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Umtanum Creek Falls

Umtanum Road - not much in bloom

We decided to drive over to Ellensburg in Central Washington and see what was in bloom. Ellensburg is about 125 miles east of Seattle over Snoqualmie Pass. It is farm oriented town with many cattle and hay farms. Central Washington University is also located in the town. We invited two of our friends. One is a birder and he was interested in checking out the bluebirds and whatever else he might find.

It took us about 1 1/2 hours to get to Central Washington. We were early for lunch so we exited at Thorp to go over to Hayward Road. The bluebirds were out but not many flowers in bloom beyond violas and desert parsley. We saw a sign at the beginning of the road that said "No Wind Farm Traffic". At the top of the ridge, we found the road widened and a steady stream of large dump trucks heading onto the top of the ride. Construction had started on a new wind farm. We decided we didn't want to mess around with the large dump trucks along a dirt road so we turned around. We will need to find a new favorite spot for wildflowers in the area. We headed on into Ellensburg and stopped for an early lunch at Campus U-Tote-Ums drive in.

The hike was off Umtanum Road. This road starts just before I-90 on Canyon Road south of Ellensburg. It swings under I-90 and through hay farms before turning west. The road climbs along the foothillls of the Cascades through the shrubby steppe - a bushy area dotted with tall pines. We started spotting blue birds. The Yakima Audubon Society have put up nesting boxes along the fences and we saw lots of activity. We saw a mixture of both Mountain and Western Bluebirds. Both are beautiful but we particularly love the male Mountain Bluebirds which are brilliant turquoise. We did a little bit of exploring along the roadsides to see what we might see in wildflowers. Not much. Violas, desert parsley, a few white onions, a few bluebells.We did find lots of wax and golden current in bloom.

The road turns to dirt and curves into a canyon. The trail head was around one corner. There was just one other car in the lot. We took our time along the trail stopping with the spotting scope to see what birds we could see. We also found evidence of very active beavers at the start of trail. Many young aspens had been cut down and several dams along the creek. But the hillside was still yellow gray and the trees were leaf less. It will probably be two more weeks before the hillsides color.

The trail was very easy - really a walk. It was a good place to explore. The trail followed the stream and was a little over a mile. We came to a rocky outcrop and the stream dropped over into a curved basalt bowl. It was a little unnerving for me. I slowly crept to the edge and looked down. The falls were spraying over and dropping down into the dark pool. There were two scramble trails that went around the bowl and down a very slippery slope to the pool at the bottom. I had no interest in going down and decided to stay at the top while G and our friends scrambled down.

We returned to the car. It was now overcast but still warm. We headed back about 4pm making a short stop at the Taste of Italy Espresso stand before heading over the pass.

Mountain Bluebird - Umtanum Road
Mountain Bluebird

Western Bluebird - Umtanum Road
Western Bluebird

Viola trinervata - Umtanum Road
Viola trinervata

Ribes cereum - Wax Currant
Wax Currant

Umtanum Falls Trailhead

Busy Beavers - Umtanum Falls Trail
Evidence of busy beavers

Beaver Dam - Umtanum Falls Trail
Beaver Dam

Umtanum Falls Trail
Along the trail

Umtanum Falls Trail
Muddy top just before the falls

Umtanum Falls
Top of the Falls

Umtanum Falls
Umtanum Creek Falls

Umtanum Falls
Marta at top of the Falls

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Comments (5)

Love seeing your bluebirds. I have a pair of Eastern Bluebirds building a nest in the bluebird house in my yard. I can watch them from my kitchen window.

That is a beautiful waterfall. Love your photos.


Very nice photo-essay. Great shots of the birds -- those must have been hard to take! :)

Interesting scenery. Would never guess this is part of Washington. So dry and brownish. Great photos of the bluebirds :)


Very nice job documenting your trip! I am wondering - is the parking area off Umtanum Rd well marked? How far is the falls from that trailhead? Is it easy to know which direction to hike to find the falls themselves? Looking to visit there soon.

Mike, The parking area is large and located right at a large curve on the road. It is not hard to find. It is on the south side of the road and has room for maybe 30 cars. There is also a large sign. Note: you do need a WA Fish and Game permit for parking. It is about 10 miles from the freeway and about 5 miles after the road turns to gravel.

The trailhead is on the SE corner of the parking lot. The 5th picture (after the wax currant) is actually the picture of the trailhead.

It is not far to the falls - 1 to 1 1/2 miles. Pretty level and easy to follow. You do cross the creek once.

The tricky part is at the falls. You arrive at the top of the falls and you can see them from the rocks at the fall top. You have to hike down to see them. You can go either way. To the left goes down a steep slope with gravely rock. To the right, you climb up steeply through trees and scramble across rocks to the basalt outcrop across from the falls. I didn't have my hiking poles and didn't feel I had good enough balance to do the scramble.

You can also find a description of the hike in the "Best Desert Hikes in Washington" guide book.

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