A Guide to Floating on the Yakima River

A 16-mile stretch of the Yakima River is popular with float fans

By Sarah Edwards August 4, 2018

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This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Seattle magazine.

This article is part of the cover story for the August 2018 issue. Find more from the story hereClick here to subscribe.

Each summer, a 16-mile stretch of the Yakima River between Ellensburg and Yakima along State Route 821 (Canyon Road), with its cool, refreshing, rapid-free water, attracts hundreds of float fans: kids and adults whose idea of the perfect way to while away a hot day is on an inner tube along this slow-moving river. Want to join them? Seattle magazine style and social editor Andrew Hoge grew up in Yakima and offers this insider guide to one of the state’s best float trips.

Best places to launch inner tubes on the river, and best routes: Traveling north to south, look for drop-off points along State Route 821. Choose your route based on how long you want to be in the river:

Big Pines Campground to Roza (about 1 hour, 4 miles)
Lmuma Creek to Roza (1.5-2 hours, 6.8 miles)
Umtanum Creek to Roza (3 hours, 10.9 miles)
Bighorn Campground to Roza (5-6 hours, 16.1 miles)

Last place to take out: The Roza Diversion Dam, which is the last spot for all nonmotorized boats/watercraft to get out. If you go beyond this point you will run into the dam.

Best time to go floating: From June through September, when the weather is hot.

Where to get a tube: A number of area companies rent sturdy inner tubes or rafts, including Red’s Fly Shop (Ellensburg, 14706 State Route 821; raft rental for two-three occupants, $99) and Rill Adventures (no storefront location; reserve online, rilladventures.com; tubes, $25/person; four-man raft, $125). Or buy one at a store that sells outdoor gear.  

Supplies: Bring an air pump for your inner tube; a good investment is an electric pump that can be clipped to a car battery. Attach an extra tube or raft to your own (or someone else’s in your party) for stowing supplies such as food, beverage containers, a dry bag, patch kit, an oar and bungee cords to connect tubes/rafts in your group. This will also serve as a repository for any garbage (don’t throw it in the river!).

Pro tips: Travel with two vehicles. Park the one with tubes and supplies at your launch point, and the other at the takeout point. Most locations have parking, but some require recreational passes, such as the Discover Pass.

Need refreshment? The Canyon River Ranch, a lodge about midpoint into the float route, is home of the Canyon River Grill (509.933.2309) and is a great place to stop for a meal. 

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