byway in Washington State.

In the original 1968 Corridor Management Plan for the byway, the Helen McCabe Park was identified as a site for an interpretive center as it is the first recreational site travelers encounter when driving southbound through the Canyon. The 64-acre park was acquired by the Washington State Department of Parks and Recreation in 1973.


In 1977, the City of Ellensburg, the Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce, and the Central Washington University Leisure Services Department urged the State Parks Commission to formally name the park site in honor of Dr. Helen McCabe. Prior to Dr. McCabe's death, she was a Professor of Recreation at Central Washington University and a leader in recreation programs throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Commission approved the request, and on February 17, 1977 the Wilson Creek site was renamed as Helen McCabe State Park.

In 2008 KEEN sought grant funding for improvements to the park and have successfully completed several enhancement projects. In partnership with Kittitas County and the WA State Department of Transportation, KEEN received stimulus funding in support of enhancements to Helen McCabe Park. In 2009 the partners installed new pit toilets, removed fencing around the parking lot and replaced it with large boulders, and re-graveled the parking lot. The visual impact of that small project was enormous for the park and the new toilets provide a welcome respite to travelers along the YRCSB.


Also in 2009 KEEN and the Cascade Land Conservancy (now Forterra) worked with the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group and several other partners to secure a grant in support of riparian habitat restoration along Wilson Creek. The partnership project resulted in the establishment of 6,500 trees and shrubs in the riparian area, one mile of new trail construction and the installation of five interpretive panels describing the project and expected results.

KEEN holds a 10-year monitoring plan for the planting site that includes using cattle to flash graze the area to control invasive weed species. The Center Site Helen McCabe Park sits at a crossroads and is a focal point for both locals and travelers in and out of the Yakima River Canyon. The canyon begins here, opening to the south, with rich geologic, cultural, and natural components to be explored. Kittitas Valley unfolds to the north, with its own expansive cultural heritage.

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Helen McCabe Park is located approximately five miles south of Ellensburg on the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway (YRCSB), State Highway 821.

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