The new Candy Mountain Trail parking lot is 99 percent done, the trail work is finished and the Tri-Cities has a new year-round, outdoor recreation destination.
The wildflowers, wildlife, scenery and views are every bit as good as its highly popular neighbor, Badger Mountain, and getting to the top is easier – it’s not as steep or quite as long.
The Candy Mountain Trail fulfills a significant part of a visionary plan created by Friends of Badger Mountain, supported by local city, county, state and federal agencies, and numerous businesses in the community.
The idea was to create a 20-mile network of ridge-top trails that start at Amon Basin on the Kennewick-Richland border and extend to the Yakima River by way of the summits of Little Badger Mountain, Badger Mountain, Candy Mountain and Red Mountain.
Last fall, over 150 volunteers led by trailmaster Jim Langdon devoted 54 days and about 1,500 hours to build the easy-to-walk, packed gravel path. Benton County managed the contract for the parking lot. The official ribbon-cutting is June 2.
The trail is 1.6 miles to the top — a 3.2-mile roundtrip — and takes 60 to 90 minutes, if you take it easy.
It should be popular with hikers, mountain bikers and runners in the summer. And, next winter, people who like to snowshoe or cross country ski will enjoy it too.
The trail leaves the north side of the parking lot and is pretty much flat for the first three-quarters of a mile. Then it begins to rise and makes a few gentle switchbacks, never going over a 10 percent grade.
Ice Age geology lesson
Along the trail, you’ll see hundreds of rocks and boulders, including quite a number of rather large Ice-Age-flood erratics, dug out of the trail by the volunteers before the gravel was placed to make the walking easier.
Geologist Bruce Bjornstad says the granite boulders you see were deposited during the last Ice Age, which ended 15,000 years ago. Most boulders rafted to the Tri-Cities on icebergs from the breakup of the ice dam for Glacial Lake Missoula.
A rock monument has been placed on the trail at elevation 1,250 feet to show you where the highest shoreline was for ancient Lake Lewis.
At the maximum flood level, the top 380 feet of Badger Mountain and the top 190 feet of Candy Mountain and parts of Red Mountain poked out above Lake Lewis forming a line of islands.
3.2 miles roundtrip
60 to 90 minute walk
560 feet elevation gain
The fine, sandy soils that now support the grape industry in the area are the result of the numerous floods that repeatedly washed over the Tri-Cities.
Each time, Lake Lewis lasted just three weeks or less — the time it took the floodwater to back up and then break through a chokepoint at Wallula Gap. Geologists calculate this happened dozens of times with several dozens of years in between mega-floods.
The core of Candy Mountain is an upfolded ridge of basalt — a dark volcanic rock which flowed from the ground in large parallel cracks during the Miocene Epoch 17 to 6.5 million years ago south and east of the Tri-Cities.
A suspected ancient fault line trace runs northeast to southeast parallel to the line formed from Badger Mountain to Candy Mountain on the north side, which are now covered by glacial deposits and wind-blown soils.
What to see — views to blooms and critters
The views from Candy are awesome. To the south and east you see Badger Mountain. To the east, you get a grand sprawling view of the Columbia River Valley and the Pasco basin from Burbank through the Tri-Cities and north to the White Bluffs and beyond.
To the north, you see West Richland and the Hanford Reach National Monument, along with several of the nuclear facilities including the Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant.
To the west, you see Benton City and the Lower Yakima Valley, filled row after row with grape vineyards. To the south, is the spine of the Horse Heaven Hills with Chandler Butte and Goose Hill.
From the very top, on a really clear day, there are spectacular views of Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks, Rattlesnake Mountain and Mount Stuart and the Enchantments.
If you go: Distance: 3.2 miles roundtrip Elevation gain/loss: 560 feet — Starts at 840 feet the summit is at 1385 feet. Difficulty: Easy to Moderate 1-2 out of 5 Parking for people and horse trailers available. Dogs on leash OK. Nearest restroom facilities are on Keene Road in West Richland.
The habitat changes as you go up the mountain. Elevation and sun exposure and the variation in soils and rock produce a variety of ecosystems some wetter and some drier.
Plant ecologist Gretchen Graber, with the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society, says you’ll encounter slopes full of native bunch grass, Indian rice grass, blue grass, fescue and sage.
The plant list she and others have compiled on spring field trips is lengthy and ranges from balsamroot and buckwheat to buttercups and lupine.
Some of the common names of the plants on the list are quite fascinating: Bugloss fiddleneck, Devil’s lettuce, Dusty maidens, Bastard toadflax, Slim-leaf goosefoot, Wingnut cryptantha, Oregon sunshine, Columbia puccoon, Filaree, Jagged chickweed and Hoary aster.
Like Badger and Rattlesnake mountains, Candy Mountain is home to a variety of migratory birds and animals, from meadowlarks, hawks, and raptors to coyotes and rabbits. The mountain is also home to Townsend’s ground squirrel, a threatened species native to the area.
There also are garter snakes, bull snakes and rattlesnakes, so keep your eyes open, stay on the trail, and don’t be reaching underneath brush with your bare hands.
From Richland: West on I-182 to Queensgate South exit. Go south. Make a right on Keene Road. Then head north over the interstate and make a left on Kennedy. Then head west to Dallas Road. Make a left and head south. Make a right on East 669 PR N.E. right before Dallas goes under the interstate.
From South Kennewick: West on I-82 to Dallas Road exit. Make a right and head north. Go under the interstate and make the immediate left on East 669 PR N.E.
From West Richland: Take the Keene roundabout south on Bombing Range Road. In a few blocks, it is renamed as Dallas Road. Head south. Make a right on East 669 PR N.E. just before you go under the interstate.
Drive about a hundred yards and the parking lot is on the right. There’s room for 45 cars and four horse trailers.
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 Pacific Northwest since 1976. Find out more at the IMAC Facebook or Meetup pages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.