You’ll find great food and plenty of hiking options on a weekend getaway to Ellensburg
Looking for a scenic day trip? Nestled in the scenic Kittitas Valley, Ellensburg is about an hour and 45 minutes from the Seattle area by car. Located just east of the Cascade Mountains near the junction of Interstate 90 and I-82, this engaging neighborhood has a beautiful downtown area filled with historic and elegant 19th-century buildings, colorful art and unusual events (have you ever heard of Junk-tiquen?). From the mighty Columbia River to the massive Cascade Mountains, Ellensburg offers awe-inspiring views with a mix of small town charm.
Whether you’re sipping a sip at Ellensburg Canyon Winery or looking for unique treats at the local Big Apple Country & Gift store (Cougar Gold cheese, anyone?), There’s plenty to explore in Ellensburg.
Now pack some snacks, grab your hiking gear and hit the road. Here’s a list of things to do if you’re heading to Ellensburg this fall.
Relax at Ellensburg Canyon Winery
There is nothing better than relaxing in a cellar on vacation. At the Ellensburg Canyon Winery, you can sit outside while sipping award-winning wines while taking in views of their on-site vineyard, the Yakima Canyon, and the Yakima River.
Don’t forget to try the tasting flight, which includes Port-style wines, Riesling, Rosé, Cabernet Franc du Blanc, Cab Franc and Malbec grown on the estate. The flight comes in the cutest little tasting bottles that are labeled with numbers to guide you as to which selections to try in order. The tasting flight is $ 10, or free with the purchase of a bottle of wine.
Pro tip: have a picnic! The Ellensburg Canyon Winery is full of scenic spots where you can sit and enjoy your own picnic basket. Their picnic areas also accept dogs, so bring the puppies! Free water and treats are available for doggies who are on their best behavior. If picnics aren’t your jam, grab a quick bite of the gourmet shop.
Before you go, you need to buy a bag of Harvey’s Specialty Popcorn. There are a variety of original flavors, such as truffle and sea salt and “The Big Cheese,” but the real winner is buffalo and blue cheese popcorn. The buffalo flavor is subtle enough for even the weakest of hearts, and the blue cheese taste adds a soothing finish to the buffalo seasoning.
Grab a bite at Canyon River Grill
After sipping on an array of Washington wines, it’s time to refuel. Located on the river in the heart of the Yakima River Canyon, Canyon River Grill will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a magical place while taking in views of the glittering ancestral river while dining with fresh local ingredients.
Pro tip: I recommend making a reservation online or calling ahead to make sure you have a spot outside where you can take in a sensational view of the canyon.
Start with the pan-seared Dungeness crab cake. The sweet, flaky crab pairs perfectly with its sidekick, a crisp and tangy coleslaw. And if you’re a sauce enthusiast like me, don’t forget to ask for extra louis of sauce – think remoulade without the spiciness.
For a starter, I ordered the cod and crispy Alaskan ling fries. It’s important to note that not all fish and chips are created equal. Since moving to Seattle earlier this year, I’ve tasted fish and chips at many restaurants – and so far Canyon River Grill has the best I’ve tried.
I remember smiling in anticipation of diving into the mound of golden brown fish in front of me. With a perfect dough / fish ratio and a gratifying crunch that doesn’t disappoint, their fish and chips is a perfect 10/10. Served with equally crispy fries and a contrasting, fresh and refreshing homemade tartar sauce, this meal will make you want to never leave Ellensburg.
I finished my meal with a slice of chocolate and pecan pie topped with whipped cream and caramel. If you’re on the go and prefer to eat and rush, consider visiting the breakfast bar for specialty coffee and ‘Kevin’s famous breakfast sandwiches’. Kevin Davis, the owner of Canyon River Grill, is often seen chatting with patrons and offering them ideas for fun activities in Ellensburg. Or grab a grab-and-go lunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., complete with a fresh deli sandwich, pasta salad, Tim’s Cascade crisps, a Davis River cookie, and a bottle of water.
Before you leave, leave your meal as a leisurely stroll around the 35-acre property. The Canyon River Grill is part of the Canyon River Ranch, a resort complex featuring a 10-unit lodge, 20 cabin locations, and Red’s Fly Shop. The area is known for its breathtaking scenery, diverse wildlife, and a variety of recreational options including fly fishing, hiking, bird watching, rafting, and hunting.
If you really want to burn the extra calories after a delicious meal, head to one of the many hiking trails in the Ellensburg area. From Rattlesnake Dance Ridge Trail to Robinson Canyon Loop, there are tons of trails to hike.
My favorite choice? Umtanum Creek Falls Trail. Rated “easy” for level of difficulty by All Trails, this short hike (just 1.9 mile round trip) is great for families – and furry friends are welcome too! The trail passes through aspen, birch and pine forests until you reach a small cirque of basalt columns with a peaceful waterfall. The Umtanum Creek Falls trail is best in the spring, but doable in all seasons except the dead of winter.
Pro tip: A high clearance vehicle with sturdy tires is recommended to get to this hike. If you are visiting in wet weather, four-wheel drive is recommended.
Find special gifts on the way home
Located just 10 minutes from the Ellensburg Canyon Winery, you won’t want to miss picking up a Big Apple Country & Gift treat or souvenir before heading home.
The gift shop was established in 1974 and is a local favorite. They offer freebies like fun signs, Cougar Gold cheese, and a plethora of sugary treats to snack on while you get home. Big Apple Country & Gift is even home to the largest collection of baskets in downtown Washington.
The shop currently doesn’t ship during the pandemic, so if you find a gift you like, be sure to grab it before it’s gone!