Tour of the Umtanum Ridge and Skyline Rim

This was the third time that I’ve gone to ride the Yakima Skyline Rim near Ellensburg and Selah. That also means that I’ve lived here now for 2+ years. Doing annual rides is sort of like birthdays, only the numbers are much smaller. And this time Colin signed up for the hike-a-bike madness and Tucson-like conditions. While the stats for the ride don’t sound that impressive, I am always pretty beat afterwards. Maybe it’s the non-stop sunshine or thinking that it’s not that big of a ride, and thus not packing enough water or food, but I once again burned lots of protein and fat after I ran out of carbs to munch on.

Screen shot 2015-05-10 at 8.33.46 PM

A couple new trails had peaked my curiosity: 1) heading up Roza Creek canyon, and 2) trying out some of the tiny trails down into Selah from the ridge. We actually did both, and they turned out pretty well. We also rode another section that I’ve had my eyes on for a while: the powerline road out of Selah heading up Umtanum ridge. I was happy with the way the route worked out: more riding and a bit less of hike-a-bike.

The parking lot at Umtanum Creek is a BLM fee site, but luckily Colin had a Federal recreation pass that was honored there. We started up Umtanum ridge and did trail work whenever it appeared necessary for a smooth downhill experience at at the end of the day. Dealing with sagebrush isn’t too hard, and we were able to resurrect the trail in a couple places where it had been overgrown a bit. Someone else had already done some nice tread work on the slopes recently – which was appreciated. A baby rattler was very unhappy to be disturbed by us, but kindly moved off the trail after a while. A noisy fellow!


We also saw a few horny toads, this was the biggest one:


While there is some riding to be had early on, the trail gets steeper the higher one gets. Near the top, the grade is 37%!

Stuart Range in the background.

Stuart Range in the background.

At the top it was pretty windy and maybe 70F, so we stopped to cool down and munch on a few things. Turns out it was a two-volcano day: Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams to the left.


Photo by Colin Farrell.

Then, the ridge road turns into single track, which gets rather steep and loose in the end: a 30% grade downhill. Last year, I didn’t make the last corner and fell off my bike in very-slow motion, so I was curious to give it another try. In the beginning I was sliding vertically down instead of staying on the trail, but did manage to stay on the trail afterwards and came clean out of the bottom left curve. Made it all the way down and scared a deer in the process. Here’s Colin just past that curve:


Next we rode up Roza Creek Rd. and thereby avoided the hike-a-bike up on the Skyline Rim trail the other side. I had spotted some greenery on satellite images of this canyon, and it was indeed gorgeous. There was even a small gove of aspens! The road is closed to vehicles, so it felt pretty remote. There was one muddy patch that we rode through, but we didn’t follow up on where the water was coming from. Maybe next time I’ll figure out if there actually is a spring down there, as some hikers suggested last year.

Along Roza Creek.

Along Roza Creek.

We then turned left to ride the Buffalo Ridge dirt road up to its end. There’s a not-so-old road sign, which is a bit hard to read unfortunately:


The coolest thing about the ride up Buffalo Ridge Rd. were the flowers that had popped out of the hard ground. No leaves or water seemed to be anywhere near. But they’re pretty as can be.


Reaching the top, we broke out the munchies again and checked in with folks at home. Afterwards, we dropped down a bit and joined the Skyline Ridge trail to the southern butte, it’s pretty fantastic single track for the most part.

Heading down to the Skyline Ridge trail from the top on an old road bed.

Heading down to the Skyline Ridge trail from the top on an old road bed.

Photo by Colin Farrell.

Photo by Colin Farrell.

At the far point on the ridge, we had to decide what to do next. We each had brought approximately 3 liters of water, but were down to 1 and 1.5 liters now. It would probably just get us back if we were careful. As another option, we could filter water down at the Yakima, or head down towards Selah and find the water spigot near the horse corral. The Skyline Rim trail from there quickly turns into a rock garden, and after a few hundred yards I had enough. Colin obliged, and we headed back up and took a tiny side trail down. Someone had built features along that tiny trail: 2 big rock piles to ride over, a double-jump, and a step-down. Later the trail became very faint, but with instinct (and a GPX trail drawn from satellite images), it was easy riding through the grasslands which then brought us to larger trails and we quickly reached the horse corral. And water was turned on. Yay for us! Water, food, and shade under a tree. Basically your run-of-the mill oasis in the desert. 3 horses looked at us curiously; they were some of the most beautiful horses I had seen a while.

Well, at this point we could either take the Sheep Company Rd. back up north, or try the Powerline road that runs inside the Wenas Wildlife area. With full water bladders, we felt adventure was the right decision over riding a dusty dirt road with people shooting their guns. The Powerline road was pretty nice double track. It’s impossible to get lost out there, as the lack of trees and gentle sloping terrain makes it easy to see where you are going and where you came from.

Green Dot Map of L.T. Murray - Wenas Wildlife area near Selah.

Green Dot Map of L.T. Murray – Wenas Wildlife area near Selah.


Photo by Colin Farrell.

Photo by Colin Farrell.

We walked almost all of the steep Durr Rd. up to the radio towers on the Umtanum ridge, contrary to what the above picture is showing. Then, with daylight to spare, we rode the ups & downs along the Umtanum Ridge Rd..


At the Skyline Rim trail, we lowered our seatposts a bit and set off to see what we could ride. The initial 37% grade was way too steep to ride, but later on it was oh-so-fun twisty trail through recently-maintained sagebrush 🙂


11 hours later, we returned from where we started from: dirtier and hungrier, but content with a having finished a worthy ride. Warm sodas and chips were pulled out of the car to celebrate.

40 miles, 8000 ft. el., GPX track

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2 Responses to Tour of the Umtanum Ridge and Skyline Rim

  1. Good ride cowboys!

    Pascal and I were out in the Roskruge Mtns the same day!


    • 2wheeltrails says:

      Funny you mention cowboys: Yes, we did meet one pretty funny one, and the first time I was in Selah, I met one who had just shot a rattle snake from his horse with his dog by his side. Needless to say, his horse was not spooked by me riding a bike.

      How was Roskruge? Send some pictures!

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