Hiking in Wine Country: Pair Sagebrush Walking with Wine Tasting in the Tri-Cities

Sharing the same latitude as the legendary Burgundy and Bordeaux wine regions of France, the Tri-Cities of central Washington have taken advantage of rich soil and sunny, arid conditions to establish a wine-making region of growing renown. But Kennewick, Richland and Pasco have also quietly begun to develop a reputation as an outdoor recreation destination amidst one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation, thanks to an impressive, loosely connected network of urban trail systems.

The same qualities that produce award-winning wine entice winter-weary hikers; a scant six to eight inches of rain mist the Tri-Cities each year, most of it in the winter, and ample sunshine sweetens grapes and wildflowers alike.

The multi-user trail system at the 650-acre Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve in Richland anchors the area’s Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network, an ambitious plan to link undeveloped lands. Two primary trailheads access the mountain from the east and west; the western portal is the easiest for out-of-towners to reach and provides convenient access to nearby wineries.

Photo: Aaron Theisen
Photo: Aaron Theisen

The most popular route is the Skyline Trail, which features impressive ridgeline hiking for minimal climbing effort. This is one of the Tri-Cities’ most popular trail systems, so prepare to share the trail – nearly 200,000 hikers, bikers, dog-walkers and equestrians access the Skyline Trail each year. But the spectacular ridgeline route is worth the company, and so are the views of the arid Columbia and Yakima river basins; the pristine Hanford Reach; nearby Candy, Red and Rattlesnake mountains; and, on a clear day, distant Mounts Adams and Rainier, their angular summits in stark contrast to the orderly rows of grapes below.

Near at hand, springtime flowers – lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot, phlox, vetch, larkspur, lomatium and more – punctuate the sweetly pungent sage. And all around is the surprising hum of springtime life on the Columbia Plateau, where raptors perch on vineyard fenceposts, coyotes trot on the skyline, and rodents – and rattlesnakes – move underfoot.

Hikers can connect the Skyline Trail to the popular Trailhead Park trailhead via the Sagebrush Trail for an out-and-back, or they can make a loop around Badger with the Langdon Trail, which stays low on the south side of the mountain. Either way, it’s a round trip just shy of 8 miles – or enough calories to cancel out several glasses of wine.

Getting There: From Interstate 182 in Richland, take Queensgate Exit 3A. Drive south on Queensgate to the intersection at Keene Road. Turn right and proceed 2.1 miles to Dallas Road.  Drive 1.4 miles to the large trailhead parking area on the left.

Post-Hike Wine Tasting around Badger Mountain

Just south of the Skyline trailhead sits Goose Ridge Winery and its 2,200-acre vineyard – the largest contiguous plot of grapes in the region. Goose Ridge grows grapes on contract for many of the large regional labels, but its small-barrel special reserve grapes are the star of the French farmhouse tasting room, their character reflective of the Columbia Plateau’s landscape: bright and airy. They impart the essence of fruit without being, well, fruity – perfect for spring sipping.

Despite its top-shelf pedigree, Goose Ridge Winery has the laid-back atmosphere of much of the Tri-Cities; go ahead and play bocce ball in hiking boots. Finish with a sunset drive up to nearby Goose Ridge, or taste your way around Badger Mountain with a stop at Kitzke Cellars just to the north of the Skyline trailhead. //

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