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Although there were Native Americans and pioneers living around the area for many years prior, the significance of Wanapum State Park was not fully realized until 1932. Professor George Beck taught geology at Washington Normal School in Ellensburg (now Central Washington University). He frequently would take his students on trips to regions with known geological features and instruct them to search the area for unusual features. It was on one of these trips that Beck found a tree log made out of stone. A few short years later, in 1935, the area was established as a state park.
Wanapum State Park is home to one of the most varied petrified wood trees. Most petrified forests have two or three different types, and in contrast, Wanapum has dozens. Wanapum State Park is often used interchangeably with “Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park” and “Wanapum Recreational Area.”
Sitting almost perfectly in the middle of Washington State, camping at Wanapum State Park is uniquely situated. It’s close to several towns along the Columbia River, the mighty Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Mt. Rainier National Park, and several other smaller parks. The closest large town is Ellensburg, about 30 miles to the west. Book an RV in Kittitas County, WA, for the best way to explore the area and attractions.
In addition to learning about the long-extinct forests that once lived millions of years ago, Wanapum State Park, which covers a little over 7,100 acres, has three miles of established, ADA compliant trails. While that doesn’t sound like much, there are a few additional miles of dirt trails winding through the scrubby high-desert forest and open, dry meadows. Hunt for petroglyphs made by ancient Native American civilizations who once resided in the area thousands of years before. Wild sheep occasionally meander into the park in search of green forage.
The mighty Columbia River is a popular draw, too. Over 27,000 feet of waterfront access offers plenty of fishing and water recreational fun; swim, tube, sail, kayak, and waterski at Wanapum State Park. Anglers may catch a wide array of fish, including Chinook Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Steelhead, and a couple of species of bass here. The dark blue water that curves out of sight transforms to a sinister, angry gray on a sour-weather day. The high desert buttes that rise on the far side of the river are brown year-round, save for a short few weeks when the spring rain descend. They transform into a muted green, the barest hint of life on the high desert.
One of the main reasons to camp with an RV is to skip the hotel and wake up to a glorious scene. Wanapum State Park campground may tick off that box as the campground is set atop a high hill overlooking the river. Wanapum State Park campground has 50 gravel sites with hookups.
In the wee hours of the morning as the sun rises, the hills on the far side of the river transform from a drab brown to warm gold. The river glistens a sapphire blue as it snakes around a bend. The region is prone to high winds, and top-heavy vehicles may need to be latched down.
Wanapum State Park is a popular destination in the summer months, and it may be wise to have a backup site in mind. Wild Horse Campground in Quincy, may be a candidate. Just across the river from the state park, this campground includes electric hookups and water access.
One of the many draws to the area is the concerts at The Gorge Amphitheater. Named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the most scenic venues in the world, the outdoor theater hosts several bands, concerts, and other entertainment during the summer months. Some of the past performers have included Dave Matthew Band, Mumford & Sons, and Nghtmre Slander. Finding RV camping accommodations on weekends in the area can be a challenge, so make your reservations well in advance.
In spite of the arid climate, vineyards thrive along the Columbia River. Hop into a rental motorhome and tour the high desert country to find a favorite. Wilridge Vineyard’s tasting room in Yakima is housed in a 100-year-old farmhouse that overlooks hills of grapevines in tidy, neat rows. Guests are encouraged to not only sample the award-winning wines, but also to explore the grounds, roam the trails, and search the cliffs for petroglyphs. The wines are created by Vinter Paul Beveridge, a world-class master sommelier.
Explore the area’s history at the Wanapum Heritage Center in Mattawa. The museum’s exhibits detail the history of the local Native American tribe, Wanapum, which means “river people.” The permanent exhibits include dioramas and a life-size tule mat lodge, ancient maps, art, and tools used by the tribe.
One of the first wind and solar farms in Washington State, Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center, is 16 miles east of Ellensburg. The facility is open to visitors. The guests learn about the wind turbines and are encouraged to ascend one to examine the giant blades up close. The brave ascenders are rewarded by panoramic, sweeping 360-degree views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and the Columbia River Rapids. All visitors must wear closed-toe shoes and hard-hats (provided). The lands are open to hiking and horseback riding, though written permission must be obtained in advance.
Camp at Wanapum State Park, and gain an adventure of a lifetime in Washington State as you explore the terrain with the family.