Umtanum (Umptanum) Falls Trailhead


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Just south of Ellensburg, in Grant county between Manastash and Umtanum Ridges. (Roughly 140 miles or 2.5 - 3 hours east of Tacoma.) Also, it is about 5.3 miles south-east from the U.W.'s Manastash Ridge Observatory.


This site is located south of Interstate 90 south-west of Ellensburg.


This is a medium-large(50 yards by 20 yards) sized gravel parking lot for the Umtanum Falls Trail. (The name is sometimes spelled "Umptanum.") It is operated by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. You need to have a vehicle use permit for parking here. An annual pass can be obtained online at theWDFW Website for about $11.00.

Overall, this is an easy site to get to, and it offers fairly dark skies. There is some sky-glow from Ellensburg to the east and Yakima to the south-east, so the views to the north, west, and south-west are the best. Also, the horizons to the south, east, and west are partially blocked by low-lying hills. But, there is plenty of sky for good viewing here, and the hills offer good protection from the wind. (A common problem in this region.) Lastly, there are no artificial lights here at all!, except for the occasional passing car. I was here on a weekend night, and there was very little traffic. (Not enough to be bothersome at all.)

There is a second observing site nearby. Go about 1.2 miles futher up Umtanum Road, and turn right onto Hanson Road. (I don't think there was a sign for it, but I seem to recall a WDFW sign on the road.) Take an almost immediate right onto a small, very rough dirt road that goes up the hill and stop around N46 54.250 W120 39.706 near the crest of the hill. (Not recommended for cars with low ground clearance.) The ground here is pretty rough, but there is a completely unobstructed view of the southern sky here. (I had my best view of M17 the Omega Nebula to date from this spot.) However, this spot can get very windy. When I was here, we observed the southern sky from this site and then moved down to the quieter (and warmer!) trailhead.

Pros: This is a very accessible site and the weather here is often much better than in the mountains or in western Washington. It's not as dark as Table Mountain or Sun Lakes, but it is closer to us in the Puget Sound region, warmer, and better for a quick night of observing. Peoh Point and Wish Poosh are also good and nearby, but dew can be more of an issue in those spots. Overall, I really like this site, although I plan to do more exploring in the Wenas Valley in 2009. There may be better / darker spots farther up the valley.

Cons: Sky-glow, partly blocked horizons, some light traffic.

Site Amenities - cell, water, toilet, etc.:

None at all. The gravel lot is smooth enough to setup a small dome tent or cot next to the car, but this isn't a place for camping. I couldn't get cell phone reception here, but was able to get a good signal on top of the ridge a mile or two away.


Sign for Lot WDFW Sign
Looking South
Looking North
Looking South-East
Looking South-West
Manstash Ridge
Manastash Ridge on way home from Untanum

Satellite Photo and Light Pollution Map:

Sat Photo
From Google Earth
Dark Sky
Dark Sky Map - From Google Earth
Site 2
Roads to Site #2 - From Google Earth

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Last Updated: 11/29/08