As spring arrives and the weather warms up, there is going to be an extra special incentive to get outside. The desert wildflower watching is going to be plentiful — a hiker’s paradise.
The winter snow and rain that drenched the hillsides, valleys and mountain ridges of Eastern Washington are nourishing an explosion of wildflowers that will cover the ground in brilliant and majestic fields of yellow, orange, red, blue, pink and purple.
The cool wet spring delayed the wildflower season locally by two to three weeks, but indications are that we are going to be in for a remarkable display. The wildflower season in the Mid-Columbia will run from mid-April through late May, and will extend into June, July and even August as you go higher in elevation.
There are plenty of places to go in the area that vary in length and range from easy to difficult.
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Badger Mountain offers some of the most popular local trails for wildflower viewing. Last weekend, the earliest flowers were just starting to show. By Mother’s Day, the balsam roots, lupines and phlox will kick into gear. The Dallas Road West Trailhead route to the top offers one of the most majestic spring panoramas and by mid-May, the hillside will be covered in color. The Skyline Trail and the new Langdon Trail offer over seven miles of hiking and cover a variety of habitats. The 1.2-mile long Canyon Trail has fewer wildflowers and while shorter than the other trails, is a steeper, more difficult climb.
The new Candy Mountain Trail officially opens in mid-May. It is a 3.2 mile out-and-back hike that offers flowers and views of the Yakima and Columbia River basin from the Saddle Mountains all the way to Finley. Head north on Dallas Road from the West Badger Mountain trailhead underneath Interstate 182, then make a sharp left turn west. Then head up the hill a quarter-mile and the parking lot is on your right. The trailhead begins on the north side of the parking lot.
The Spirit of America Trail or Freedom Trail in Kennwick is a 2.5-mile easy walking dog and kid friendly out-and-back trail off Ely Street near the Waste Management recycling station. There is also parking at the corner of Seventh and Vancouver streets. The trail goes along an intermittent stream in Zintel Canyon and is great for walking from April to November.
The Sacajawea Heritage Trail offers a paved smooth blacktop 4.0-mile loop that goes from the blue bridge to the cable bridge along the south and the north side of the Columbia River between Kennewick and Pasco.
Bateman Island offers a flat, 2.8-mile walking trail loop. The trail crosses the causeway and accesses the wetland habitat that forms this unique island, at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers. The trailhead is at the north end of North Columbia Center Boulevard. At the “T” in the road, turn left on Columbia Park Trail and pull into the paved parking lot on the north side of the road.
Amon Basin and the Chamna Natural Preserve offer a network of walking trails along the Yakima River west of Bateman Island. These parks are overseen by the Tapteal Greenway Association. You can access these trails off Aaron Road in Richland, and from the east end of Columbia Point Drive off George Washington Way in Richland.
Johnson Butte is easy hiking on a gravel road just south of Kennewick. It starts at 1,312 feet and goes up to the communications towers at 2,038 feet, with an elevation gain of 726 feet. Johnson Butte is surrounded by canyons, jeep trails and unnamed elevation points at altitudes greater than Badger Mountain’s. On a clear day, you get a remarkable 360-degree view and may be able to see Mount Hood, Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks, Mount Rainier and even to Mount Stuart and the Enchantments. Two miles up and down — four miles total. Take Highway 395 south two miles south of 27th Street. Get off at Locust Grove, exit 114, at the Highway 397 Finley Intertie and then turn (east) to pass under the freeway. Turn right immediately, traveling south onto Bofer Canyon Road, which parallels Interstate 82. Continue for 1.9 miles. Turn left on to Owens Road, just past the painted grain silo and park.
Howard Amon Park offers a paved walking, jogging trail that goes four miles from Columbia Point Marina in Richland, through Leslie Groves Park to North Richland by Washington State University in North Richland. The riverfront trail features the opportunity to see river wildlife and riparian habitats along the Columbia River and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, birding and fishing, and is accessible year-round.
Columbia Park has a paved trail along the river in Kennewick. Parking is available at both the east and west ends of the park and at several places inside the park. It’s four miles from the east end to the west end of the park.
For those willing to drive a short distance out of town, the hiking alternatives are plentiful in every direction. Here are just a few of the sights to see:
Twin Sisters Rock is a 0.6 mile lightly trafficked, out-and-back trail near Touchet. It’s a steep sandy and rocky climb that is accessible year-round. It offers great views of the Columbia River north toward the Tri-Cities and west downriver. To get there take Interstate 182 east from the Tri-Cities toward Walla Walla. I-182 turns into Highway 12, and then, about 17 miles past Pasco, turn right at the junction with Highway 730. Go 1.8 miles. The Twin Sisters pullout is on the south side of the road. It includes a small parking area, but no facilities.
The Rattlesnake Slope Wildlife Area Trail starts along the Yakima River at 400 feet elevation and goes 2.5 miles to 2,000 feet elevation. There are a variety of birds that inhabit the high desert prairie. This is another great hike for spring and early summer flowers. The trail goes for 2.5 miles out and back. From Richland, drive west on Interstate 82 to exit 96 for Benton City. After exiting, turn left and drive through Benton City. Continue north on State Route 225. At 7.3 miles from I-82, find a fenced parking area on the left (west) side of the highway. Washington Discover Pass required.
The White Bluffs South Slope Trail, north of Pasco, is a fascinating hike along the Columbia River in the Hanford National Monument. The 8-mile loop trail traverses the Ringold Formation and offers spectacular views of the Columbia River and the white bluffs — the ancient river and lake bed sediments from the Columbia River system between 8.5 million and 3.4 million years ago. From I-182, take the Road 68 exit from Pasco and head north on Road 68 until you hit a “T” on Ringold Road. Make a left and follow it for a few miles until you reach a sign that tells you to turn left toward the Columbia River. Once at Ringold make a right and follow the gravel road north about 8 miles until you reach a sign that says no vehicles. Park and hike in from there.
The Juniper Dunes Wilderness is a 45-minute drive south and east of Pasco. This unique and protected area consists of a dry, blowing deposits of sand dunes. There are numerous plant and animal species, many of them threatened or endangered. Hiking is difficult and the area is difficult to access. To get the best information about getting there, contact the BLM in Pasco. You can also visit the Juniper Dunes Wilderness area site on the Washington Trails Association website, www.wta.org.
The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy is in Yakima, about 90 minutes west of Tri-Cities. This special park offers a 3.3-mile loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
The Tom McCall Point Hike is downriver towards Portland, just west of The Dalles, in Oregon by Moser. Bring your camera and lunch. This is a remarkable 3.4-mile hike with a 1,000-foot gain to an amazing vista looking down the Columbia River Gorge with views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams all from one flower studded vista. Get there early to beat the crowds, because even on weekdays, the parking lot fills up quickly during the flower season. Get off Interstate 84 at Moser and wind three miles west on the south side of the interstate to the parking lot and trailheads.
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area runs along both sides of the river, there are dozens of other choices some of which are world renowned. These include: Catherine Creek, the Coyote Wall Loop Trail, Dog Mountain, Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls, and many more.
Local hiking groups invite people to go along on organized hikes include the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC), the Tri-City Adventurers Club and Fun and Fit and Over Fifty.
Get outside and get your family hiking. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Paul Krupin is an avid local hiking enthusiast, retired environmental specialist and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He has been hiking the trails of the Northwest since 1976.