Top Picks for Picnics on the Trail

Sheep Lake - Yakima Valley Hiking Trails

Top Picks for Picnics on the Trail

June 6, 2023

Locals’ favorite stops for adventure, beautiful views and perfect picnics

By: Shannon Mahre, Yakima Valley outdoor adventure guide and instructor*

Whether you’re adventuring with kiddos in tow or your favorite furry adventure buddy, snack and lunch stops are a must — nobody likes a hangry hiker, am I right? But when those picnic spots come with a great view, beautiful sounds of nature and a great zone for you and your crew to truly enjoy the moment you’re all in – well, they can be hard to find without some good intel. So, I’m here to bring you my favorite picnic spots on the trail in and around the Yakima Valley. My favorite, you ask? I honestly couldn’t pick, but I will give you my two cents on the time of year I enjoy these trail spots most, as well as whether they’re kid and family friendly, or they are best for those longer excursions spent with friends or furry companions.

Mt. Clemans - Yakima Valley Hiking Trail

Cleman Mountain – Naches, WA

Trailhead: Off of Highway 410, about 17 miles west of Yakima. Directions and information about this trail can be found here.

Trail Information:

  • 6-mile loop; or you can do an out and back through Waterworks Canyon
  • Approx. 2,000-ft elevation gain
  • Moderate to difficult technical hike

Trail Description: There are a few ways you can hike this trail. I’ll describe two of them here.

  • The first is an out and back hike in Waterworks Canyon, which is the more mellow route (I’ve done this with my kiddos in a pack as well as with them hiking on their own for a good chunk of the mileage). This trail stays in the gut, or valley, of the canyon as it makes its way up toward the ridge line. Wildlife is abundant. We’ve seen everything from bighorn sheep to elk to all sorts of birds. In the warmer months, I have seen my share of rattlesnakes. (On a hot day, I walk with a snake stick or hiking poles so that I can calmly keep my distance from them if we encounter one. You can also avoid snakes by going on cooler days and also by starting your adventure early in the morning when the trail is in the shade). The colors of the shrubbery and trees on this trail in the fall is absolutely stunning. There are a plethora of snack and picnic spots in the canyon that would be perfect, but if you can make it up to the ridge line, views of the valley will be awaiting you.
  • The second route is the 6-mile loop in the link above. The loop begins with quite a steep and technical climb that takes you up the ridge line of the mountain. As you wind your way through mini basalt peaks and over a few false summits, you’ll have views of the Naches and Yakima Valley as well as the Naches and Tieton Rivers along your journey. This trail eventually drops into Waterworks Canyon which takes you back to your car at the parking area, finishing your loop. The picnic spots are endless on this hike, but the views from Cots Peak is probably the most breathtaking.

Sheep lake Hike - Yakima Valley Hiking Trails

Sheep Lake – Chinook Pass

Trailhead: The route to Sheep Lake begins at the top of Chinook Pass and is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Directions and information about this trail can be found here.

Trail Information:

  • 3.6 miles roundtrip (out and back)
  • Approximately 400-ft elevation gain
  • Easy-Moderate Hike There are a few sections that are narrow, rocky and with steep drop-offs but the rest of the trail is VERY kid and family friendly.

Trail Description: This is my absolute favorite hike to do with my oldest son (he is six now, but we started hiking this together when he was 4). I usually wait until the middle or end of July so that the bugs are calmed down and the wildflowers are out to embark on this adventure since it is way up in the mountains. There are picnic and rest spots aplenty at Sheep Lake, as well as places to camp if you want to make it an overnight trip. Swimming, wading or just getting your feet cooled off after a warm hike up are definitely recommended as well. If you’re driving back toward Yakima after your excursion, stop by Whistlin’ Jack’s Outpost Lodge for ice cream — the kids (and you!) will enjoy the sweet, post-hike treat.

Skyline Hiking Trail - Yakima Valley Hiking Trails

Skyline Trail – Selah, WA

Trailhead: Off of Buffalo Road in Selah, which is just outside of Yakima proper. Directions and information about this trail can be found here.

Trail Information:

  • 4.4 miles roundtrip (out and back)
  • Approx. 1,446-ft elevation gain
  • Moderate Hike. The trail is dirt and rock and in the spring is lined with wildflowers. There aren’t any dangerously technical areas but hiking poles would be a great choice for this hike.

Trail Description: I run/hike this trail year-round (yes, it is AMAZING in the snow) and love it in every single season. Since you’re gaining almost 1500 ft in around 2 miles, there are some steeper sections, but there are also a few sections along the way where the trail flattens out and gives you a chance to truly enjoy the wildlife and views around you. Once you reach the top of this hike, you’ll find an old hitching post that has fallen over that you can sit on as well as a plethora of rocks that are the perfect place for a snack or a full-blown picnic. From the top, you’ll see views of the Yakima River Canyon and Roza Dam as well as Selah and Yakima Valleys, with Cleman Mountain in the distance. This is a must see for anyone visiting or even locals — but make sure to start early or wear sunscreen because there is no shade on this trail.

Thank you to our guest contributor for her guide. 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.

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