I am guilty of forgetting about the tremendous beauty — and FUN — of the Yakima River Canyon, which is literally in Yakima’s backyard. From camping and hiking to fishing and floating, this nearby treasure has a lot to explore and enjoy.
I recently took on a big challenge and went paddleboarding down the Yakima River. I don’t own a stand-up paddleboard, also called a SUP, and have gone only twice with friends. A true novice, I decided to go out with some experts and not only learn more about the activity, but spend the day with friends.
Lucky for us, Shannon and Andy Mahre run a great SUP clinic through Girls With Grit for people just like me — not crazy athletic, but always willing to give it a try.
We started the day in a private lake owned by Andy’s uncle. We went over all the different kinds of paddleboards, lengths, widths, types of paddles, even fins. We practiced paddling on the dock, using different angles and directions that we would employ on the river. There was a lot to cover.
Soon, we donned life jackets and slowly pushed out into the lake. I engaged my core and stood up as we’d been taught and easily, though tentatively, paddled around the lake. Shannon had us all ease into the lake water and practice getting back on our boards — something I’m glad to know how to do, but something I hoped I wouldn’t need to employ this time around.
The river was flowing fast and high — far higher than normal for early June — which made the normal lunch stop impossible. We would float for eight miles without stopping. I was determined — I mean, determination like I had last summer to summit Mount Adams — that I would NOT fall in the river that day.
Once we traveled upriver to our launch spot, we ate a quick lunch, reapplied sunscreen and, one by one, pushed into the river. I was lucky to have my pal Bobby from Seattle with me that day, and her friend Chelsie. I had met Bobby on another Girls With Grit adventure last winter when she was my assigned buddy for cat skiing.
Bobby, Chelsie and I tried to stay together down the river, laughing at our almost-falls, but managing to stay upright for those miles. The canyon was majestic, so green and lush, with bald eagles and hawks, deer and marmots. Not only did I not fall during our journey, I truly enjoyed myself. I used muscles that are not accustomed to working, so I was pretty tired and sore the next day, but filled with fun and enriching memories of a day well spent.
• • •
I also recently enjoyed the canyon from a different angle — fly fishing on a guided tour with Red’s Fly Shop. For several years now, my dad and I go on a father-daughter fishing, camping and golfing vacation. We’ve been all over Central Washington in his camper and boat, exploring lakes and rivers teeming with fish.
After several years of me not ever catching a fish, my dad took a different tack and started taking me on guided fishing trips. Last year I caught two huge king salmon in the Columbia. This year we stayed close to home and headed out to Red’s Fly Shop for a half-day guided tour down the Yakima River Canyon.
We got a call the day before our trip to discuss the details — how the river was flowing, the best time to launch and what to prepare for. Because the river was running so high, we didn’t need waiters. I had not gone fly fishing since the late 1990s, when I had the chance to try my hand in Austin, Texas. My husband and I had once taken a dry-land course at Red’s, practicing all the different casts from the safety of their lawn. But for this trip, I was a true novice once again.
I must admit, I am a huge fan of guided fishing trips. Someone else is fiddling with all the things on my rod, putting on the bait, reattaching a fly when I lose one, untangling my line, and giving me great advice while I fish. The boat was equipped with special hip indents so I could safely stand and cast and not worry about falling overboard.
My first fish was a surprise; it was so subtle that our amazing guide Noe had to tell me it was on. I was anything but elegant as I thrashed around in the boat with my reel and brought in the fish, line coiling at my feet because I was too excited to get it into the net rather than fiddle with actually reeling.
(My dear expert anglers in the Valley, please excuse my ruffian approach — I’m a learner!). Noe was attempting to coach me through this experience, prodding me to reel instead of pulling in the line with my hand. I did not and we laughed about it all day long. Noe was an expert guide and ensured the gorgeous trout we caught spent the least amount of time possible out of the water.
This section of the river is catch-and-release only, and there has been recent research on the values of not stopping for the traditional angler photo with your fish before you release it; the stress of even an extra 30 seconds out of the water is enough to affect the fish population.
I caught more fish than I lost flies that day and so I count myself as very successful. My dear old dad had a great time watching his daughter reel in four beautiful trout. I’m still grinning from the experience and hope to return to Red’s each year. We are blessed to have such a great touring outfit in our backyard.
• • •
The most affordable and family-friendly way to explore the canyon by water is by floating it on big inner tubes on a hot summer day. The river will be less aggressive and lower as the summer heat rises, and you’ll find the water full of families and partygoers every weekend.
We borrowed a huge flotation party lounger from our friend Erika and loaded up with life jackets, sunscreen, water and snacks before dropping a car downriver and launching at the Umtanum Creek Recreation Site, below the pedestrian footbridge that leads into a fun canyon to hike. The shore was teeming with people and we waited patiently to push out. Our kids loved the float with the festive atmosphere, the music and singing, and general bon vivant.
We spent several hours on the river, the kids taking turns jumping into the cold water to find relief from the heat. We drank plenty of water and avoided the snags on the river’s edge. The Yakima River, like all water, can be extremely dangerous, so do take caution even during a casual summer float and be sure to have life jackets for everyone.
(If you want a floating experience that is a little more high end, check out Red’s Fly Shop’s new guided floats with a canopy and seat, and a table in the middle of the boat).
Our Yakima River Canyon is a special place, and you can enjoy it from the water in these three spectacular ways each summer.