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Saddle Mountain East

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Views from the entire top of Saddle Mountain are expansive. The urban sprawl of the Tri-Cities can be seen to the south, while the long, pristine stretch of the Hanford Reach portion of the Columbia Basin lies before you. To the north and directly below you, you'll see the dramatic coulee of Lower Crab Creek, and beyond that the flat farmlands of the Columbia Basin that extend to Othello and Moses Lake.

Saddle Mountain stands tall between the deep and broad canyon of Lower Crab Creek Coulee and the deep basin of the mighty Columbia River. Around the flank of the mountain is the Wahluke Slope--a great desert wildlife area offering tremendous views of the ribs and ridges of this immense 50-mile-long Saddle Mountain uplift crossing the Columbia Basin. From the parking area, roam at will through the area on the loop route and game trails, exploring the columnar basalt columns near cliff outcroppings, rocky ridge tops, and vast sagelands filled with the dried balsamroot leaves from last year's plants.

Frequently (especially during the long winter months) the wind howls down from the north, blasting the sheer face of the mountain with powerful force. Don't be surprised if you see hang gliders and paragliders soaring out in front of the north face of the mountain--they love the strong winds that rise up over the butte.

Heading east along the ridge, you'll find fields of flowers underfoot, especially in May. About a mile out on the ridge, you'll cross a vast flat area of what we learned to be one of the last natural areas of bunchgrass remaining undisturbed in the region. Look for great gardens of wildflowers here as well: yellow bells carpet the slope, with large clumps of balsamroot punctuating the landscape.

Look closely along the leeward side of the small side ridges and hills: You might find one or more coyote dens in the sandy soil. The wily hunters love this region for its unlimited rodent hunting and abundance of hares, rock chucks, and even deer. Don't linger too long near any den sites you encounter--some will undoubtedly be abandoned, but some may be active and your presence could put off the parents.

After nearly 2 miles of walking, you'll have covered the best part of the ridge. Turn back whenever you like, though you can extend your hiking pleasure several more miles by continuing eastward and dropping down some 500 to 800 feet in elevation before turning and hiking back along the lower slope to return to your starting point.
Driving Directions:

From Ellensburg, drive east on Interstate 90 to Vantage and across the Columbia River. Immediately after crossing the river, turn right (south) at exit 137 onto State Route 26 and continue 0.9 mile to a junction with SR 243. Turn right onto SR 243 and drive 14.3 miles, then turn left (east) onto Mattawa Highway/SR 24 Cutoff Road (signed as "24SW"). Drive 13.8 miles along this straight road to its junction with SR 24. Turn left onto SR 24. Just past milepost 60, turn left onto a single-lane road signed "Wahluke National Wildlife Refuge." Drive north on this road for 4.2 miles to a Y junction. Turn right and continue 1.2 miles to a turnaround at the road's end. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife permit required.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 5 trip reports for this hike.
Saddle Mountain East, White Bluffs - South Slope — Apr 26, 2013 — mytho-man
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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I went over to the Saddle Mts today and hiked some of the Saddle Mts East hike in the Best Desert Hi...
I went over to the Saddle Mts today and hiked some of the Saddle Mts East hike in the Best Desert Hikes book. I got a late start and wasn't hiking until about 1:30. After climbing to the first high point above the notch, I walked around to Pt 1795, then around to the head of the next easterly canyon, then back to the first high point, then down into the notch and up to my truck. There were nice flowers, but it was probably better a week ago. It was still pretty green, but the cheat grass is on the verge of drying out. The views of the Hanford Reach on the south & the Crab Creek area on the north are panoramic. It was mostly sunny & quite warm, but breezy much of the time. Later in the evening I went over to the viewpoint at the trailhead to the White Bluffs South. They have taken up all the old, potholed blacktop along this road & it is now a nice, smooth gravel road. There was lots of nice phlox here. I discovered, however, that the sun is now too far north at sunset for good colored light on the bluffs themselves.
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East Saddle Mountain — May 19, 2007 — mytho-man
Day hike
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Ethan Schrank, Dennis Hasslinger, & I took a hike on Saddle Mtn today. The road presents no problems...

