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Photo by Diana McPherson.

Northwest Weekend: Tri-Cities

Enjoy plentiful hiking, lots of sun and a bit of history in Southeast Washington | By Rachel Wood and Brandon Fralic

If you live in Southeastern Washington, you probably already know the area gets only about 7 inches of rain and enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine each year. For west-side residents, that probably sounds an ideal reason to plan a trip east. But wherever you come from, and for whatever reason you’re visiting the Tri-Cities, make sure your Northwest Weekend includes some time on the area’s expansive trail network.

Just like the name implies, the Tri-Cities are made up of three distinct cities: Kennewick, Richland and Pasco. Anchored by the Columbia River, this urban area in Eastern Washington offers year-round outdoor recreation. You’ll find little to no snow during the mild winters here. Summers are toasty, with average temps in the 80s and highs sometimes exceeding 100 degrees. And while bites are rare, rattlesnake activity is higher in the summer than the rest of the year. Therefore, the best time for Tri-Cities hiking is between fall and spring. 

Badger Mountain
Blooming flowers along the Badger Mountain trail. Photo by Rachel Wood.

From sagebrush-dusted shrub-steppe trails to an extensive urban trail network, the Tri-Cities’ 30-plus hiking trails offer options for every ability. Plus, its location in the heart of Washington Wine Country means vino options aplenty. If beer is more your style, the Tri-Cities are also home to a growing craft beer community — allowing hikers to kick back with a cold one post-hike.

Day 1

There’s no better introduction to the Tri-Cities than to survey them from the highest point in the region: Badger Mountain. Featuring a system of five interconnected trails, the mountain offers a full day’s worth of trails to explore. For a moderately challenging 3.4-mile loop, begin at Trailhead Park. Head out on the Sagebrush Trail, then connect to the Skyline Trail to reach the summit. At the summit, your reward is a bird’s-eye view of the cities in the distance, along with the surrounding mountains. The blue waters of the Columbia River snake through the cities below. Finally, head down the Canyon Trail to close your loop. Early spring is a great time to hike in this area, as arrowleaf balsamroot brightens the hillsides with a sunny color. 

You are likely to work up an appetite, so make sure to stop by Country Mercantile before or after your hike for fresh-made delicatessen options. After exploring the amazing selection of preserves and fresh goods, you might even walk out with more than just lunch!

For dinner, drive into Kennewick. Hit up Ice Harbor Brewing Co. at the Marina for dinner and brews with Columbia River views. Snag a sunset selfie with the Clover Island Lighthouse on your way out, and perhaps walk your dinner off at nearby Columbia Park. If you’d rather unwind with wine, snag a Wine Trail map from the Tri-Cities visitor center in Kennewick to kick things off.

A small bird on trail
Trails in the Tri-Cities area area a wonderful place for watching wildlife. Photo by Diana McPherson.

Day 2

Head outside of town to spend the day exploring history (both human and natural) at Hanford Reach National Monument. The Hanford Reach Monument is the former buffer zone of the Hanford Nuclear Site. Built during World War II as part of the national Manhattan Project, Hanford was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Many of the buildings on the former nuclear site are visible from Hanford Reach, but due to the danger of radioactive waste, the area is not accessible to the public. Today, you can hike in a section of this former buffer zone, now a wild and historic area that has been largely reclaimed by nature.

One of the most striking sights in the monument is the White Bluffs. Head out from the White Bluffs Overlook (accessed via Ringold Road) for sweeping views of the bluffs and Hanford Reach. The namesake Hanford Reach is the final stretch of free-flowing Columbia River in the U.S. — a marvel, considering how vital the river is to commerce and transportation. This small stretch is like a window through time, revealing how the entire river may once have looked. You can hike for several miles in this area — just be sure to bring plenty of water and the Ten Essentials.

Back in town, stop by Bombing Range Brewing for food and brews honoring the region’s military legacy. And if you visit the Tri-Cities from April to November, consider signing up for a guided tour of the historic B Reactor site.

tri cities Diana McPherson 5.jpg
Hikers exploring near the Tri-Cities. Photo by Diana McPherson.

