Ellensburg Area Scenic Drives

Ellensburg is surround by forested mountains, sagebrush covered hills, and river canyons. The varied, beautiful surrounding terrain lends to several excellent drives or bicycle rides. Ellensburg can be accessed from Cle Elum from the west via Interstate–90 or State Route 10. Interstate–90 has a seventy–mile per hour speed limit in this area and is a smooth, gradual descent into Ellensburg from higher elevation to the west. From Cle Elum, Interstate–90 rises up Indian John Hill, which on a clear day provides spectacular views of the Stewart Range to the north from the interstate's rest stop. I–90 ascends to 2,359 feet at forested Elk Heights before gradually descending into Thorp and the dry, open expanse of the Kittitas Valley.

Snoqualmie Pass

State Route 10 is a slower, more scenic drive as it follows the Yakima River from Cle Elum to Yakima. The railroad line also follows this route. Although not as scenic as the Yakima River Canyon between Ellensburg and Selah, this smaller stretch of canyon along State Route 10 is still scenic and there are several train bridges.

Although Wenatchee is only about thirty–five miles north of Ellensburg as the crow flies, the route between the cities, U.S. Route 97 and U.S. Route 2, is seventy–one miles. Ellensburg has rugged mountains to the north reach nearly 7,000 feet in elevation. U.S. Route 97 takes a northwest route out of Ellensburg and crosses Blewett Pass, which is a scenic area, with an elevation of 4,102 feet, before ascending down into the Wenatchee River Valley. The beautiful Bavarian styled village of Leavenworth is just five miles west of the U.S. Route 97 and U.S. Route 2 junction.

Driving in the Yakima River Canyon

The most scenic drive near Yakima is to the south. State Route 821, also known as Canyon Road, connects Ellensburg with Selah, a twenty–five mile stretch. Sheer basalt cliffs rise several thousand feet above the river. The route is mostly uninhabited by people although you may see some Big Horn Sheep. Near the mid–point of the canyon is the Riverview Campground. A bit south from there is a footbridge that crosses the river providing access to the Umtanum Creek and the Umtanum Recreation Area. A new condo development has been built at the southern end of the canyon before entering Selah.

Ellensburg from Manashtash Ridge

Interstate–82/U.S. Route 97 is the quicker route south to Yakima. The thirty–three mile stretch takes you up the Manastash Ridge, which has an elevation of 2,672 feet. The 1,100–foot plus descent from the ridge into Ellensburg is scenic, providing excellent views of the Stuart Range. There is an exit for a viewpoint near the top of the ridge. Traveling south from Manastash Ridge, the Interstate traverses rolling sagebrush covered hills and dry creek beds before descending into Selah. On a clear day, the descent into Selah has excellent views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams.

Interstate–90 takes you east from Ellensburg. The Kittitas Valley extends another ten miles to the east past Kittitas before ascending dry, sagebrush–covered foothills which reach an elevation of over 3,000 feet. At Ryegrass Summit, which is eighteen miles east of Ellensburg at 2,535 feet, there is a rest stop that has excellent views of Mt. Rainier on a clear day. From Ryegrass, the freeway begins a ten–mile descent of nearly 2,000 feet down to the small town of Vantage and the Columbia River, one of the United States' largest rivers.