the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Photographic Side Road – Yakima Canyon

Yakima River Canyon

The canyon just downstream from Umtanum.

Often when traveling, particularly via Interstate highway, I look for scenic byways that parallel my path. Places with scenery, where a few good photos can be taken, without going far out of my way. Washington State Route 821 through the Yakima River Canyon is such a route. If you are traveling on Interstate 82 between Ellensburg and Yakima, Washington (basically on the main route from Seattle to eastern Oregon, southern Idaho and Utah), it is worth taking the few extra minutes to travel this road. The road add about 15 minutes drive time, but less than 5 miles to the route. Of course, if you are tempted to get out and take a few photographs, go on a hike, or view wildlife, it may add much more than a quarter-hour to your trip.

If traveling south from Ellensburg toward Yakima, to reach this scenic byway, you can take the Exit 109 (signed Canyon Road, Ellensburg) and turn left onto Canyon Road at the bottom of the off ramp, or take Exit 3 on Interstate 82 (signed 821 South, Thrall Road) and turn right on Thrall Road at the end of the off ramp, then left onto Canyon Road. Once on Canyon Road, within several miles, you will be driving a 25-mile long,  twisting two-lane highway that follows along the eastern shore of the Yakima River.

The river forms an oasis in the otherwise dry foothills on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. In the summer, lush pockets of green contrast with the dryland hills and cliffs above the river. In the spring, when the hills can be green, the contrast is between trees denser foliage along the river and the mostly grass and  scrub brush on the hills. In fall, the riverside foliage, including a mix of cottonwoods, aspens and evergreen conifers, presents a contrasting yellows, reds and oranges. In winter, there is often snow along the river and in the hills. Whenever you visit, on this side of the Cascades, the weather is often sunny and the sky blue (no promises though!).

There are four recreation areas run by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These offer places to stop with camping spots, picnic tables, and vault toilets. They also have boat launches, which present an additional way to enjoy the canyon – by boat, canoe or kayak. The river is calm throughout the canyon, but if you do boat the river, be sure to use the take out at the Roza Recreation Area to avoid the Roza Dam that is shortly downriver (above Roza, only non-motorized boats are allowed) . The first recreation area heading south on the road, Umtanum, is particularly worth a stop. Here a suspension bridge spans the river, leading to a fine hike up Umtanum Creek. The hike leads through Untanum Canyon, away from the river, and into the pristine wildlands of the Wenas  Wildlife Area .  The recreation areas have a $5/vehicle daily use fee (or use an Interagency, ie National Parks, pass).

Away from the recreation areas, there are plenty of pull overs along the road to practice photography or look for wildlife. Mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, as well as eagles, hawks, falcons and other birds frequent the area. Also be aware, that in spring and summer, rattlesnakes are also common.

Most of the photos illustrating this post were from my recent trip through the canyon earlier this month. The last several are from earlier trips.

Yakima River near Big Pines

Near the Big Pines Recreation Area

Yakima River1

Several miles downstream of Umtanum.

Yakima River2

Contrasting cottonwoods and bare hills.

Yakima River3

The river is lowest in the fall and winter. In summer, flows are the highest due to upstream dams in the Cascades letting water out to be used for irrigation downstream in the Yakima Valley.

Yakima River Cottonwoods

Another typical scene along the Yakima River.

Highway 821

Sunset on the hills above Highway 821.

What a Birthmark!

On one trip through the canyon, we easily spotted this unusually marked mule deer and its companions.

Selah Sunset

Sunset at the southern end of the canyon, near the small town of Selah.


19 responses

  1. That looks like a great place to be for a while 🙂

    November 22, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    • It certainly is a great place to take the road less traveled!

      November 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

  2. Very nice fine art Joe! I especially like the great color you are getting in the water. Is this with or without a PL filter? Thanks for the excellent posts!

    November 22, 2014 at 11:14 pm

  3. How lovely nature framed the river. With these colourful trees and plants at the sides. Very nice pictures!

    November 23, 2014 at 1:20 am

    • Thanks. I did miss the peak color, the trees had already started losing their leaves.

      November 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm

  4. I’m so jealous. In Germany there are no epic landscape like this

    November 23, 2014 at 4:16 am

    • Yes, but in Germany you have many other subjects that I would love to photograph that are not found here, from your wonderful cities to all that history!

      November 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      • Wich do you mean?

        November 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      • The United States, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, has relatively little history compared to Germany. Our history only goes back several hundred years, while Germany’s goes back centuries. I’d love to visit cities such as Berlin and Heidelberg, or see the Hohensollern or Newschwanstein Castles, or the Linderhof and Buckeburg Palaces. There is so much to see that we don’t have. Though I’ve been to Europe several times, I’ve never been to Germany. My daughter a few years ago spent 2 months in Europe and Germany was her favorite place. I’d like to personally visit to see why.

        November 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      • Your right, i was at all these places. If you want i can took pictures oft That

        November 23, 2014 at 12:47 pm

  5. Fantastic pictures and wonderful colors!!

    November 23, 2014 at 6:34 am

  6. Do you use a polarizer much on the streams Joe? Overall I do use it quite a bit but have to be careful of too much darkening.

    November 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    • Yes, but I tend to look for to much or uneven darkening in the sky rather than in the water.

      November 23, 2014 at 6:56 pm

  7. I agree that’s very worthwhile either as a detour or a destination. Especially in autumn or early spring.

    November 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    • Thanks for looking in Greg. You are right, sporting can be very nice too.

      November 24, 2014 at 8:23 pm

  8. I also thought Yakima was a sweet surprise. Beautiful photos!

    November 24, 2014 at 4:17 pm

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