Day 3

The Tri-Cities have a variety of hiking areas surrounding them, but there’s also an extensive network of trails within city limits! Spend a day exploring urban hikes along the Columbia River. Start your day off with a hike at Bateman Island. This easy trail makes a 2-mile loop around the island, in the Columbia River near the Yakima River delta. This lush riparian habitat is a birdwatcher’s paradise, and you might even catch sight of a skunk! Just make sure to give wildlife their space. You can also connect to the 23-mile-long Sacagawea Heritage Trail along the river.

For more riverside rambling, head to Richland and take an urban stroll along the Richland Riverfront Trail. Especially gorgeous at sunset, the trail follows the Columbia River through multiple city parks with fun swinging benches. Consider popping into Longship Cellars for a wine tasting along the way. When you’ve worked up an appetite, extend your walk into downtown Richland for a unique dining experience at Monterosso’s Italian Restaurant. Housed in a remodeled train car, it might fool you into thinking you’re on a rail-trip through Tuscany. Pro tip: Get the tiramisu! 

Where to hike and play

Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve: The highest point in the Tri-Cities, Badger Mountain’s 1,579-foot summit can be reached by a growing network of trails through its shrub-steppe habitat with bird’s-eye views over the Columbia River Basin.

Bateman Island: Bateman Island is a small island on the Columbia River between Richland and Kennewick. Watch for birds and other wildlife. Urban hikers will appreciate Bateman Island’s short but sweet loop trail, accessible via land bridge.

Hanford Reach
Views from Hanford Reach. Photo by Doug Diekema.

Riverfront Trails: Miles of riverfront trails line the Tri-Cities’ three rivers. These paved paths are flat and family friendly. The 23-mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail loops around the Columbia River — a great way to explore all three cities on foot or bike. It connects to the Richland Riverfront Trail, Bateman Island and more for endless exploration opportunities. 

Hanford Reach National Monument: Hanford Reach is a massive national monument with over 57,000 acres of public land. Visit these primitive parklands for equal doses of U.S. nuclear history and natural scenery. Spring wildflowers, wildlife, bluffs and badlands make Hanford Reach an unforgettable desert hiking destination.

The B Reactor National Historic Landmark: The U.S. Department of Energy offers free public tours of the Hanford B Reactor. Tours last approximately 4 hours and meet at the B Reactor Museum and Visitors Station in Richland. After the tour, stop by Bombing Range Brewing (next door to the visitor center).

Where to stay

Homewood Suites Richland: Homewood Suites Richland is conveniently located along the Richland Riverfront Trail. This all-suite hotel features an excellent hot breakfast, weekday evening reception and a seasonal outdoor swimming pool.

Columbia Sun RV Resort: There are few tent campgrounds available in the Tri-Cities’ desert environment. But for RVers, there are plenty of sites. Columbia Sun has some of the best. The resort is centrally located in Kennewick and offers 145 full-hookup sites.

Cherry Chalet: Overlooking a cherry orchard, Cherry Chalet in Kennewick is a bed-and-breakfast offering couples’ suites and a two-bedroom guesthouse for families. Amenities include clawfoot tubs and an outdoor fireplace.

More wildlife
More wildlife abound. Photo by Diana McPherson.

Where to eat and drink

Ice Harbor Brewing Co.: Chill out with award-winning Ice Harbor brews at this family-friendly brewpub. You’ll find a selection of seafood, salads and appetizers. The brewery has two locations in the Tri-Cities — at the marina, and in historic downtown Kennewick.

Country Mercantile: This family-owned Tri-Cities icon offers an unrivaled selection of local gourmet goods including a deli, a bakery and ice cream. It’s a convenient place to grab a sandwich before your hike at Badger Mountain.

Monterosso’s Italian Restaurant: Enjoy Italian fare in an antique railroad dining car. You can’t go wrong with the great selection of wines. For beer and a more family-friendly atmosphere, try Monterosso’s sister restaurant (Atomic Ale Brewpub). Both are a short walk from the Richmond Riverfront Trail.

Bombing Range Brewing: Visit this Tri-Cities favorite North Richland brewpub for some bomb brews. Make a day of it by taking the B Reactor tour, which begins and ends at the visitor center next to the brewery.

Longship Cellars: Stop by Longship Cellars for wine tasting and small bites on the Richmond Riverfront Trail.

200-plus wineries: To navigate the Columbia Valley’s 200-plus wineries, pick up a Wine Trail map from the Tri Cities visitor center in Kennewick.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Washington Trails Magazine.Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.