In the Ahtanum State Forest, you can find beautiful mountain vistas, canyons, and some of the best camping in eastern Washington. The forest, in Yakima County, is a 75,000-plus acre section of land managed by the Department of Natural Resources. The forest is crisscrossed by a network of roads known as the “Green Dot” road network: over 562 miles of inter-connected roads, denoted by green “dot” signs (hence the name).
Those familiar with off-highway-vehicle adventures have long considered this area a little-known haven. But even for those of us without special equipment, there are ways to explore this beautiful part of the state. The Ahtanum vista loop (outlined in purple) is a portion of the Green Dot Road System that accommodates most standard four-wheel drive during good weather conditions – generally May to early November.
Start in historic Tampico, Washington. The Ahtanum Rd North Fork takes you along Ahtanum Creek on a paved county road. After a approximately nine miles (fifteen minutes of driving) you will arrive at the Ahtanum Meadows Campground, (bring a Discover Pass!) where you can access restrooms, scout it’s ten campsites (four are walk-in only), or enjoy a picnic before you continue on. We recommend you drive west along the A2000, where your first destination will be the Tree Phones Campground, (a third of the way along your route) which provides access to the 23-mile Grey Rock hiking trail. This trail is accessible to hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikes, motorcycles, and ATVs. As such, please be aware of multi-use trail rules, and monitor your speed.
Tree Phones Campsite offers 14 campsites and can accommodate up to 35-foot RVs, though size may vary by site. This site also offers restroom facilities, which you may want to take advantage of. If full, you may also consider the small Clover Flats Campground. You will pass these nine campsites on your way to Darland Mountain. Camping in any of these sites is free, as long as you display a Discover Pass.
The next stop on your journey should be the Eagle’s Nest Lookout, which offers dramatic views of Darland Mountain, Dome Peak, and the Goat Rocks Wilderness area. Be careful! The road is very steep here (12-13 percent grade). Be aware that there is a short walk between the parking area at Eagle’s Nest, and the viewpoint.
After stopping at Eagle’s Nest (and maybe eating lunch,) continue on the A2000 to Darland Mountain, which provides a stunning vista of some of the nearby mountain peaks, as well as the Ahtanum drainage area. Get back on the road, (which becomes the A3000) then loop back east toward the Meadows Campground. On the way back, a second Grey Rock trailhead can be found on the A3000.
In total, the main (purple) route is thirty-four miles long, and will take around four to five hours to complete. For a shorter excursion, try the White Ridge Loop (marked in yellow). Additionally, White’s Ridge is open to hiking and horseback riding in the summer, and snowmobiling in the winter.
The easiest way to navigate these roads is by downloading the Department of Natural Resources’ mobile map for this forest by following this link: dnr.wa.gov/MobileMaps. You’ll be able to see your location in the map even though there’s no cell service. Be sure to tell someone where you’re going, especially if you are venturing out alone. Carrying a paper map and compass is always a good idea too (link to the correct map).
You will need a Discover Pass to park at all of the sites mentioned in this list, as it is required for parking on lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
When you’re there, be sure to spend some time in Yakima, as well. Our friends at Visit Yakima say it’s one of the few places in Central Washington where you can ski, bike, hike and golf, all in the same day. With over 120 wineries in just 70 miles, wine tasting in the Yakima Valley is certainly worth considering. Also, many of the local restaurants and eateries take full advantage of the area’s fresh produce.
There are also many options for accommodations near Yakima. Try out a downtown suite, or a quaint bed-and-breakfast. Regardless of your budget or preferences, there are several options to choose from.
Bringing together our state’s working forests and the communities and rural economies nearby is just one of the initiatives being pursued by Hilary Franz, our Commissioner of Public Lands. More information about this exciting project can be found at dnr.wa.gov/rcpi.
With over 1,000 miles of trail and 70 campgrounds statewide, Washington State Department of Natural Resources working forests and conservation areas provide expansive destination options for outdoor recreation.
If you’re the more adventurous type, the green dot road system also offers hundreds of miles of “off-road” trails, which are frequently used by off-highway vehicle owners. In Ahtanum specifically, you could go and visit Louie Way Gap, or drive by Dome Peak.
The Discover Pass provides motor vehicle access to recreation lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Washington State Parks, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. Use your Discover Pass to explore 160-plus recreation sites managed by DNR, more than 100 state parks, 700 water access points, and hundreds of natural and wildlife areas. When you buy the Discover Pass, you’re helping to keep the state’s outdoor recreation sites open and accessible to the public.
While this is one suggestion, there are an almost limitless routes for exploring the Ahtanum forest, and the Green Dot road network at large. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources encourages you to explore our working lands, many opportunities to do so can be found here.