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Cowiche Canyon Preserve

Central Washington

Location

Central Washington -- Yakima
View map below

Length

20.0 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Highest Point: 1844 ft.

Rating

3.53 out of 5

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

None
 
 

Walk beneath stunning basalt and andesite cliffs along a beautiful creek with wildflowers in the spring, stunning color in the fall with the option for a side trip for a glass of wine and snacks. Or walk a loop on the uplands through sagebrush and lithosol with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside bursting with wildflowers in springtime.

The Cowiche Canyon Preserve is a small pocket of wildlands near Yakima. It includes both the canyon itself and the canyon’s southerly uplands. There are approximately 20 miles of interconnected trails open to hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular when there is enough snow.

The centerpiece of the Preserve is Cowiche Canyon and the Cowiche Canyon Trail which winds through the canyon on an old railroad bed beneath steep sagebrush slopes and cliffs of basalt and andesite splotched with colorful lichens, crossing Cowiche Creek 9 times along the way. The canyon is connected to the uplands by the Lone Pine Trail just east of bridge 2, Tieton Andesite just west of bridge 7, and the East Uplands Trail just east of bridge 8. Just west of bridge 8 the Winery Trail climbs the north side of the canyon to the tasting room at Wilridge Winery.

The uplands portion of the preserve encompasses the undeveloped uplands above the canyon to the south, including the high point of Cowiche Knoll. The uplands are laced with an extensive system of interconnected trails, most of which intersect the Historic Jeep Road which runs from the Scenic Drive trailhead on the east to the western boundary of the preserve and a junction with the Summitview Trail coming up from the Summitview Trailhead. The trails wind through sagebrush and lithosol with views of Mount Cleman and Cowiche Mountain with Mount Adams and the top of Mount Rainier in the distance. From the summit of Cowiche Knoll the views of the surrounding countryside are panoramic, and in the spring the wildflower display can be spectacular. All of the trails can be connected to make any number of loops or out-and-back hikes.

For an approximately 8-mile loop covering the entire length of the preserve, start at the east trailhead and walk the Canyon Trail to the Lone Pine Trail. Climb the Lone Pine Trail to Radio Flyer and go left to the South Rim Trail. Walk the length of the South Rim Trail to the East Uplands Trail and follow this trail down to the Canyon Trail and back to the east trailhead. For a shorter loop at the west end of the uplands, start at the Scenic Drive Trailhead and combine the Historic Jeep Road, the South Uplands Loop to Cowiche Knoll, then either Coyote Way or Break B4U Break/Colonel Barnhill to the Historic Jeep Road and back to the trailhead.

A similar loop on the north side of the Jeep Rpad combines the East Uplands Trail, the South Rim Trail, Trial Breaker, and the Historic Jeep Road. For a loop on the east end of the uplands combine the Summitview Trail, Radio Flyer, the Historic Jeep Road, and the Summitview South Trail. And for the wine lovers, take the East Uplands Trail from the Scenic Drive trailhead into the canyon and then climb the Winery Trail to the Tasting Room for snacks and a glass of your favorite wine.

WTA Pro Tips: In the warmer months you’ll need good sun protection and plenty of water, as there is no shade or water along the trails. You’ll also need to be alert for rattlesnakes and ticks.  Winter snows can make this an excellent snowshoeing destination, though snowshoes and traction devices are seldom required. Also, note that the Preserve is often closed for a few days in the early spring when the trails are muddy to protect the landscape.  Please respect these closures.  For maps, current trail conditions, and complete trail descriptions, check the Conservancy’s website.

