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  Home | Ellensburg's Hidden Treasures | Umtanum Creek

Umtanum Creek

Adventure out onto the trail and take in the serene setting to the max when you hop onto the surrounding basalt formations. You'll be rewarded by a beautiful water fall to top off the experience. Don't let the hike deter you from experiencing this Hidden Treasure for yourself, the hike up Umtanum is considered fairly easy at 2 miles round trip.

Ellensburg has chosen Umtanum Creek as one of our Hidden Treasures because of its dramatic beauty and its status as a National Landmark. This amazing geologic feature was named a National Landmark in 1980. Umtanum Creek is also one of the best viewing areas for Big horn Sheep in the State of Washington.

Umtanum Creek Canyon:

Info below as featured on Washington Trails Association:

Take a pleasant hike up a spectacular canyon with towering basalt formations, a rushing creek, and a chance to see bighorn sheep. Whether you go in spring or fall, the canyon is filled with brilliant color.

In spring, the slopes are decorated with bunches of balsamorhiza sunflowers, like yellow polka dots against the green grasses. Other wildflowers also delight the eye in spring -- blue larkspur, purple lupine, pink geraniums, pale yellow bitterbrush, white serviceberry, and many others.

In fall,the color is fading and the mountains are filling up with snow. It's the perfect time to head for the east side of the Cascades, where the lush deciduous streamside vegetation is serving up a kaleidoscope of color. And one of the most dramatic places to see it all is Umtanum Creek Canyon.

From the parking area, take the swinging bridge across the Yakima River and follow the trail under the railroad tracks. Immediately after passing under the railroad tracks, turn left and walk about 50 feet parallel to and at a safe distance from the railroad tracks, then take the trail to the right.

Very soon, after passing through a patch of vegetation, the view of the canyon opens up and you will see a large information board on your right and an obvious trail ahead, bearing left. Do not take this one, as it leads away from the creek and uphill. Instead, take the less clear trail to the right immediately after the information board. Soon the trail becomes clear and follows the creek upstream. As you walk, watch for bighorn sheep on the cliffs above and for old apple and walnut trees in the canyon, remnants of an old homestead.

After about 0.75 mile the trail splits in a small open field with several boulders. Take the right fork, which will lead you to a crossing of the creek. In spring, the stream may be swollen. Check trip reports to see if it can be crossed. If crossing is possible, look for a clear trail straight ahead, which dead-ends at the remains of a farm house, surrounded by lilac bushes with white and purple blossoms in spring. After viewing the remains, turn back and just before the creek crossing, turn right and follow the main trail along the creek.

The trail continues up the canyon, mostly through open fields, but at one point passing through a dense grove of young aspen. About a mile from the first creek crossing, come to another fork in the trail. Again, the creek may be swollen and hard to cross, but if you can, do so to continue on. From here the trail is more in the trees, with cliffs towering overhead. A section of the trail is through rock, traversing a scree slope. Admire the weathered basalt formations that you can now see close up as the canyon narrows. Soon after the rocky section, about 3 miles from the trailhead, the trail becomes difficult. When you're ready to head home, return the way you came.

WTA Pro Tip: The parking lot is owned by BLM and fees are in place year-round; $5.00 a car.

Umtanum Ridge Crest:
Info below as featured on Washington Trails Association:

Get a workout on this steep hike from Umtanum Creek to the ridge above the canyon. In spring, it is filled with wildflowers and birds, with chances of seeing rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep.

This shares a trailhead with the Umtanum Creek Canyon trail. It's a sandy route that begins at the Umtanum Recreation Center and crosses the Yakima River and the railroad tracks on a suspension bridge.

Not far down the trail is a wooden board. This junction where the Umtanum Creek Canyon Trail goes straight. To reach the ridgeline, take the well-trodden path to the left. It will soon begin to increase in elevation as you meander through desert sagebrush and wildflowers.

After a mile of hiking, you'll enjoy views of the canyon below you. Another half mile of hiking reveals the snow-spangled Stuart Range to the north. The grade is persistent and moderately strenuous, until the last half mile, which intensifies, becoming steep and strenuous on the final push up the ridge.

The fine sand on the steep grade will make every step slippery and precarious, but by mile 2.5 the top of the ridge hoves into view. At the ridge crest, it can be windy and cool as you approach the ridge, but you'll want to linger awhile for the massive views of Rainier and Adams at the top!

WTA Pro Tip: The parking lot is owned by BLM and fees are in place year-round; $5.00 a car.

Umtanum Creek Falls:
Info below as featured on Washington Trails Association:

Hike downhill, enjoy spring blooms and throw rocks into a punchbowl at the bottom of a 40-foot waterfall.

An easy stroll along a burbly creek, the Umtanum Creek Falls Trail has something for everyone in the family to enjoy. The way is shaded by Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Kids should look closely for wildflowers like yellow desert-parsley, bluebells, squaw currant and bitterbrush. Encourage them to listen to the different bird songs, using binoculars to spot bluebirds, woodpeckers and more.

Identify the sweet fragrance of sagebrush, while keeping an eye out for bighorn sheep on nearby canyon walls. The trail opens up to reveal Umtanum Creek Falls, a pretty little waterfall that cascades into a pool surrounded on three sides by basalt walls. Hikers can take a rough trail to the bottom of the of the falls, or stay at the top and enjoy the view.

Umtanum Ridge Water Gap:

Info below as featured on Wikipedia:

Umtanum Ridge Water Gap is a geologic feature in central Washington. state in the United States. It was designated a National Landmark in 1980.The Umtanum Ridge Water is a water gap cut by the Yakima River through Manastash and Umtanum anticlines, , which are part of the Yakima Fold Belt near the western edge of the Columbia River Plateau located in central Washington. This National Natural Landmark is characterized by a series of steep-sided ridges in the Columbia River Basalt which are cut through axially by the Yakima River. It is also referred to as the Yakima River Canyon, and is located between the cities of Ellensburg and Yakima. Washington State Route 821, originally the main route between Ellensburg and Yakima, parallels the river through the canyon.

The great basalt flows of the Columbia Basin and of the Ellensburg Formation, in some places over 5000 meters (17,000 feet) thick, have been folded into ridges and valleys running roughly east-west as a result of north-south compression. On its way to join the Columbia River, the Yakima River cuts from the Kittitas Valley southward through four major ridges formed by this compression: the Manastash Ridge, the Umtanum Ridge, the Yakima Ridge, and the Ahtanum Ridge to reach the Yakima Valley. A view south from Umtanum Ridge into the Yakima Canyon. The highest ridge through which the Yakima flows, the Umtanum Ridge, rises to 983 meters (3225 feet) within 1 km of the river, which lies at about 470 meters (1542 feet) in elevation at the closest point. This unusual juxtaposition (rivers cutting through ridges rather than flowing through apparently more favorable routes) is an example of geologic precedence. The ancient Yakima River is believed to have been there, flowing southward above the relatively flat basalt layers. As the layers compressed, the anticlines slowly rose. The river continued to follow its historic course, cutting downward through the basalt to maintain a relative level. This view is supported by the significant meanders found in the canyon today; when a river has meanders, they tend to be preserved in rock as the river eats into a rising anticline.

How to access:

The Umtanum Ridge is just west of the trailhead to Umtanum Falls. Take Main Street south until it turns into Canyon Road. Turn right onto Umtanum Road. Follow this road for 9.8 miles. Look for the numbered Bluebird boxes. One half mile past bluebird box No. 73, turn into the large gravel parking lot on the left. There is a large Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife sign that says "Umtanum Falls."

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