A Guide to Floating the Yakima River

Attracting many kids and adults with its refreshing and smooth water, floating the Yakima River on a hot summer day is a great activity to add to your itinerary between the months of June and September. Grab your friends and family and we will help you with the rest. With this easy to follow guide, we will help make this the best experience possible.

yakima river float
floating yakima river

Choose Your Adventure

To start, there are many launch and takeout points throughout the Yakima Canyon. This makes it easy for people to customize their floating experience. Traveling South on State Route 821 from Ellensburg to Yakima, you can choose where you want to start and stop based on how long you want to float. 

Staying for a good time, not a long time: For a short 1-hour ride on the Yakima River, start at Big Horn Campground and end at Umtanum Recreation Site (5.5 miles). Keep in mind, Big Horn Campground may charge you to use their boat launch. 

Not ready to get out: For a couple extra hours, get out at Lmuma Creek Recreation Site (9.3 miles). 

In for the long haul: Finally made it to the end. Get out at the last stop, the Roza Recreation Site (14.4 miles). All non-motorized boats and floats must get out before the Roza Diversion Dam. 

Come Prepared

One of the best things about the Yakima River is how calm it is. You may need an oar to push yourself out of the bushes on the sides, but other than that kick back, relax and enjoy the sunshine. Many people bring lunch and refreshments with them during the longer floats. Just remember once you pack it in, pack it out. 

If you are in need of supplies for your trip, stop by Red’s Fly Shop or Outdoor Pursuits and Rentals for a tube or river raft rental. Or if you would like to purchase your own gear to use every year, tubes can be purchased at any store that may sell outdoor equipment. 

Other items you should prepare to bring are a tube pump, oar, life jackets, wet bag, cooler, sunscreen, water sandals, sunglasses, swimsuit and towels. Check out Mountain High Sports in Ellensburg or Basecamp Outfitters in Cle Elum for all your outdoor equipment needs local to the Kittitas County area. 


One thing to keep in mind, if you plan to self-guide your floating experience, you will need two cars. One at the start of your float and one at the end of your float, in order to get back to your other vehicle once you make it to the end. Keep the items you plan to use for the float in the car at the launch point and items like your towel in the car at the takeout point.

If that seems too complicated or you do not have access to two cars, many people often do guided tours or use a vehicle shuttle service. Rill Adventures, Yakima River Tubing and Alpine Adventures all provide guided tours and vehicle shuttle services. It may cost a little more, but guided tours and vehicle shuttle services are more convenient and a perfect option for people who have never floated on the Yakima River before. 

Pro tip: You will need a Discover Pass to park at many of the Yakima Canyon River Campgrounds and Recreation Sites. Many of them also ask you to pay a $5 day fee per car, so bring a little cash. This money goes towards helping keep the recreation sites clean and maintained. 

Nearby Food and Drinks

Along the Yakima Canyon, you will also find the Ellensburg Canyon Winery (ECW) and the Canyon River Grill. At the Ellensburg Canyon Winery, you will find yourself looking out at the Yakima Canyon, sipping locally-made wine from ECW’s sustainably farmed vineyard. ECW also encourages you to pack a picnic to enjoy with your tastings.

At the Canyon River Grill you will find delicious food and drinks such as the Crispy Alaskan LingCod Fish & Chips or the Zane & Wylie’s Steak Salad. Enjoy your food and drinks while dining right on the Yakima River. Make a reservation and enjoy the beautiful views at these two highly recommended stops in the Yakima Canyon. 

If you are looking for more activities nearby to fill up the weekend, take a look at what else Ellensburg has to offer for those living in or visiting the area by reading Spending a Weekend in Ellensburg.

Photos: Rill Adventures, Emily Masseth.

Emily Masseth

Emily Masseth

Emily Masseth is a recent graduate from Central Washington University. She is originally from Rochester, Washington, but decided to continue living in Ellensburg after graduation because she loved it so much. When Emily is not writing, she is the Events Coordinator and PR Specialist for the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce. Emily is a Washington state native and it shows in how much coffee she drinks and how much she loves hiking. Catch Emily on her next adventure @emily_masseth on Instagram.

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