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Umtanum Creek Falls

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A diversity of landscape and ecosystems are found along this canyon trek. Starting high and hiking downhill, the route begins in open, Douglas fir forest and ends in sagebrush and scrub grass desert canyons.

Elk roam the upper woods, and bighorn sheep prowl the steep canyon walls around the pounding waterfall. Visit in early spring to enjoy the best wildlife viewing (beasts of all sizes stick to this canyon while the snows still fill the high country). Spring also means the waterfall is running full with snowmelt water. The area in and around the falls is very icy in winter.

From the parking area, start down the Umtanum Falls Trail, noting that the first 0.5 mile no longer rolls between sections of private property. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife purchased this land in 2006, and it is now part of the state-owned L. T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area lands. For the next 0.5 mile, you'll pass through the transition zone between the lowland forest and the high desert. At times the canyon narrows and the north wall looms higher. With more shade and less scorching sun in the summer, trees thrive. Douglas firs tower high on the shaded slopes, while the canyon floor sports a dense forest of pine and fir. As you near the 1-mile mark, the canyon walls mellow, opening the entire chasm to the full glare of sun day in and day out. The result is dramatic: Gone are the towering firs and pines, and instead the canyon is filled with fragrant sagebrush groves.

At just over 1 mile, the stunning punchbowl surrounding Umtanum Falls opens before you. The creek falls about 40 feet into an oval-shaped basalt bowl. Throughout winter and spring, ice plasters the black rock alongside the falls as the water cascades into the bowl and then out a narrow canyon. In this water-rich basin, ponderosa pines thrive.

Hikers may continue down the creek valley for several miles along the "official" trail (brushy scramble in places), though we recommend exploring. Rock-hop across the creek well above the falls, where you'll find an easily scrambled slope to the top of the south wall of the canyon. Follow the canyon rim to view amazing rock formations: myriad volcanic basalt forms that boggle the mind. Later in spring, the ridge top also sports the first color of the local wildflower show. Buckwheat and balsamroot are especially abundant.

For a good daylong outing, follow the south canyon rim about 3 miles until it is broken by a broad side canyon, then turn back and head home.
Driving Directions:

From Seattle, drive east on Interstate 90 to exit 109 in Ellensburg. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right to drive under the freeway and at 0.7 mile turn left at Umtanum Road at the traffic light. Stay on this road, which turns to gravel at 5.2 miles, for a total of 10 miles from the freeway exit. At 10 miles, find a small signed parking area at a sharp turn in the road. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife permit required.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 32 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Umtanum Creek Falls — Apr 01, 2014 — Tron
Day hike
Issues: Mudholes
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Nice day on the trail. Weather was perfect, if partly cloudy. Saw multiple hikers both coming and go...
Nice day on the trail. Weather was perfect, if partly cloudy. Saw multiple hikers both coming and going on Tuesday afternoon. There was one big blowdown that you need to climb over or under, lots of mud, a few precarious shallow creek crossings, and there's ice near the falls itself. The ice is avoidable, but the mud is not. Most of the worst spots have sticks down to walk on to help you traverse the mud.

Scrambling up to the rock formation above the falls is fun, but with the loose dirt and stones, it can be a little harrowing at times. Crossing the stream at the falls to get to them is also a little tricky at the moment because of the ice.

We saw lots of small yellow and purple flowers on the field above the rock formations, but the trail itself didn't have any flowers yet.

No animals on the trail, save a chirping squirrel or two. Though we did see some deer and birds on the road leading to the site.

We saw a couple dogs on the trail, who seem to have made the trip without to much difficulty. But expect muddy paws!

If you'd like help mapping the location, put this address into Google Maps:

29360 N Wenas Rd, Selah, WA 98942

Follow N Wenas from that address east, until it bends north. That's the location of the trail head.
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Umtanum Creek Falls — Dec 05, 2013 — mOuNtAiNeEr51
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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Waterfall is amazing with all of the ice! Where the trail is usually wet and muddy just before the w...
Waterfall is amazing with all of the ice! Where the trail is usually wet and muddy just before the waterfall, it is all solid ice there, but there is a way around. So just be very careful when above the waterfall. It would be easy to slip and slide right off the cliff. We hiked to the bottom of the falls and that is very worth it. We were the only ones on the trail, too.

Note: I marked Snow on Trail. But there was only a dusting. What I really mean is Ice on Trail.

Photos: http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8008653
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Umtanum Creek Falls — Oct 26, 2013 — pelinka
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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After a foggy week in Seattle, it was time to get some sun so East we went. This was our first time ...
After a foggy week in Seattle, it was time to get some sun so East we went. This was our first time visiting the Falls, and we were not disappointed! Fall colors, bright sun and a cool breeze were our reward.
We left Seattle at 7:30 am and drove through the fog all the way to Ellensburg and even part of the 5 mile road to the gravel road, where the sun was waiting. The first ones to arrive (10 am), we had the trail to ourselves for at least 1 hr before the next hikers arrived. The trail was pretty easy all the way to the falls. You end up at the top of the falls and have two options to descend: go west up the hill, walk around an opening, and end up facing the falls. Or you can head east on a sandy trail and go down on the rocks. We did the latter.
On our way back, we went up the rocky/sandy trail to the top of the falls and decided to visit the rock formations east of the falls (covered in yellow moss?). The view was fantastic! By then, the day had warmed up from 37F to 71F, and the cool breeze was very welcomed.
We head back to the parking lot at 12:30 and two more cars showed up. We
did not see any rattlesnakes, which was a bit of a relief.
We loved this trail in the Fall, and hope to come back in the Spring (since most of the reviews are for that season).
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Umtanum Creek Falls — Oct 26, 2013 — cricket11
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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It was a really sunny day when we went. Most of the fall leaves had fallen off the trees and covered...
It was a really sunny day when we went. Most of the fall leaves had fallen off the trees and covered the path but still very beautiful. Make sure you stick to the right of the creek as the path is way easier than the path on the path on the left side of the creek. The waterfall didn't have that much running from it but still beautiful.
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Umtanum Creek Falls — May 10, 2013 — TsuKata
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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Note: I'm a newbie hiker so take all comments with an appropriate grain of salt. We saw quite a...
Note: I'm a newbie hiker so take all comments with an appropriate grain of salt.

We saw quite a few wildflowers, even more butterflies. The creek rushed and burbled with fresh snowmelt.

The trail was mostly obvious. There are a couple of splits, but it doesn't take long to figure out which is main vs. offshoot. You cross the creek three times, twice using stones and once using a bridge. At the time of our outing, our feet stayed dry, but if the creek is running heavier, it could be a wetter crossing. There were two places where the trail was a bit washed out, leaving foot-sized stone outcroppings as the means to cross. I'm sure experienced hikers laugh at such things, but it was a bit of a challenge for me, with short legs and little experience, to safely get across the washed out areas.

At 90 degrees, the shade on most of this trail was welcome. No snakes or beasts encountered. Definitely enjoyed it as my first hike in WA!
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umatum creek falls.jpg
Photo by Whitebark.
Location
Eastern Washington -- Yakima
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Statistics
Roundtrip 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain 700 ft
Features
Waterfalls
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
May encounter mountains bikes
Discover Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)
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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