Fall Foliage on the Yakima

October 2020 — From I-90 near downtown Ellensburg, Canyon Road snakes south between basalt cliffs framing the Yakima river. Time to find a campsite! Tucked into the riverbank along this 25-mile stretch of roadway lie four BLM-managed campgrounds. Popular year-round, vacationers use these campgrounds as jumping-off points for everything from hiking to wine-tasting, or simply to sit by the river and enjoy the region’s 300 days of annual sunshine. We chose a long weekend in mid-October, looking for outdoor fun and new sights!

Cozy Campgrounds

There are four public campgrounds along the river. Lmuma, Umtanum, and Roza campgrounds are relatively small, each with about 6 campsites, while Big Pines is the largest with nearly 50. There are several boat launches, day-use is popular, and all four campgrounds have vault toilets and dumpsters. Note that these campgrounds do not have any hookups, so make sure your rig is boondock-ready! Details on the campgrounds are available from the BLM, and most campsites are reservable for summer season via recreation.gov. During our trip in October, reservations were closed for the season and all sites were first-come first-served. When we arrived on a Friday evening, about 25% of the spots were still available and we picked a nice pad at Big Pines.

Hiking the Canyon

The Yakima canyon is a hiker’s paradise with plenty of options for all seasons and ability levels. One great hike to check out originates at the Umtanum campground – cross the suspension bridge and follow the Umtanum Creek Trail west into the canyon. In the spring you’ll see plentiful wildflowers on the hillsides, in the fall the creekside foliage will display changing autumn colors. Keep an eye out for deer, sheep, and beaver! Another fun hike, Baldy Mountain, originates from the Big Pines Campground. Cross the road at the north end of the campground, and follow the trail up the northwest flank of the mountain. There are two trails, one straight up the side, and another looping farther north on a gentler ascent. With two children in tow we chose the gentler trail, and made it up to the viewpoints in about an hour. This hike is great in the October, because moderate temperatures keep you comfortable through the climb, and you’re rewarded with breathtaking autumn vistas of the river and countryside from overrlooks along the trail!

Umtanum Creek Trail
Baldy Mountain Overlook

River Fun

Camping right along the river has its perks! In the summer heat a popular activity is to float down the river on a tube – check out an article by Seattle Magazine to learn more. The fishing is also superb – in fact many claim the Yakima is the best trout-fishing river in the state! You’ll see anglers wading from the shoals, or steering drift boats downriver in search of trout, bass, or sometimes salmon. And once the sun sets, with several campsites right along the river an evening campfire or picnic dinner can’t be beat.

Boondocking Tips

The Yakima Canyon is a great choice for first-time boondockers because it’s proximity to Ellensburg provides plenty of options just in case something doesn’t go quite per plan. Need a bit more water? Grab a few gallon jugs at the service station 20 minutes north. Need to dump tanks sooner than expected? The Selah Creek rest stop is 15 minutes south (and free!).

The key to boondocking success is to keep an eye on your resources – fresh water, battery power, propane, and waste tank levels. Then of course you also need to bring the right equipment. Many RVs on the market today are not capable of “roughing it” for more than a couple hours. You need upgraded batteries, large capacity water/sewer/propane tanks, and solar panels or a generator.

All of Boundless RV’s trailers have been specially-equipped to enhance boondocking capability and we’re happy to help you find the right fit. Our available Off-Grid and Generator packages might come in handy too. Check out our Rentals page or reach out for more info!

Happy camping!