We visited Ellensburg in mid-September 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
Looking to break up the seven-hour drive between Sandpoint and Mount Rainier, we stopped for a couple nights in Ellensburg, Washington. It’s a cute college town, home to Central Washington University, and a historic downtown full of interesting architecture.
The highlight of the drive from Sandpoint, for us, was crossing the Columbia River Gorge. We stopped at a viewpoint to stretch our legs and enjoy the vista.
We stayed at the Ellensburg KOA, a reliable brand close to town. The campground was mostly empty in the middle of the week, and we had a pleasant power/water spot on the Yakima river. The location just off I-90 is good for convenience, but bad for road noise.
This was one of the nicer KOAs we’ve stayed at! It has all the usual KOA amenities–playgrounds, laundry, etc–and an unusual amenity, Yakima river boat access and boat parking. Overall, it felt really spacious, maybe because it was so empty while we visited.
As soon as we’d set up the Airstream, we headed into the historic downtown area to do a self-guided architecture walk. Ellensburg’s architectural history is fascinating: the entire downtown burned to the ground in a fire in July 1889, and in four months the citizens had rebuilt most of it. So many of the structures standing in downtown today date back to 1889, and many of them are beautiful.
Our favorite activity in Ellensburg was touring the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility. Our tour guide, Maggie, is a senior at CWU and she was so knowledgeable and personable. We learned all about the turbines and got to go inside the base of one. The tour and the facility are really neat and a must-do if you’re in the area.
J had to work on morning #2, so Bugsy and I went for a walk on the trails at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park, less than ten minutes from the campground. The trail through the park along the river is about two miles long, and connects to a paved path that leads into Ellensburg if you’re looking for more mileage.
We wanted to get a hike in while visiting Ellensburg to keep our 19-day hiking streak alive, and found two appealing options online: Rattlesnake Dance Ridge Trail, a two-miler fifteen minutes from town, and Baldy Mountain, a five-miler thirty minutes away. Because we’d been doing a lot of driving, we chose the shorter hike and headed up Rattlesnake Dance Ridge. I hadn’t looked at the elevation profile of this hike in advance… the trail went straight uphill with full sun exposure and wasn’t that much fun. The views from the top are super, though, of Mount Rainier in the distance, and the vineyard in the valley below.
Shout out to Kelleher Motor Company, the local Ford dealer, who during a routine oil change fixed an issue we’d been having with the truck for months; the Charlottesville dealership had been unable to diagnose it, despite charging us many dollars over multiple visits.
Eating and drinking
The coolest restaurant in Ellensburg, from what we could tell, is The Red Pickle. We had a drink at the bar while waiting for our carryout order and later enjoyed delicious salmon quinoa bowls at our sweet riverfront campsite.
The other eating establishment on our radar was ABC Donuts. The lead TripAdvisor review claims they are the “best donuts on the planet.” Sounds like somewhere we would enjoy! We didn’t make it there, unfortunately.
Ellensburg is a small town, but they have several breweries, cideries, and wineries. Our first brewery stop was Ellensburg Brewing Co and Tilted Tree Cidery. It felt to us like more of a restaurant than a brewery, which is not our favorite kind of taproom. My cherry Berliner weisse was good if a bit too sweet, but J wasn’t crazy about his hazy IPA. I was most disappointed that the advertised pickle sour hadn’t been tapped yet.
At Whipsaw Brewing I tried another cherry sour and found it more interesting than Ellensburg Brewing’s. The overall scene was way cooler than Ellensburg, but J liked the Ellensburg IPA better.
Iron Horse Brewing had the best beers we tried in Ellensburg. I had a ginger honey hefeweizen that I didn’t expect to like but did, and J liked his hazy IPA. I also tried a couple ciders from their newly-aquired cidery and found them tasty.
We had planned to try local wine just down the road at Ellensburg Canyon Winery, especially after hiking up Rattlesnake Dance Ridge and looking down over the beautiful vineyard, but they were closed while we were in town.
Finally, our last morning in town, I got coffee and wifi at D&M Coffee downtown while J got a haircut at Clean Cut The Mens Shop. D&M was a fine place to do some work and J got a yummy ham pesto croissant there after his haircut. The barber gave J advice for next time: Lake Cle Elum is beautiful.
Ellensburg was a pleasant stop, but we were excited to press on to Mount Rainier!