Cowiche Canyon, to a beer snob like me, is best-known as a hop variety. But it’s also a network of awesome trails just outside of Yakima, including a route you can take to a winery!
The network of trails has multiple parking lots. I pre-mapped a route for us that had us starting from the Cowiche Canyon West trailhead, which had ample weekday parking (East trailhead might be closer to the winery, but we wanted to earn our drinks!). Immediately, we were all struck by the awesome signage here, welcoming us to the area and noting things to keep an eye out for. There were other descriptive signs along the way as well. We also enjoyed how wide the trail was, and could easily walk three abreast (other trails were more narrow).
I knew this trail had lots of varied wildflowers at different times of year, but was not expecting it all to be so well-labeled! We were all dead impressed by the labels of the flowers and bushes, being used to faded and worn wooden signs at the beginning of the trail at best. Additionally, the bridges over Cowiche Creek were all numbered, which also greatly helped with navigating. The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy is doing a wonderful job here, and we were thankful for it.
Surrounding us were rock formations. This area is andesite rock, carved by lava flowing from an ancient eruption of a volcano. This is the longest known andesite lava flow in the world! While my favorite is still columnar basalt, the formations here were still amazing. The South canyon wall does have Columbia River basalt in places, and some of the canyon walls were covered in lichen.
Had we stayed on the main trail, we’d end at the hop farm where Cowiche Canyon hops, made famous by Fremont’s Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale, are grown. However, those likely being out of season (in other trips to Yakima, the hops are more exciting to see in August-October) we decided to instead do the Winery Trail that takes you to Wilridge Winery and Distillery, as how cool is it to HIKE to an actual winery? Just before bridge 8 is a little spur going up, up, up (that should have had a sign, but didn’t currently). Here you do climb a fairly steep 300+ feet to get to the winery (nothing good comes easy!). However, at the top was some stunning arrowleaf balsamroot, and signs pointing us the rest of the way!
A brief jaunt through the (labelled) grape fields we went, arriving at our destination minutes before opening. We decide to explore the grounds a bit more, when I heard a distinct chirp and spied a yellow-bellied (who you calling yella?) marmot sunning itself on some logs! Mama and Aunt Boots were really hoping to see one ever since the sign at the beginning of the trail mentioned them, so their trip had been made already, even without the wine.
However, no doubt about it, we still wanted wine. We donned our masks and walked in (masking here seemed good), ordered, and went to a table outside. Myself and Aunt Boots got glasses, while Mama Boots got the red sampler. For those who are not wine fans, they did have cans of local Yakima breweries, and non-alcoholic options as well. Charcuterie and a food truck, depending on day of the week, can replenish your stomachs.
While beer is always my #1, I felt the need when in Rome to do as the Romans do. I enjoyed my wine (their drier rosé and a sauvignon blanc), but know nothing about it, so won’t go into too much detail here like I would a brewery post. The grounds were delightful, and it just felt like such a cool experience to have hiked here ourselves. We were not the only ones on foot, with others trickling in as the day continued, and many asking us along the way if we were going to the winery or, once there, if we had hiked there.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away (me unknowingly getting burnt on my legs). Going down a rocky and steep area after two glasses of wine suddenly seemed like a bad choice, especially as Mama Boots had forgone her poles and the sun was blaring. We carefully made our way down safely though, and I offered my companions their options–turn around and go as we came, or loop back to see some new sights. We opted for the loop, which unfortunately did lead to more climbing, also not fun after two glasses. Not long on our new path, when we stopped for air I noticed movement across the canyon–a coyote! It was nearly 3pm at this point, but a coyote was trotting around what must have been a wildlife path. With only a cell phone and not my camera, pictures are but a fuzzy blur, but it was still a cool sight to see.
We continued on, thankful for Gaia showing us the way along the twists and turns. While there wasn’t as many signs for wildflowers, the trails were all still very well labeled. We climbed up a bit more, and were happy at the highest point to get peek-a-boo views of the top of Mount Rainier. Maybe it was the wine talking but the remainder of the hike wasn’t quite as visually exciting as the first half, even if it was nice to get more miles in (our return portion being nearly two miles longer than our route there). Luckily for you, you can choose-your-own adventure out here!
If I lived closer, I would be on these trails all the time! They are extremely well-maintained and well-taken care of. We all had a wonderful time, and might make a springtime trek out here–including wine– an annual event. We were stuck at what a unique experience it was, even in a state full of winery and hikes, to get to HIKE to a WINERY!
Distance: Many miles of trails. Paths are shared with bikers in some spots.
Elevation: Some hills of varying steepness depending on route taken. The Winery Trail does have a large 300 foot climb upward that is a bit steep.
Parking: No passes required
Bathrooms: None at the West trail parking area, but there might be at the others.
Best Beer Bet: If you really hate wine, the Wilridge tasting room does offer cans from Bale Breaker and other Yakima breweries, or the greater Yakima area has many breweries close to the trail, including Cowiche Creek Brewing Company. Or in fall, bring a nice trail beer of Fremont’s Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop ale!