The Yakima Valley offers habitat for diverse wildlife, as well as options to view everything from eagles, various raptors, Canadian geese, and Blue Heron to herds of Rocky Mountain Elk, Big Horn sheep and deer. Listed below are options for viewing the Yakima Valley wildlife.
The Oak Creek Wildlife Feeding Station is located on The White Pass Scenic Byway (Hwy 12), less then 30 minutes from downtown Yakima. Elk migrate from the mountains, when the snow pack gets deep, to the feeding station in the foothills, where the station is located. The Rocky Mountain Elk bulls’ average weight is 450-900 lbs. During severe winters, as many as 8,000 elk may use the feeding areas. The migration affords the opportunity to see these majestic animals up close as they are being fed daily at 1:30pm. A normal winter season is mid-December to early March. Truck tours are available on a first-come, first served and reservation basis to take visitors out among the elk. These tours are supported by donations. The visitor center at the Oak Creek Headquarters is open every day between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The center has a video program, exhibits, and a kids’ corner. There is no charge to view the exhibits, but donations are welcomed. The Discover Pass is required for parking.
Cleman Mountain Feeding Site: Bighorn sheep can be viewed at the Cleman Mountain feeding site and are fed mid-morning. Driving from Yakima, the entrance to the site is the first right just past the junction of Highway 12 and 410.
The Wenas Creek Wildlife Area was designated as a bird sanctuary in 1966 in honor of Hazel Wolf, a renowned naturalist and Audubon mentor. Every Memorial Weekend, Washington State’s Audubon Chapters and their friends gather in the Wenas Valley. There are campfire programs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. Field Trips, which include both birding trips and wildflower trips. are scheduled Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. This is a free event. The gathering is held in the vicinity of the Larrison Tree along Wenas Creek within the Wenas Creek Campground. The camping is primitive, if you would like to attend the programs and not camp, there are many accommodation choices available in Yakima area. Everyone is welcome to join in this free family- friendly outing.
Yakima River Canyon: Driving from Yakima, Exit 26 from I-82 and go north on SR-821. Great Blue Heron nests can be seen in the trees on the west side of I-82 south of Exit 26, view from Harrison Road off the exit. Continuing north into the canyon, suggested stops from I-82 are at 3.3 miles (raptors), then another 0.5 miles (raptors, Chukar). Bighorn Sheep and Mule Deer have been seen along the cliffs. Bald Eagles are numerous in winter, look for Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and Prairie Falcon in spring and summer. Umtanum Creek Recreation Area (fee), offers a short hike where one can search for all of the above mentioned wildlife in the canyon. Cross the suspension bridge to hike upstream along the creek.
The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy features 14 miles of trails in 2 locations with 4 trailheads, providing premier hiking opportunities in the Yakima area. Known Washington’s rarest butterfly species, the Lucia Azure Butterly (Celastrina lucia), a small bright butterfly, found during the summer at Snow Mountain Ranch on Cowiche Mountain. On the mountain there are 58 species of butterflies, 10 to 12 are found only in the Pacific Northwest. Dr David James will be lecturing on, The Butterflies of Snow Mountain Ranch on February 28. YVCC Glenn-Anthon Hall, Room 215 at 7pm.
Yakima Sportsman State Park, a 247-acre shaded camping park donated to Washington State Parks in 1956 by the Yakima Sportsman’s Association which was established in 1940 to promote game management and the preservation of natural resources. The park is located close to Downtown Yakima, on the flood plain of the Yakima River, offering camping, picnic areas and fishing in the nearby Yakima River and ponds One hundred and forty bird species have been identified in the park. The Juan A. Alvarez Outdoor Living Classroom is a short, paved ADA-accessible trail and pier offering visitors a look at a living, working wetland. Park Summer Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Winter: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park is open year round for camping and day use.
Yakima Valley Arboretum: In the winter, flocks of Canadian geese can be seen resting in the park like setting of the Yakima Valley Arboretum, in local city parks and flying in formation overhead. In the early morning, around 7am, and in the afternoon, around 4pm, “Henry,” the Blue Heron visits the Arboretum pond to fish. In the summer one can see numerous small turtles in the pond. There is also a bird blind built by an Eagle Scout in conjunction with the Yakima Audubon Society in the Northeast corner of the grounds. One can view pheasants, finches, sparrows, spotted Towhees, squirrels and rabbits through the blinds windows. There are many squirrels gathering acorns on the grounds and occasionally you may spot a deer family in the early morning.
Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge located south of Yakima from US-97/SR-22 junction in Toppenish, go south 5.5 miles on US-97. Established in 1964 along the Pacific Flyway, the fields, riparian areas, and ponds are a feeding and resting area for the migrating birds. There is a viewing platform just off US-97 at the refuge entrance. Look for waterfowl and shorebirds from this platform. Numerous other birds reside in the area.
Fort Simcoe State Park, 20 miles west of Toppenish on Fort Road. Lewis’s Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Steller’s Jay. Ash-throated Flycatchers nest close by. Spring and fall migration are very good for viewing. A mother bear and cub have been seen at the park in past years.
I-82 Ponds- Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area consists of 980 acres located along the Yakima River, forming a narrow, discontinuous strip of land stretching from Union Gap to the Zillah interchange along Interstate 82. This area features several ponds created when borrow pits for the interstate flooded with groundwater. These parcels include a narrow, woody riparian corridor that transitions into dry land habitat with open water and wetlands which comprise about 25 percent of the area. A number of Osprey nests can be seen on power poles adjacent to freeway ponds from Selah to Granger. The hawks can be seen from late March through September. This habitat offers excellent nesting, brooding and winter cover for both waterfowl and upland birds. It’s also an important corridor for neotropical migrants and resident non-game birds. In addition to natural ponds, several man-made ponds have developed public access facilities.
Nature Publications for the Yakima Valley:
The Audubon Society produces an excellent series of birding trail maps for all areas in Washington State. The Sun and Sage Loop map features the birds seen in the Yakima Valley Area. Available for purchase online.
The Yakima Area Wildlife Viewing Guide is a valuable resource outlining all the areas to view nature and wildlife up-close in the Yakima Valley. This brochure includes a map to all the natural areas and descriptions of the wildlife that one will see. The printed brochure is available at the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center.
The Yakima Valley blog articles feature members of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. If you would like to receive information regarding membership, Click here, or to request a membership application, please contact Michele Hopkins at (509) 575-3010.