Hiking Yakima: Snow Mountain Ranch and the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy

Just minutes from downtown Yakima is a glorious expanse of sagebrush-studded land where spring wildflowers bloom in profusion, birds sing, marmots chirp, and sparkling creeks cut their way through ancient basalt and andesite.

Two properties protected by the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy offer 30 miles of hiking, through the Cowiche Canyon trail and the 2,000-acre Snow Mountain Ranch. These lands are home to approximately 200 species of plants, 125 species of birds and wildlife and 64 species of butterflies.

Vibrant wildflowers are among some 200 species of plants that thrive on the sagebrush landscape. Photo by Cluny McCaffrey/ECOSS

Vibrant wildflowers are among some 200 species of plants that thrive on the sagebrush landscape. Photo by Cluny McCaffrey/ECOSS

On a recent weekend two friends and I escaped rainy Seattle and headed over the pass to explore this amazing landscape with a former colleague and longtime friend, Betsy Bloomfield, the director of the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy.

Snow Mountain Ranch is about 12 miles west of town. Historically, the ranch was home to Elon and Joan Gilbert, friends of Justice William O. Douglas, a noted hiker and conservationist. He would often stop to visit with them on his way into the Cascades from his home in Yakima.  With an elevation gain of 1,000 feet, hikers are treated to views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier along with expansive views of the Yakima Valley.

Several trails lead treat day-hikers to exceptional mountain views and native sagebrush flora. Photo by Cluny McCaffrey/ECOSS. 

Several trails lead treat day-hikers to exceptional mountain views and native sagebrush flora. Photo by Cluny McCaffrey/ECOSS

Trails wander amidst Oregon white oaks, along creeks, and high up onto the ridge. We saw arrowleaf balsamroot, phlox, bigheaded clover, and more.

And finished up in time for a quick jaunt over to a winery, perched at the top of the Cowiche Canyon trail. Cowiche Canyon Cowiche means “footbridge between the valley and mountains.” The path along the canyon floor follows a portion of the old railroad route between Yakima and Tieton.

Perched on rocks overlooking the canyon at the edge of the vineyard as the sun sank in the distance was a perfect end to perfect day.