“Sweet”! At 8:30 AM and 12 degrees, there is only one other car in the parking lot. Like many Saturday mornings prior, I launch my weekend on the Uplands Trail of the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (CCC). Although the rules of the trail clearly state: “Dogs need to be on a leash”, when I’m alone (or almost alone) Shasta gets in touch with her wild side and runs with her inner coyote.
To say “trail” is a bit misleading. “Trails” better describes it. The map of this place looks like someone dumped the guts of a cassette tape on a white page and snapped a picture. I’ve discovered a favorite trail, but can’t tell you how many times I’ve misplaced it. No matter. It’s all good. Truly, anywhere I end up is a great hike for me, and near nirvana for the dog. As long as I don’t get lost…Magellan, I’m not.
Situated just five miles from downtown and only 4 minutes from my home, this trailhead could not be more convenient. The parking lot is just off Scenic Drive, on Scenic Extension Road, and is nicely paved and marked for parking. Already located on a hill, the view from the parking lot alone is worthy of note, but it only gets better from there.
The 200 acres of trails range from relatively flat to quite sloped, all with fantastic views, making it possible for almost anyone to enjoy. I’ve seen mountain bikers, runners, walkers, hikers, and evidence of snow-shoers and horseback riders. My only caution is to wear hiking boots if possible, as the rocky terrain can turn an ankle at will, and rain or snow will make a great deal of mud. The shrub-steppe landscape is quite picturesque year-round (in a sagebrush kind of way), and the low-lying flora explode in a fireworks display of miniature blossoms in the spring.
Though so close to civilization, wildlife is plentiful, but not all the friendly type. I avoid the trails in summer because one never knows when you might encounter a rattlesnake or three. (A friend tells me she saw three on a single hike – in September.) No thanks. Shasta has been vaccinated, but I have not. Besides, winter and spring are the best times to enjoy this scene – the visitors are fewer, and with snow on the ground the landscape is breathtaking at times. Coyote markings line the trails, and occasionally you can spot the wily creatures loping about. There are numerous species of birds and varmints – enough to keep a dog’s nose tingly with delight for hours.
The Uplands Trail is just one of three CCC trail systems. It connects to the (lower) Cowiche Canyon trail, which follows Cowiche Creek at the bottom of the canyon for 3.2 miles. On one side of the canyon lies the basalt flow on which the Uplands trails are located, on the other stretches the largest andesite flow in the world. A few miles west, Snow Mountain Ranch is the newest land project, consisting of 1800 acres of trails, one of which leads to Cowiche Mountain. Future ambitions are to partner with the William O. Douglas Trail Foundation to extend a trail all the way from Yakima to Mount Rainier. Now that’s a hike!