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10 Yakima Valley hikes

These 10 hikes showcase the Yakima Valley's diverse beauty with spectacular views of rivers, forests, mountains and the dry, but far from barren shrub-steppe.

They're ranked in order from least to most difficult and offer everything from flat, easy walks on smooth ground to steep, rocky climbs. All of them can be found less than an hour's drive from downtown Yakima, with the notable exception of a grueling trek to the top of a nearly 7,800-foot peak in the wilderness named after Yakima native William O. Douglas.

For driving directions, maps and up-to-date trail reports, go to www.wta.org.

Yakima Greenway

This family and dog-friendly paved pathway stretches for more than 20 miles from Union Gap to Naches, mostly next to the Naches and Yakima rivers. Enjoy walking, running and biking with several fun destinations along the way, such as the Yakima Area Arboretum, Sarg Hubbard Park and multiple lakes open to fishing.

Boulder Cave*

This popular spot off State Route 410 near Cliffdell offers easy access to a unique 400-feet deep cave that was formed more than 10 million years ago through a series of lava flows. The roundtrip only measures at about 2 miles with little elevation change, but be aware the cave is only open from late May to October.

Umtanum Creek Falls**

Follow an easy, shady mile and a half long trail along a creek to reach the 40-foot waterfall. The refreshing punch bowl below and more expansive views of the surrounding canyon from above are also accessible, though considerably more challenging to reach.

Cowiche Canyon

Incredible rock formations, rare native plants, colorful wildflowers and more make this nearby trail system an invaluable educational tool for those looking to learn more about the Yakima Valley's wonders. Keep things simple on the flat, approximately 3-mile main road or take several options to climb into the uplands, including one that ends at Wildridge Vineyard, Winery and Distillery.

Snow Mountain Ranch

A flowing creek and changing colors amongst the shrub-steppe provide a unique way to experience nature close to town. On a clear day, sweeping views of Yakima await those willing to hike a mostly gradual incline for 3 to 4 miles.

Bear Canyon

This trail just a short drive west of the Oak Creek feeding station follows a stream up the Tieton River Canyon's basalt cliffs for a healthy elevation gain of more than 1,100 feet over the 6.4-mile round trip. Plenty of life can be found - including rattlesnakes - so be careful while enjoying the scenery.

Manastash Ridge

A sometimes steep, yet easy-to-follow trail near Ellensburg takes hikers up more than 1,500 feet in 2 miles to a pile of rocks at the summit, which offers dazzling views of the Kittitas Valley and the Umtanum Canyon on clear days. Wildflowers and the scent of sage provide extra motivation along the way.

Grey Rock Trail**

This challenging 23-mile trail starting at Tree Phones Campground in the Ahtanum can be done in sections and features spectacular views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams at the top of Foundation Ridge. Hikers will see rocks, streams, and a "ghost forest" of recently burned trees. Keep an eye out for motorcycles since they're allowed on the single track as well.

Yakima Skyline Trail**^

Whether starting from the trailhead off Buffalo Road (Discover Pass) or the one off Yakima Canyon Road (Bureau of Land Management), be prepared for some serious climbing. It's about 2 miles to the top of the ridge, where the trail continues while offering breathtaking views of the Yakima River Canyon and beyond.

Mount Aix*

Most descriptions of this trail note it's pronounced like "aches" for a reason, thanks to more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead at 3,700 feet over 6-plus miles to the summit. But those who make the long drive ending with some rough forest roads and eventually reach the highest point above the treeline on a clear day can see Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, the Goat Rocks, Mount Rainier, the Stuart Range and much more.

*Northwest Forest Pass required

**Discover Pass required

^Bureau of Land Management fee required