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Umtanum Creek Canyon

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Begin with a walk over a bouncy suspension bridge above the trout-rich waters of the Yakima River. This trail meanders up an ever-narrowing canyon, but it also seems to be a path to the past.

The trail leaves behind the highway and clusters of anglers and rolls up past an old homestead (complete with an overgrown, brambly apple orchard) and leads into pristine desert wildlife habitat. The year-round waters of Umtanum Creek draw a vast collection of critters to this canyon. Bighorn sheep roam the canyon walls and browse the grass-rich bottoms. Deer abound throughout the area. Coyotes hunt the heavy populations of rabbits, rock chucks (marmots), and upland birds (quail, pheasant, chukar, grouse, Hungarian partridge, and others). Rattlesnakes are frequently seen in the summer (another reason to visit in winter months) when they congregate to take advantage of the mice, voles, and ground squirrels that thrive in the creek-fed grasses and tree stands. Beavers and muskrats build homes in the creek, creating an endless series of pools and ponds throughout the length of the valley. All around, underfoot and on the canyon walls, desert wildflowers color the canyon.

From the trailhead parking area, cross the Yakima River via the broad foot-traffic-only suspension bridge, then cross the high berm of the railroad tracks. Once over the railroad route, enter the L. T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area. The trail meanders through a broad sagebrush flat for 0.5 mile or so before crossing an old fence line (a few rotten posts and a low mound of dirt are about all that remains of the fence). Around this old homestead site you'll see the remnants of an old cabin--mostly just its rock foundation and a scraggly grove of apple trees.

That's the last real imprint of humans in this wild canyon. Various species of sage provide texture and fragrance to the canyon floor, while the canyon walls tower overhead.

Visit in winter and you might find a dusting of snow (possibly a few inches). A thin blanket of snow is actually a benefit to hikers as it serves as a tapestry on which the comings and goings of the local population are recorded. If you find snow, you'll also find tracks left by deer, bighorns, coyotes, small mammals, and game birds. The creek is the only water source for miles around, and it's easy to see the pathways of animals that come down from the canyon rim to get water.

The trail crosses the creek at about 1 mile. The crossing is typically an easy rock-hop, though at times you'll be forced to find a shallow spot between beaver ponds--or to carefully cross on a beaver dam. Extensive beaver activity is visible on this small desert creek. Some dams (made primarily from the local aspen, cottonwood, and alder) stand 6 to 8 feet tall, creating ponds that stretch several dozen yards upstream. Frequently the dams are built back to back with a new one standing at the upper edge of the lower dam's pond.

About 2 miles up the trail, the trail skirts around a stand of low alder. On several visits to the area, we've encountered a portion of the resident herd of bighorn sheep (usually numbering 50 or 60 animals) either bedded down in this area or vacating their beds. The alder grove apparently provides good shelter for them on cold winter nights.

The trail continues up the canyon, but past the 3-mile mark it becomes narrow and largely overgrown and many creek crossings are needed. Rather than push on through the brush, turn around here and return through the rich canyon, remembering that you will find plenty to see on your way back.
Driving Directions:

From Seattle, drive east on Interstate 90 to exit 110. After exiting, continue east on Interstate 82 about 3.5 miles to exit 3 (Thrall Road). At the stop sign, turn right on State Route 821. Turn left at the next stop sign to continue southeast along State Route 821 into Yakima Canyon (signed "Yakima Canyon") and continue about 8 miles to the Umtanum Recreation Area (between mileposts 16 and 17). A large gravel parking lot is on the right (west) side of the road. The parking lot is BLM you must pay $5.00 from 5/15 - 9/15 to park; fee collection box is at the parking lot.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 139 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Umtanum Creek Canyon — Apr 13, 2014 — mytho-man
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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My old friend, Jeff, whom I hadn't seen in probably 10 years, was passing through the area today and...
My old friend, Jeff, whom I hadn't seen in probably 10 years, was passing through the area today and we met up at Umtanum Canyon for an afternoon hike. We walked about 2.5 miles up the canyon and back. We had no difficulty crossing the creek. We didn't see a lot of wildflowers, no bighorn sheep, & there were plenty of other hikers in the canyon, but the cottonwoods were that lovely lime green that they have when they are just leafing out. It was a sunny, warm day & they were spectacular. It was a wonderful afternoon with an old friend.
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Umtanum Creek Canyon — Feb 22, 2014 — verdi&meg
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes | Snow on trail
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Megann and I took the Umtanum Creek Canyon trail with our two dogs. Right now the trail is either mu...
Megann and I took the Umtanum Creek Canyon trail with our two dogs. Right now the trail is either muddy or iced over so be prepared for unsure footing. We didn't notice much wildlife today except for a bluejay heckling us! Nonetheless we had a great walk with good scenery.
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Umtanum Creek Canyon — Feb 05, 2014 — itsmeagain89
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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My boyfriend and I did the trail yesterday for my birthday. It was quite chilly, I would suggest br...
My boyfriend and I did the trail yesterday for my birthday. It was quite chilly, I would suggest bringing some gloves! Other than that, parts of the trail were covered in ice. Both of us ended up falling on the ice at some point, but we just laughed it off. We spotted some bighorn sheep to the left of the creek, past the patch of alders! I was so excited!
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Umtanum Creek Canyon — Nov 11, 2013 — mytho-man
Day hike
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Ethan & I went back to Umtanum Canyon again today, but instead of going up the canyon we took the tr...
Ethan & I went back to Umtanum Canyon again today, but instead of going up the canyon we took the trail up the first side canyon to the left (south). When we reached the aspen grove with the spring & stock tank near the head of the canyon we took the left fork of the trail that follows the old service road up around Pt 2017 and then south along the bench above the Yakima River. We walked as far as Pt 2016, where we found a nice overlook for lunch. The point was a little more exposed than the rest of the route and we had a cool breeze as we ate. We were also right on the edge of the clouds and sat mostly in the shade while just across the canyon the slopes were mostly in the sun. We had nice views, but the light was a little flat to make it very dramatic. About the time we were ready to start back a train went by below us. Ethan counted 113 cars. The only wildlife we saw was a couple of bald eagles in the Yakima Canyon, but there was still a little fall color hanging on in places. There were quite a few cars in the parking lot, but there were only two other people on our route.
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Umtanum Creek Canyon — Nov 01, 2013 — Bob and Barb
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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After setting up camp at Big Pines, we hiked 2 miles into Umtanum Creek Canyon. There was still some...
After setting up camp at Big Pines, we hiked 2 miles into Umtanum Creek Canyon. There was still some fall color, but the leaves from the aspen and cottonwoods were mostly on the ground. Beavers have been working to divert the creek, but the creek crossing was easy. We saw a doe and her 2 fawns at the beaver dam on our way in and again as we returned to the TH.
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Umtanum Creek Canyon bob & barb.jpg
Umtanum Creek Canyon. Photo by Bob & Barb.
Location
Eastern Washington -- Yakima
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife - L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area
Statistics
Roundtrip 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain 700 ft
Features
Fall foliage
Wildflowers/Meadows
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
Dogs allowed on leash
Guidebooks & Maps
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Yakima

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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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