Has the return of the fall Seattle drizzle got you down? Time for a road trip to the Yakima Valley. Only 140 miles to the east, the sun is still shining and harvest is in full swing. Scour U-pick farms for the perfect sun-ripened pumpkins and apples, get lost in a corn maze or take a side trip to visit spectacular murals. You'll even find a railway museum and "life-size" dinosaurs to play on.
Just make sure you leave plenty of room in the trunk for a haul of fresh produce!
1. Have loads of harvest fun
The fertile Yakima Valley claims to be home to biggest variety of fruits and vegetables in the Pacific Northwest. Quaint produce stands dot the sides of the roads, their bins brimming with squash, peppers and apples— and many farms even let you get in on the action by picking your own produce.
You can find a complete list and harvest schedule at VisitYakima.com, but several stand out above the crowd for their family friendliness.
Bill's Berry Farm in Grandview (a little over an hour's drive from Yakima) is a favorite family destination. During their Apple & Pumpkin Festival weekends (every Friday and Saturday in October), you can fill your baskets with apples and hunt through the pumpkin patch for the perfect Jack o' lantern-worthy gourd. Kids love the tractor train and corn maze, and you can even squeeze fresh apples into cider on their presses, all while munching on delicious home-made donuts.
Thompson's Farm, just off Highway 12 in Naches (about 12 miles west of Yakima), also offers U-pick during harvest season, including apples and pumpkins. (Check the website or call ahead for dates.) Stop in at the farm store and soda fountain to marvel at their collection of eclectic antique farm equipment, and to pick up fresh fruit, cider, honey and homemade jams.
2. Taste wine at a family-friendly Yakima winery
You won't find any snakes in the Rattlesnake Hills, just duck ponds, park-like lawns, rope swings and world-class wineries that are so down to earth the winemaker is often the person pouring your tastes. Around 17 wineries are tucked in among the orchards and vineyards, just a 20-minute drive from Yakima. Here are a few to check out.
Bonair Winery, one of the oldest, has a beautifully manicured estate and pond with sweeping views of the vineyards. Kids can feed the ducks and pet the friendly (and patient) dog. The picnic tables make it a great place for lunch.
Paradisos del Sol offers a kids' play area and a wide variety of docile farm animals to pet, plus a mouth-watering blue cheese dip. (They're happy to give you the recipe!)
If you go, be sure to buy a Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail Passport at your first stop for discounts on tastings and wine. Oct. 10–11 is the October Crush, where you can join winemakers and growers as you tour vineyards, pick grapes, stomp in vats and wine and dine all weekend long.
3. Eat Mexican and admire murals
The town of Toppenish, about 25 minutes southeast of Yakima, makes a great day trip or lunch stop. The region's delicious Mexican food is at its best here (try Villaseñor's or El Charrito), and the town is also home to more than 70 historical murals. Drive around on your own, or (if you visit May-September) take a horse-drawn narrated tour.
4. Play with dinosaurs
Little archeologists love to see their favorite prehistoric creatures roaming the town of Granger. The first "life-size" dinosaur statues went up in the early '90's, and today there are about two dozen in Hisey Park, and even more scattered around the rest of the town. Most of the dinosaurs in the park are kid-friendly and sturdily designed to offer "dino rides."
Three places in the Yakima Valley to stay with kids
The Yakama Nation RV Park in Toppenish offers a truly unique camping experience. They have 125 RV hookups, but the real fun is to camp out in authentic teepees ($35-55). You'll find an outdoor pool, hot tub and kids' play area, and you're just a short walk from the Yakama Nation Cultural Center and Heritage Theater, where you can catch the latest movies. (Note: The RV Park is closing permanently at Oct. 31, 2015.)
Oxford Suites ($115-$125) is a great family-friendly option near downtown Yakima, right on the Greenway Path that follows the scenic Yakima River. Be sure to bring your bikes—it's just a quick ride or stroll down the Greenway to the fantastic McGuire Community Playground. There's an indoor pool, as well.
Orchard Inn B&B ($99-$175) is a delightful bed and breakfast set in a cherry orchard above Yakima. Spacious family rooms are available, and gourmet breakfasts are served overlooking the orchard. Guests can pick cherries in season, too.
Originally published in 2013; upated in 2015.