Central Washington’s Best Kept Secret: Underrated Trails
Updated: May 23
Central Washington’s seemingly untapped trail systems, hidden caverns and waterfalls, and genuine proximity to nature makes our region easy to get to, and hard to leave. We do things a bit differently here in Kittitas County, making even the start to an endeavor an adventure on its own. It is here in our recreational slice of Heaven, that we come together, explore uncharted land, and find serenity in secret spots and hidden gems between canyon walls and snow-capped peaks.
There is no doubt that Central Washington is known for outdoor recreation, and we locals may argue it offers more opportunity than the entire Western side of the state combined- our own rural wonderland.
Having a trail to yourself is a feeling that can’t be beat, but now more than ever, having space between each other is something to prioritize when choosing where to recreate. On our trails between Snoqualmie Pass and Vantage, it is not rare to have the entire trek to yourself or to just pass a handful of fellow outdoor enthusiasts. This allows room to take up space, run and wander, and enjoy solitude if you so choose. Another benefit to having less crowded trail systems is that this space carries over into the entire experience, overflowing and allowing room from the moment you leave the house. Here, bumper to bumper isn’t in our language. Circling the parking lot trying to find a space at a trailhead like a vulture soaring above its prey simply isn’t a situation we find ourselves in often. I believe that this compliments the entire experience, allowing us to feel free, and allowing us to connect as nature intended.
Diversity of Land
Sometimes we long for and seek a certain type of experience while outdoors. Maybe this looks like a dreamy trek into the alpine wilderness, overlooking reflective lakes and coming face to face with wild elk. Other times, we may crave a desert adventure with opportunities to scale massive tiers of basalt or an exploration that ends in a well-deserved jump into a refreshing lake or river. Not only are there plenty of options, but another component that punctuates the diversity of our land is how seasonal it is.
For example, let’s look at Manastash Ridge, a local favorite in the heart of Ellensburg. Comparing the trail from week to week can expose nature’s shifts at its best. In the Summer and Fall, the tan shades of wild grass surround the walkway, while in the Winter, snow covers the trail and freezes the creek that runs parallel to it. In the Spring, the glacial runoff streams down once again, uncovering wildflowers that change by the week and stick around for the Summer. This rhythmic motion of nature makes the trail almost unrecognizable each season, allowing for a different adventure every day of the year. Central Washington allows you to be picky- what environment do you want to discover? What ambient backdrop do you want to immerse yourself in? Here, you get to choose.
There is something off putting about outdoor experiences that are overwhelmed by people and man-made systems to help navigate them. There is nothing better than rolling out a map, finding a trailhead, and navigating to the top, wedged between wildlife and tree trunks instead of manmade steps and other hikers on their phones. Something about the way hikers in Central Washington respect their land and each other on the trail helps give us all a better understanding of our place in the world and to one another.