Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy. The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.
Cowiche Canyon lies at the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range and six miles northwest of downtown Yakima. Its rolling hills, stunning wildflowers, and spectacular basalt formations are preserved for nature lovers to explore and enjoy. However, not long ago the canyon served as the right-of-way for the railroad between Yakima and Tieton. Today, the path at the canyon bottom follows a portion of the 19th century railroad route and has become Washington state’s crown jewel of its collection of Rails-to-Trails nature paths.
Nearly 30 years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers formed the Cowiche Canyon Conservatory (CCC) and the very next year railroad bridges and tracks were beginning to be removed. Since then the conservatory has grown to preserve over 200 acres of open space which features several hundred species of trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and wildlife including a run of Coho salmon. Folks can enjoy hiking the 14 trails and walk across the nine foot bridges where the railroad bridges once stood. The conservatory is also used as an outdoor classroom for many local students on their field trips.
In 2005, with help from outside agencies, the CCC purchased the 1,800 acre Snow Mountain Ranch directly west of Cowiche Canyon. With an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet scenic vistas of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Hood in Oregon can be witnessed along with sweeping views of the entire Yakima Valley. Whether visitors are on foot or horseback, they can view the snow-capped mountains year around or marvel at the blankets of colorful wildflowers typically beginning in April. There’s even a short trail to The Tasting Room, a winery featuring fine Washington wines and a perfect venue for experiencing the breathtaking view. The Cowiche Canyon Conservatory is continuing its effort of preserving historic trails by taking the lead in partnering with various groups in creating the William O. Douglas Trail. When completed the 80-mile trail will extend from downtown Yakima to Mount Rainier and run along ancient trails where thousands of Native Americans crossed the Cascades into western Washington.
To learn more about the Cowiche Canyon Conservatory, click here.
* Snowmountain Ranch at Dawn photo Provided by Mike Dawson