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Cowiche Canyon, Yakima Area— March 2001

By Brenda Senturia

It's not too soon to think about spring wildflowers, especially in the lower elevations in eastern Washington. A well-known location for a remarkable variety of spring blooms is Cowiche Canyon. This canyon has been preserved by the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy. A flat, wide trail takes you along the creek bottom, or you can access the canyon from above via a second trailhead. I have hiked this trail in March and April. Each time it had a different and beautiful array of wildflowers to offer. My preference is to start from the rim, working down to the canyon bottom, traveling along the stream for awhile, and returning via the same route. (There is a trail connecting the rim with the bottom.) Although it is a substantial drive to get to the trailhead(s) from Seattle (3 hours), it is well worth the effort. There are some informational kiosks if you take the canyon bottom trail from the lower parking area. The creek trail is about 4 miles long.

In late March I found prairie stars, arrowleaf balsamroot, shooting stars, salt-and-pepper, and fern-leaf desert parsleys in bloom on the canyon walls. Golden and squaw currant were both in bloom. In April the scene had changed to serviceberry, Hooker's balsamroot, Canby's desert-parsley, sagebrush buttercup, long-flowered mertensia, shooting stars, grass widows, sagebrush violet, yellow bells, gold stars, showy and cushion phlox, and narrow-leaved goldenweed. There were both big and rigid sage on the hillsides. Along the stream you will see Red Osier dogwood, bitterbrush, purple sage, and hawthorn. There are numerous bridges as the trail (an old railroad bed) crosses from one side of the canyon to the other. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, even though the trail is wide and well-maintained.

To reach Cowiche Canyon, take I-90 to Ellensburg and then I-82 southeast to Exit 31A, Rte. 12. Take the second exit off Rte. 12 (N. 40th Ave. and Fruitvale Blvd.), which is past Milepost 21. Go under the freeway, cross Fruitvale, and 1.5 miles from Rte. 12, turn right on Summitview. Continue for 7.1 miles and turn right on Weikel. Go a short 0.4 miles and turn right at the sign for Cowiche Canyon. A parking area and portable restroom are there. To reach the upper trailhead, follow the above directions but, from Summitview, go right on 74th St. This connects to Englewood at a "T". Go left to the top of the hill where it dead-ends at 80th. Go left on 80th (a dirt road, but fine) and follow it to the trailhead. This is an excellent site for a family outing.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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