Six Scenic Road Trips

Yakima River Canyon Road Trip

Six Scenic Road Trips

March 14, 2023

Time for a trip for vineyard views, mountain vistas and winding waterways

With warmer days on the way, it’s time to take a road trip or two! What better way to watch the seasons change in our beautiful corner of the Pacific Northwest, taking in everything from spring wildflowers and orchards in bloom to stunning fall colors. Make Yakima your perfect home base for scenic daytrips across a dramatic and diverse mix of Washington State terrain. Yakima’s central location, right in the middle of it all, makes it easy to explore stunning portions of six state and national scenic byways. Choose from Mt. Rainier, Yakima Valley Wine Country, the Columbia River Gorge and numerous side roads, river canyons and mountain passes – all starting from Yakima. After your drive, relax and enjoy just-picked, farm-fresh produce, festivals, delicious dining, craft beer and wine tasting.

Add a few of these six scenic day trips to your calendar this spring, summer and fall. We’ve put together the perfect routes, complete with stops along the way for great food and more things to see and do. Approximate miles and times are provided with Yakima as the starting and ending point for each route.

Scenic Pass Loop

This ride spans two Washington State scenic byways. Chinook Pass is the higher elevation pass with an iconic view of Mt Rainier with Lake Tipsoo in the forefront. You’ll find a rest area, picnic tables and short hikes at the top of pass. The stunning drive continues with switchbacks to Cayuse Pass, a tunnel and forested drive to White Pass. Enjoy the beauty of the White Pass Scenic Byway through lush forests and along Rimrock Lake.

The Route: Yakima → Highway 12 W → Naches → Chinook Pass All American Road Highway 410 → Cayuse Pass Highway 123 S → The White Pass National Scenic Byway Highway 12 E → Yakima.

Distance: 151 miles

Drive Time: 3 hours, 18 minutes

Recommended Stops: Stop by Whistlin’ Jack’s Outpost Lodge on Highway 410 for a casual, riverside lunch or linger or steak and seafood for dinner. Visit Bron Yr Aur Brewing along Highway 12 heading back to Yakima for wood-fired pizza and award-winning craft beer.

Paradise, Mt Rainier Loop

Everyone loves a visit to Paradise, the staging area for those who want to summit Mt. Rainier or simply hike the scenic trails and visit the Historic Paradise Inn. This drive goes though Mt. Rainier National Park, from east to west with multiple opportunities for scenic stops along the winding Stevens Canyon Road. Enjoy old growth forest, waterfalls and short hikes at Paradise.

The Route: Yakima → Highway 12 W → Naches → White Pass National Scenic Byway Highway 12 W → Cayuse Pass Highway 123 N → Paradise on Mt. Rainier  →  Ashford → Elbe → Morton → White Pass National Scenic Byway Highway 12 E → Yakima

Distance: 247 miles

Drive Time: 5 hours, 21minutes

Recommended Stops: Grab a snack or lunch at the Paradise Inn dining room or café and be sure to visit the Paradise Visitor Center and Longmire Museum. On the way back to Yakima, stop in in the town of Naches for Northwest flavors at Nier the Nook.

Alternate Route:  Yakima Highway 12 W Naches Chinook Pass Highway 410 Cayuse Pass Highway 123 S Paradise on Mt. Rainier Ashford Elbe Morton White Pass National Scenic Byway Highway 12 E Yakima.

Distance: 257 miles. Drive Time: 5 hours, 46 minutes.

Wine Country Loop

This route takes you through the heart of Yakima Valley Wine Country and you’ll find countless opportunities to take small side trips to wineries. Along the route, enjoy sweeping views of orchards, vineyards and hops fields.

The Route: Yakima I-82 E → Exit 40 Yakima Valley Highway → Sunnyside → Prosser → back on Highway 22 which changes into Highway 97 → Toppenish → Yakima.

Distance: 105 miles

Drive Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Recommended Stops: A few favorite stops include Treveri Cellars for small plates, sparkling wine, and great views, Hop Town Wood Fired  Pizza and Rattlesnake Hill AVA wineries. Stop by Varietal Beer Co. in Sunnyside for rotating food trucks and innovative, award-winning craft beer.

Yakama Nation Scenic Byway

On this ride you’ll pass through hop fields in one of the most important hop growing regions in the world on Highway 22 before you continue on to Horse Heaven Hills where you’ll be on the edge between grasslands and forest lands. Bickleton is known for its bluebird population and historic Carousel Museum. Satus Pass is on the Yakama Reservation and you may glimpse some of the wild horses who call it home as you go from forest to high desert terrain.                                                                                         

The Route: Yakima I-82 E → Exit 37 to Hwy 97S → Changes into Highway 22 → Mabton → Bickleton  → Goldendale → Satus Pass Highway 97 →Toppenish → Yakima.

Recommended Stops: Blue Bird Inn in Bickleton, WA, is the state’s oldest continually operating tavern. Pick up yummy pastries at St. John Monastery espresso and Greek cuisine on Satus Pass. In Toppenish, tour the western-themed murals and visit the Yakama Nation Museum and Cultural Center and Legends Casino.

Distance: 172 miles

Drive Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Yakima River Canyon Loop

The Yakima River Canyon follows the Yakima River between Yakima and Ellensburg where canyon walls rise to 2,000 feet above the river. Eagles, other raptors, deer, elk and even bighorn sheep and river otters can be spotted along the Yakima River, renowned for the state’s only blue ribbon fly fishing. On the return ride, you’ll see acres of undeveloped high desert scenery and part of the Yakima Training Center.

The Route: Yakima → I-82 W → Exit 26 to Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway Highway 821→ Ellensburg → I-82 E →Yakima.

Distance: 72 miles

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes  

Recommended Stops: Canyon River Grill in the Yakima River Canyon is a must-stop location for both the spectacular views and the exceptional, handcrafted cuisine. If you have time, schedule a guided fly fishing trip on the river with Red’s Fly Shop or book seats on the river cruise with Canyon River Ranch. (All three are located in the same location along the Yakima River.) In Ellensburg, check out Gard Vintners and then make a stop at Precision Fruit and Antiques for one-of-a-kind finds and fresh, seasonal produce. The Yakima Valley’s newest brewery and restaurant, The Outskirts Brewing Co., is a perfect spot to end the day on the patio and expansive Creekside lawn.

Alternate Route: Yakima I-82 W Exit 26 to Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway Highway 821 Ellensburg E University Way Ellensburg E. Vantage Highway Vantage over Columbia River Bridge on I-90 E Highway 243 S Highway 24 W over Columbia River Yakima. Distance: 142 miles. Drive Time: 2 hours, 53 minutes.

Columbia River Gorge Loop

This loop takes you through Yakima Valley Wine Country to Horse Heaven Hills where 25% of Washington wine grapes are grown on the large plateau. Drive down along the Columbia River, up to Goldendale where the hills are dotted with wind machines and you enjoy views of Mount Hood and golden wheat fields Continue along Satus Pass/Yakama Nation Scenic Byway on reservation land.                                                                                             

The Route: Yakima I-82 E → Exit 40 Yakima Valley Highway → Prosser → Highway 821 Patterson → Highway 14  → Highway 97 N → Goldendale → Satus Pass Highway 97→ Toppenish → Yakima.

Distance: 225 miles

Drive Time: 4 hours, 15 minutes

Recommended Stops: In Prosser, visit Vintners Village and other area wineries. Along Highway 14, Maryhill Museum is a wonderful stop, as is Maryhill Winery. Back in Yakima make a stop at the third largest independent craft brewery in the state, Bale Breaker Brewing Company.

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