TRAILS AT THE COWICHE CANYON PRESERVE

The Cowiche Canyon Trail

From the west trailhead just off Weikel Road, the Canyon Trail winds 2.9 miles through the canyon to the east trailhead at the end of Cowiche Canyon Road. The creek is always close at hand, and the lush riparian vegetation and sagebrush hillsides are home to numerous species of songbirds, while raptors and vultures circle above the cliffs. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a canyon wren or spot a yellow-bellied marmot or a lucia azure butterfly. In the spring, a wide array of wildflowers dot the hillsides. As you make your way down the canyon, just past bridge 7, you’ll come upon some reddish basalt columns reminiscent of the statues on Easter Island. A little farther along, soaring above the trail between bridges 7 and 8, is an andesite formation known as the Mayan Sunrise. Just beyond bridge 8 the trail leaves the railroad bed and follows an old county road to bypass two trestles that were illegally removed when the rails and ties were salvaged. Here the vegetation crowds the trail, at times forming a tunnel as the trail follows a bend in the creek back to the railroad bed below some impressive basalt cliffs. After crossing the creek for a final time, the trail passes a grove of aspen, then a house and small orchard. Beyond this is the hop yard that is the source of Fremont Brewing Company’s Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale, and finally the east trailhead at the end of Cowiche Canyon Road. (Flat, stable surface with loose gravel. 2.9 miles)

The Historic Jeep Road

This trail begins at the Scenic Drive Trailhead and follows an old 2-track up a short rise, then northwest the entire length of the uplands to a junction with the Summitview Trail at the western boundary of the preserve. Along the way the trail passes junctions with the North Uplands Loop, the South Uplands Loop, the Cliff Path, and, at about the half-way point, a 4-way junction with Colonel Barnhill, Tieton Andesite, and Trailbreaker. The trail then continues on across the uplands to a junction with the east leg of Radio Flyer, the Summitview South Trail, and the west leg of Radio Flyer before terminating at a junction with both the Summitview & Summitview South Trails. There are good views the entire length of the trail to the north and west including Mount Cleman, Mount Rainier, and Cowiche Mountain. (Mostly level terrain. 2.2 miles)

South Rim Trail

This trail starts at a junction with the East Uplands Trail and heads northwest across the uplands to a junction with Trail Breaker, then heads north down a gently descending ridge to a viewpoint up and down the canyon. From here the trail heads south a short ways to the another leg of Trail Breaker, then heads west, traversing in and out of two major ravines to another nice viewpoint of the canyon. Beyond this viewpoint, the trail winds southwest around the head of another ravine to a junction with Tieton Andesite and access to both the Historic Jeep Road and the Cowiche Canyon Trail. The trail then follows Tieton Andesite south (left) for about hundred yards before heading west again, winding across the north-facing slope of the uplands around a couple more ravines to a junction with an old 2-track. Go left a couple of hundred yards along the 2-track to the end of the trail at a junction with Radio Flyer. There are good views across the canyon to Naches Heights and Mount Cleman for the entire length of the trail. (Moderately rolling terrain with some steeper ups & downs through the ravines. 2.9 miles)

Lone Pine Trail

This trail starts from a junction with the Cowiche Canyon Trail just east of bridge 2 and climbs out of the canyon in a series of gentle switchbacks to an intersection with Radio Flyer and a resting bench with nice views over the canyon to Mount Cleman. The trail then continues climbing south to a junction with the Historic Jeep Road. (Moderate uphill grade. 0.8 miles)

Tieton Andesite

This trail begins at the 4-way junction midway along the Historic Jeep Road and gently descends an old 2-track north along a broad ridge before dropping steeply down a ravine to a junction with the main Cowiche Canyon Trail just west of bridge 7. (Gentle downhill grade followed by a steep drop. 0.5 miles)

East Uplands Trail

This trail starts at the Scenic Drive Trailhead and goes northwest across the uplands to a junction with an old 2-track and the South Rim Trail. From here the trail goes right following the 2-track past junctions with the One Day & One Day Spur Trails to the edge of a ravine. The trail then drops into and out of the ravine and heads north to a viewpoint of the east end of the canyon, then traverses the hillside to a viewpoint up and down the canyon before switchbacking down to a junction with the main Cowiche Canyon Trail. (Trail becomes steep in places as it winds down into the Canyon. 1.5 miles)

Coyote Way

This trail starts at the southwest corner of the South Uplands Loop, climbs up Cowiche Knoll to a junction with the Cliff Path, then descends the Knoll and heads northwest across the uplands to a junction with Colonel Barnhill just south of the 4-way junction along the Historic Jeep Rd. From Cowiche Knoll there are panoramic views of the entire countryside including Mount Cleman, Mount Rainier, Cowiche Mountain, and Mount Adams. (Moderate uphill, then downhill grade followed by rolling terrain. 0.8 miles)

