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More than just a training area, it is a travel destination

Flowering fruit trees at the Yakima Arboretum. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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Yakima is known to most military stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as a training area, but the town and surrounding valley have so much more to offer. Dramatic views of the eastern side of Mount Rainier, plenty of outdoor activities, agritourism and a hopping downtown make it well worth the visit for a long day trip or a weekend stay. Yakima Valley produces 75 percent of hops grown in the United States. With five American Viticultural Areas and over 120 wineries in 70 miles, this is a wine lover's paradise.

For a scenic roundtrip drive, take Interstate 90 East to Ellensburg and take exit 109 onto South Canyon Road. This is one of the most scenic roads in the country. The route follows the curves of the Yakima River while basalt cliffs tower above. Fly fishing is hugely popular and there are many places to stop for a picnic and to stroll along the river. On your return trip, head back through Chinook Pass if the road is open (typically around Memorial Day). Take US-12 W through Naches and then continue onto WA- 410 W. The return drive is very scenic with switchbacks that have surprise views as you make the turns. My favorite Mt. Rainier view drive, just stunning and worth the longer route home.

Ellensburg Canyon Winery -- On your way in, make a quick stop at the winery, which is just off I-90 exit 109. Owner Gary Cox is a Vigneron, which translates as tender of the wine. Ellensburg Canyon Winery is an interesting small winery with Cox sharing stories of the early days of the Wine Project (the beginning of WA wine) at Washington State University where he was a grad student at the time. There are beautiful canyon views from the outdoor seating, a perfect place to stretch your legs and get out of the car. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, 221 Canyon Vista Way, Ellensburg, 509.933.3523,

Los Hernandez -- Owner Felipe Hernandez and his staff produce the best tamales I have ever eaten. The masa surrounding the fillings has a light, sweet texture to it. Fillings include pork, chicken or made with seasonal ingredients such as Yakima Asparagus. There are a few tables to eat at or you can take it to go. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily, 3706 Main St., Union Gap, 509.457.6003

Yakima Arboretum -- This nonprofit living tree and plant museum really shines in the spring with the flowering fruit trees and in the fall with the changing colors of the leaves. The park has a peaceful Japanese Garden, a self-guided walking tour (pick up the brochure in the gift shop), a pond filled with giant koi and all the lovely trees you would expect in an arboretum. Make sure to stop in the Jewett Interpretive Center and Tree House Gift Shop. Center and Gift Shop, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 1401 Arboretum Dr., Yakima, 509.248.7337,

For more information on the Yakima Valley, check out The website is a wealth of information on the area and everything you need to know to plan the perfect visit.

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