When temperatures creep into the 90s and the summer sun is toasting the Yakima Valley to a warm shade of brown, few things are more appealing than a day on the Yakima River.
And the scenery gets downright gorgeous when you’re in the Yakima River Canyon, with basalt cliffs looming overhead and fascinating wildlife. If you’re properly prepared, it will be a great day.
First, coordinate the cars. You’ll need at least two so one can park at the take-out site downriver and one can carry everyone up to the put-in site with the rafts. Once you’re done and out of the river at the take-out site, that car can take a driver back upriver to pick up the other vehicle.
Some outfitters offer this as a service if you don’t mind paying for it.
Remember cash. The campgrounds along the Yakima require a $5 parking permit for each vehicle. Then consider how long you want to be on or in the water.
Most groups take out at Roza, so determine the length of the trip by how far upriver from Roza you put in.
From Umtanum to Roza takes about three hours. The stretch between Umtanum and Roza also includes two or three spots for cliff-jumping.
Putting in at Lmuma Creek would take about half that time.
Bighorn in the Upper Canyon is a popular put-in spot. Big Horn to Roza takes four to five hours.
Outfitters begin renting rafts and floats later this month; for example, people may start reserving tubes from Yakima River Tubing on May 25.
The drop-in point for a float from Yakima River Tubing is milepost 16 on Canyon River Road, which is Umtanum. That’s 12 miles south of Ellensburg. The actual pull off is just before milepost 16 on the right.
Keep in mind that the water level drops over the summer. Always watch out for rocks and snags, but especially later in the summer.
And be aware of limited parking. As it gets hotter, more people head out on the river, so you might want to get an early start.
Every fall, usually around Labor Day, brings another treat for those who love being on the water. The Bureau of Reclamation conducts its “flip-flop” operations on the Rimrock and Cle Elum reservoirs. The “flip-flop” makes way for spawning salmon while also providing for fall irrigation needs.
The flip-flop means water flows out of the Cle Elum reservoir will gradually decrease, affecting the Upper Yakima River. At the same time, Reclamation gradually increases flows out of Rimrock, which will affect the Tieton and Naches rivers.
As a bonus, increased flows out of Rimrock allow whitewater rafters to hit the Tieton River.
What to take
■ All children under age 12 are required by law to wear life jackets, but everyone else should wear them too. Be sure they fit properly.
Here’s what else you should bring for your day on the Yakima River.
■ kayaks, inner tubes, rafts (those with more than one air chamber are best)
■ drinks, including plenty of water
■ snacks or picnic lunch
■ ropes to tie rafts together
■ water sandals
■ waterproof bag
■ bags for trash
■ squirt gun
These companies rent equipment and take groups down the river if a guided float is more your speed.
■ Rill Adventures: www.rilladventures.com
■ Red’s Fly Shop: redsflyshop.com/river-raft-rentals
■ Central Washington University’s outdoor recreation: www.cwu.edu/opr/yakima-river
■ Canyon River Ranch: canyonriver.net/adventure/river-raft-rentals
Scenic River Floats: bit.ly/1B6GhPA