Radio Flyer

This trail Starts at a junction with the Historic Jeep Road near the west property boundary, descends in broad switchbacks through sagebrush & lithosol, then heads southeast to a junction with the Lone Pine Trail and a resting bench with nice views over the canyon to Mount Cleman. From here the trail continues generally southeast around the head of a ravine through typical shrub-steppe to a junction with an old 2-track and the western end of the South Rim Trail. The trail then climbs gently south along the 2-track to an intersection with the Historic Jeep Road. (Flat and moderately rolling grade. 2 miles)

Trail Breaker

This trail starts from the South Rim Trail just west of the first viewpoint and traverses gently south to the top of the ridge where it turns west for a short ways before heading south again around the head of a ravine. The trail then proceeds westerly though sagebrush & lithosol before finally curving southwest and climbing gently to the 4-way junction half-way along the Historic Jeep Trail. There are good views from the trail across the canyon to Mount Cleman. (Moderate terrain. 1.0 miles)

Winery Trail

This trail begins at the Cowiche Canyon Trail just west of bridge 8 and climbs the north side of the canyon to a trailhead at The Tasting Room at Wilridge Winery, located in a 1900's era farmhouse on the north rim of Cowiche Canyon. The winery area contains vineyards, scenic vistas, and picnic areas. There are spectacular views as the trail climbs out of the Canyon. This trail is cooperatively maintained by the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and the Tasting Room. (Steep grade with loose footing. 0.8 miles)

 

Cowiche Canyon Preserve

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 46.6299, -120.6629 Open map in new window

Trailhead

Central Washington -- Yakima

Bureau of Land Management Spokane and Cowiche Canyon Conservancy

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Best Desert Hikes: Washington (Bauer & Nelson - Mountaineers Books)

Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Yakima

Getting There

There are four trailheads for the Cowiche Canyon Preserve trail system. For all trailheads, drive east from Ellensburg on Interstate 82 to exit 31A and get on westbound US 12. Take the second exit off US 12 (the exit is signed "N. 40th Ave. and Fruitvale Blvd."). Drive under the freeway and across Fruitvale.

Cowiche Canyon East: Head south on North 40th Avenue. past Fred Meyer to West Powerhouse Road and turn right. In 1.1 miles, turn left onto Cowiche Canyon Road and go 2.2 miles to the end of the road. The parking lot and trailhead are on the right. There is a portable outhouse at this trailhead.
Trailhead GPS: 46.6214235,-120.6279761

Cowiche Canyon West (Weikel): Follow North 40th Avenue 1.5 miles from US 12 and turn right onto Summitview Avenue. Head west on Summitview Avenue. In 7.1 miles, turn right onto North Weikel Road. In 0.5 miles, turn right onto a gravel road to the parking lot and trailhead. There are no bathroom facilities at this trailhead. The closest one is at the Scenic trailhead.
Trailhead GPS: 46.6286296,-120.6599266

Scenic (Uplands): Follow North 40th Ave 1.5 miles from US 12 and turn right onto Summitview Avenue. Head west on Summitview Avenue. In 1.6 miles, turn right onto North 66th Avenue. In 0.5 mile, turn left onto Englewood Avenue. In 0.9 miles, turn right on North 80th Avenue. In 0.2 miles, turn left onto Scenic Drive. Go 0.5 mile. The parking lot and trailhead are on the right. There is a portable outhouse at this trailhead.
Trailhead GPS: 46.6101481,-120.6243069

Summitview Trailhead (Uplands): Follow North 40th Avenue 1.5 miles from US 12 and turn right onto Summitview Avenue. Head west on Summitview Avenue 5.9 miles to a small parking lot and trailhead on the right. There are no bathroom facilities at this trailhead. The closest one is at the Scenic trailhead.
Trailhead GPS: 46.6222782,-120.6732304

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

None
 

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Cowiche Canyon Preserve

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