A straightforward, short and steep hike that offers beautiful views of volcanoes and wildflowers, the Umtanum Ridge Crest Trail is worth a sweaty slog through sunny canyonlands near the Yakima River.
Editor’s note: What goes better after a Northwest hike than a stop for a good craft beer? Watch for more installments in this series, “A Hike and a Happy Hour.” While not every brew stop may host an official Happy Hour, they will always be places you can spend a happy hour. (Remember to designate a driver.)
THE HIKE: Umtanum Ridge Crest Trail, in the Yakima River Canyon
This trail hike’s an awful lot like a country-song stereotype: It’s a dirt road that seems to wander with no particular destination in mind.
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Once you’ve hoofed up the hefty hillside, though, you understand why it’s worth a trip east.
Hello, Tahoma! The views — wildflowers on the ground this time of year, and shimmering volcanoes in the distance — are worth the steep, sweaty slog.
After the hike, extend your trip with a winding canyon drive to Yakima, where Bale Breaker Brewing serves up delicious brews with fresh hops from nearby fields.
THE FACILITIES: Parking for about 75 vehicles is available at the trailhead, where there are restrooms available.
THE ROUTE: With open views and plenty of sunshine, the trail offers a straightforward hike (6 miles round trip) that meanders through canyonlands near the Yakima River. It’s a rare steep, yet snow-free, option for early-season hikers looking for a workout and payoff at the top.
Begin your trek with a surprisingly uncomfortable walk across a suspension bridge hanging over the Yakima River. With each step, wooden planks creak and moan as the bridge jiggles over rushing water. Despite the bridge’s histrionics, it’s deceptively sturdy.
Then dip beneath a railroad bridge that runs alongside the river, before coming to a wooden signboard. Head left, and you’ll begin your ascent of the trail, which winds its way up a canyon drainage and into the hills. Sagebrush, wildflowers and shimmying grasses dot the wide-open landscape.
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Shade, you soon realize, is an infrequent commodity, and the sun can be unsparing to wimpy Westsiders. The three-mile climb feels a bit more like five when you’re wilting, so pack plenty of water.
About halfway up, the Stuart Range begins to play peekaboo through gaps in the rolling hills.
The last mile of the trail requires a straight-ahead march up a slope seemingly designed to disguise progress. Early season, expect this portion of the trail to confirm you’re not quite in hiking shape.
At the top, the trail crosses a dirt road and then peters off into a ridgetop meadow of scrabbly rock, cactuses and brilliant wildflowers (namely bright yellow arrowleaf balsamroot and amber mountain lupine, from April into late May).
Surrounded by wildflowers, the 360-degree views give you a seat at Mount Adams’ doorstep. Mount Rainier, as well, sits like a snowcone in the sun, and to the north Mount Stuart glistens enticingly in the distance.
Soon, some snow will melt and those slopes will be easily accessible to hikers of all abilities. For now, the gorgeous views will do.
RESTRICTIONS: A $5 access fee is required as the parking lot is on Bureau of Land Management land. In early May, a ticket was seen on a car that apparently neglected to purchase a pass. “America the Beautiful” passes are also accepted.
DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 90 east to Exit 110, the start of Interstate 82. Follow I-82 about 3.5 miles to Exit 3, for Highway 821 (Thrall Road), and turn right at the stop sign. At the next T-intersection, turn left onto Canyon Road (still Highway 821). Continue eight miles to the Umtanum Recreation Site and the trailhead, on the right.
On the way home
Grab a beer and snacks
Getting to Bale Breaker Brewing requires a bit of a detour from the most efficient route back to Seattle, but driving an additional 30 minutes south on the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway is well worth the side trip.
Geologic wonders are in full view along the highway, which passes basalt cliffs and runs high above the canyon-carving waterway.
And who wouldn’t want to visit Yakima, a town with a billboard that charmingly pitches it as “The Palm Springs of Washington.”
Where: 1801 Birchfield Road, Yakima: balebreaker.com
What: With a cozy taproom, and shady outdoor patio, Bale Breaker Brewing offers hikers a relaxed spot to kick back and enjoy a brew. The brewery features lawn games, food trucks and plenty of space to roam.
Why: Welcome to hop heaven. The Yakima Valley produces about three-quarters of the country’s hop harvest.
Part hop farm and part brewery, Bale Breaker showcases the region’s prowess.
“We specialize in hoppy brews,” said Kevin Smith, head brewer at Bale Breaker. “All of our beers are brewed with hops we’re growing on our farm.”
The beers at Bale Breaker were flavorful and fresh. The vibe was mellow. And the afternoon sun bathed the scene in hazy golden light. Can you ask for much more?
It doesn’t hurt that the Yakima Valley offers a cornucopia of fresh produce, too.
On the Wednesday when I stopped in, Guerra’s Gourmet Catering was serving seasonal dishes from a classic pickup truck with a wood-fired oven rigged in its bed.
Each ingredient was sourced from local farms, said head chef Chris Guerra.
“We just see what’s in season,” he said.
In early May, Guerra seared local flank steak, thumb-thick asparagus and fresh mushrooms to perfection along with hop shoots he’d plucked from a Bale Breaker hop yard next to the taproom’s lawn.
The Guerra family serves food on Wednesdays and Sundays in Bale Breaker’s rotating schedule of food trucks.
When: The brewery is open 3-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.