Ethan Schrank, Dennis Hasslinger, & I took a hike on Saddle Mtn today. The road presents no problems for passenger cars. We were a little late for good wildflowers & the cheat grass was starting to brown-up on the top & south facing slopes, so it wasn't quite as green as I had hoped. High clouds moved in just as we arrived, but we still had spectacular views out over the Potholes area & the Hanford Reach. As a storm was blowing in, it was a little cool & very windy.

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Saddle Mtn. — Jan 21, 2002 — Kim and Barry
Day hike
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Why go to a stark, barren place in winter? Well, number one, it's an amazing place any time. Number...

Why go to a stark, barren place in winter? Well, number one, it's an amazing place any time. Number two, we had 1022 miles of sunshine. Number three, no snakes!

We headed to the Grand Coulee area and goofed around there a day or so. Grand Coulee in winter??? Yes! It's beautiful. Icicles dripping from the coulee walls, snow accentuating the contours, resting on the muliple layers of basalt. It's so silent that you can hear the wings of the birds beating in the wind as they fly by in the hundreds. The calls of geese echoing, echoing across the coulees. Hawks lazily riding the wind, the swish of wind whistling through the sagebrush, winter grasses, cattails, dogwood and ponderosas. These are just a few of the things that make Central Washington beautiful.

Wastucna Coulee south of the Palouse Falls warrants mention. It rivals any place in the state for beauty. Look for giant ripple marks near the town of Kahlota, left by the massive floods. Look carefully; they're so huge, it's difficult to see them ground-level.

We then headed to the Saddle Mountains. We chose to approach the Saddle Mountains from the South - highway 24, from Othello. I prefer the South side of the Saddles rather than the north. The south side shows it's soft contours. Sure, the dramatic cliffs are all an the north side, but so are the farms, silos, outbuildings and sadly, abandoned cars left on the side of the road. The south side is the Wahluke WRA, and there are no buildings, no litter, no signage; nothing but rolling hills, golden grasses, tumbleweeds and wind. Between milepost 60 and 61, turn north onto a one lane paved road. When you get near the top of the ridge, bear right, and drive to the end of the road. Then get out and walk along the bare, rolling ridgeline. You can see the deep channels left by the floods and the pothole lakes to the north, and to the south are Horse Heaven Hills, the Columbia glinting in the sun, to the west are the Boylstons, the Yakimas and the Cascades.

We had to adjust our eyes when we hit the west side of the Pass on the way home; the green is shocking after 3 days of golden grass and soft, dusty-green sagebrush.

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Saddle Mountain — Jun 08, 2001 — fusslos
Day hike
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This is a MUST DO early hike! The flowers are amazing- many iris and so many cannot list! Interseti...

This is a MUST DO early hike! The flowers are amazing- many iris and so many cannot list! Interseting trail in all- odd rocks, etc. From the top can see a long way! This makes a great stop on the way to the coast. We camped at the trailhead campground. It is a ""carry in"" type but fine. We combined it with the Cannon Beach sand castle contest which was worth attending!

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Saddle Mountain — May 29, 2000 — norseman27
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Water on trail
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The access road has recently been opened on weekends only on this popular hike. There was a ""Road ...

The access road has recently been opened on weekends only on this popular hike. There was a ""Road Closed"" sign at the begining but a hand lettered sign confirmed it was open. There were about five cars in the parking lot on a wetish day. The trail starts in dense hemlock spruce forest and soon passes several interesting basalt towers. The trail seems to be in a stage of reconstruction and does not follow the USGS path. Several waterfalls were passed falling down cliffs and at several points running down the trail. The fog lifted to reveal views out to the south. While the trail only gains 1600' it seems much longer and the vegetation changes markedly. There were many flowers including a pink lily not seen in Washington. You come out above treeline onto steep meadows where stairways have been constrcted on the steep section, unfortunatly they have decayed leaving some nasty steps. After the final stairway you emerge on the small fenced summit. When the fog lifted the view was amazing. You can see the line of breakers on the coast the mouth of the Columbia, Astoria, and even the Olympics. All in all the trail is a welcome diversion from the beach. My understanding is that it gets quite crowded in better weather.

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Location
Eastern Washington -- Tri-Cities
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Statistics
Roundtrip 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain 76 ft
Highest Point 2050 ft
Features
Rivers
Wildflowers/Meadows
Wildlife
User info
Discover Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Priest Rapids

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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