I have hiked most of the hills and ridges that surround Ellensburg, but Cooke Canyon is one that I never had the chance to explore. After a few beers thanks to Iron Horse Brewery with my husband and his archer buddy the night before, we stirred up the last minute idea to join him the following day in this prime camping and hunting area, right in the middle of elk season. It set such a surreal backdrop for our camping experience, so I figured I might as well share it.
We hopped in my Subaru and drove until the road stopped on the map, leaving us at an entrance to an even more distressed backroad, which we continued down for another 15 minutes or so. The road narrowed to a wide hiking trail with a parking lot to the left, where we ditched the car like we had our cell phone service when we left town.
We hiked uphill for about a half-hour, passing deer and cattle that wildly roam the area before their ranchers round them up for butchering. We waved them away with our arms and laughed as our trusty hiking partner, bugs the pug, snarled at them and looked up at us.
The trail broke into a Y when we headed right, and rock-hopped to cross a creek and continued our trek, passing a wide-open area with tree stumps 30 yards in the distance that gave us a perfect opportunity to practice shooting a few arrows.
Continuing up the trail, we veered right again and crossed another stream, finding a perfect camping spot right in the middle of elk territory and at the base of a hill that overlooked the canyon. Our archery guide and brew drinking buddy, Doug, told us that in the case that he got an elk, we want to be near the creek to keep the meat cool while we packed it out in multiple trips.
We set up camp near an already established fire pit surrounded by jagged rocks- even though the burn ban was recently lifted for the season, we did not want to create our own pit too close to the dry, long grass that surrounded us.
The next morning, we woke up to the unique call of elk and raindrops bouncing off the top of our tent. I went for a short walk to scout out the area and was sprinked as the tent was- as if Earth Mother gave me an instinctual version of the cup of jo that usually perks me up first thing in the morning.
I looked over the forest and watched the fog lift and roll off the hillside experiencing a much needed moment of stillness that is so challenging to find in our overstimulating society.
If you would like to visit this area yourself, you can simply use the following coordinates and continue on the backroad until you see parking on your left. The road has rough terrain and dips that require a vehicle to have some element of suspension, so don’t bring your Prius.
If you are old fashioned, here are driving directions to the parking lot from Ellensburg.
Head out to E Vantage Highway and follow it for 5 miles
Turn left on to Number 81 road for 3 miles
Turn right onto Brick Mill road for 1.5 miles
Turn left onto Cooke Canyon road and drive 2.5 miles
Turn right to stay on Cooke Canyon road on a backroad for another 5 miles or so.
You will have to manually open a pipe gate held together by wire and close it behind you. When you get past this, keep driving straight down the rocky road ahead for about 15 minutes until you see parking on your left. (You will need a forest pass to park here, so be sure to pick one up if you don’t already have an annual pass.)