Four distinct seasons.  That's what you'll find east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.  While the western half slogs through winter under dreary-grey skies and puddle-filled streets, eastern Washington is generally covered in glistening  snow, framed by crystal blue skies. 

The Cascades mountains run north to south through the center of Washington.  Their peaks capture the relentless succession of pacific storms that dump endless rains in the Puget Sound valleys and feet of snow in the mountain passes.  This leaves drier air and sunshine "on the east side" for the heartier photographers willing to brave cold temperatures for exciting winter images.  For the nature photographer especially, winter can be magical in Eastern Washington.

Destinations and Drive Times 

Photographers driving from Seattle can reach the Yakima and Columbia River basins via Snoqualmie Pass and I-90 in just two hours.  The far corners of the state are reachable within six to seven hours. 

Popular photographer's destinations include the rolling farmlands of The Palouse, vistas at Vantage over the Columbia River and at Palouse Falls, the Methow Valley, the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, and several state Wilderness Areas

Nature and Wildlife Photography

My addiction is nature and wildlife photography.  Basing from a small cabin near Cle Elum, Washington, I've spent countless hours exploring the shrub-steppe grasslands of the Columbia and Yakima basins and the transitional ponderosa pine forests in eastern Kittitas County.  These areas provide a long list of photographic subjects. 

Finding birds and wildlife is much easier with the lack of foliage and the white backgrounds exposing your targets.  Several raptor species are especially easy to spot resting in leafless trees.  Hundreds of bald eagles migrate to the area for the winter, especially west of Ellensburg and down the Yakima River Canyon which is home to the highest concentration of nesting eagles, hawks and falcons in Washington state.


There are plenty of choices for a weekend outing, but top of my list for a road trip from Seattle has to be the Yakima River Canyon.  After you check road conditions at the pass, drive east on I-90 to exit 109 (109 miles from Seattle, in Ellensburg) and follow the signs to Canyon Road (State Route 821).  Travel Canyon Road as it winds along the Yakima River all the way to Selah and watch for photo ops.  They're everywhere. 

For wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for deer and bighorn sheep, which are commonly seen in the canyon.  And of course, watch for birds.  I've seen and photographed golden and bald eagles here, plus prairie falcons, hawks, turkey vultures and a wide variety of migrating birds.  Also watch for chukars and wild turkeys, but they're hard to spot, especially when the hunters are around.  Early morning and late afternoon is best for finding wildlife.

Scope out your favorite locations and be sure to come back in spring when the birds are migrating and the eagles, hawks, falcons and owls are nesting.  There's a campground at Umptanum Creek and a really good birding trail across the Umptanum foot bridge over the Yakima River.   For overnighting, more "deluxe digs" can be found right on the river at Canyon River Ranch, or you can choose from several fine hotels in Ellensburg or Yakima.

I've also provided some links to relevant maps and books on that may help with your trip.  (Yes, I do get a small fee if you click and buy through here).   

Send me an email and let me know if you go!  I'd love to get a scouting report! 

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