by Shannon Mahre, Outdoor Adventure Guide – photos by Shannon Mahre
Imagine wildflowers lining your favorite hiking trail, and not just a couple of them — picture the surrounding landscape covered with a carpet of them in every hue — from bright yellows to shades of orange and coral and vibrant purples and greens that seem almost unnatural in their brightness. When I moved to the Yakima Valley from the west side of the mountains, I really didn’t know what to expect during my first spring season — but I’ll tell you what, it most definitely was the most magnificent show of wildflowers I’d ever seen. The best part is that these beauties aren’t just on one trail or area. You can find wildflowers all over the Valley at various times during the season.
When do they bloom?
Depending on location and elevation of your explorations, they’ll pop up over the span of about two months. Most years in Yakima, some wildflowers will slowly begin to bloom at the end of March, while other species in surrounding areas will blossom anywhere between April and mid-May and last through the end of the month into June
One of the best ways to try to figure out when the wildflowers will show their colors is keeping an eye on the temperatures during the light and dark hours. Warmer temps mean earlier wildflowers. Cooler temps this year mean blooms started off a little more slowly. The first waves are in bloom now. Expect them to peak mid-May and last until June.
Another trick to plan your trip for peak wildflower season? Keep an eye on trip reports for whatever trail you wish to hike or explore. Often, fellow hikers hop on with real-time information and reviews describing what’s blooming, as well as if they’ve spotted any snakes or other wildlife on the trail. Side Note: Snakes come out earlier than most people think. If the sun is out and you’re comfortable hiking in a t-shirt, there’s a probability that you may run into one. Early morning jaunts and excursions on cooler days are your best bet for avoiding them altogether. Of course, they wish to avoid you as much as you wish to avoid them. Just give them a bit of space if you do spot one.
Where to find the wildflowers
Here’s my scoop on where to when to head out on your wildflower adventures this year. These are a few of my favorites. Standout blooms may include the bright gold balsamroots, slily lupine, spreading phlox, wild violets and Indian/meadow paintbrush.
Wildflowers most likely present from the end of March to the beginning of May
Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (CCC) Trail Systems
Trail conditions, status, directions and maps can be found on their trails page.
Snow Mountain Ranch: This trail system is famous for its wildflowers — and there’s good reason! You’ll also find a variety of other native plants unique to the shrub-steppe landscape. Snow Mountain is one of my favorite areas for spring adventures in The Yakima Valley, and every year I take another lucky group of ladies out there to find out just why. The name says a lot — yes, it’s a mountain (and in the winter, it most likely has snow on it). There are a few trails that lead to the top, as well as trails down below that are mostly flat if elevation isn’t your thing. One of the routes I enjoy most will take you up Cowiche Mountain Trail East. Once you reach the top, hang a left onto the Snow Mountain Ranch to Rocky Top Connector Trail. After a quick jaunt, you’ll find yourself at the top of Cowiche Mountain (you’ll see a pretty giant pile of rocks at the top — it’s impossible to miss). Continue past the pile onto the Rocky Top trail system or head back the way you came. When you get back to the trail crossing, stay straight onto the Cowiche Mountain Trail West. This will lead you all of the way back down the mountain toward the parking lot. Between the views of the valley and volcanic peaks in the distance, as well as the gorgeous flowers, this trail is truly hard to beat.
Cowiche Canyon Uplands/Scenic Trail System: Home to a plethora of trails for your adventures, these trails are a great place to take your family and friends for an outing as long or as short as you’d like. Most of these trails are rolling, under wide open skies as far as the eye can see. My favorite loop to jog or ride my mountain bike on is East Uplands Trail to South Rim Trail to Radio Flyer to the Historic Jeep Trail, which takes me back to my truck. It’s fun, keeps me on my toes and always brings a smile to my face.
Cowiche Canyon East to West Entrance is a point-to-point trail located in Cowiche Canyon, approximately 3.13 miles in length from end to end. Built on an old railroad bed, the trail runs along Cowiche Creek. This trail is very beginner-friendly and has little to no grade so it’s great for those looking for a mellow, creekside stroll that’s also beautiful. You can reach the CCC Uplands/Scenic trail systems from the lower Cowiche Canyon Trail, as well as neighboring wineries — just keep an eye out for signs directing you uphill.
Wildflowers most likely present from the end of April to middle of May
Tieton River Trail
This trail is located just a few miles outside the town of Naches on Highway 12, across the street from the famous elk feeding station. (You can come here in the winter to get up close and personal with elk as they get fed by our local Fish + Wildlife during cooler months — a MUST SEE!). I recommend parking at the feeding station for your trail adventure — you’ll need a Discover Pass.
Once you cross the foot bridge, you can either turn left or right. Left will take you on a shorter excursion, whereas right, through the wildlife gate will give you more miles and more variety as far as terrain and wildflowers. Side note: This trail is also home to the Royal Columns, a famous climbing area made up of insanely impressive basalt columns and cliffs that will literally blow your mind (the first time I saw them, I was speechless).
If you head right, through the gate, you can hike or bike for almost five miles before the trail ends at an impressive viewpoint and you have to turn back — but along the way, I guarantee that you will be impressed with the never-ending beauty. This trail follows along the Tieton River, winding through fields of tall grass that make you feel like you are in the African tundra, as well as past Oak trees ancient apple trees and forested sections that will make you question whether you’re truly hiking near Yakima. Add in the seemingly endless amount of wildflowers and you have a trail that honestly is unforgettable.
Having lived in the Naches Valley for nearly 10 years now, I really can’t tell you my favorite season — but I will say this: Wildflower season may be at the top of my list. Enjoy, friends!
Note: Please take home only memories and photos. Remain on trail and refrain from picking the flowers, as tempting as it may seem.
Thank you to our guest contributor for her guide to fabulous wildflower hikes. Shannon Mahre is a local outdoor guide extraordinaire and passionate adventurer. Check out her year-round outdoor adventure clinics, classes and retreats with Mahre MADE and Girls with Grit.
Categorized in: Outdoor Recreation