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.