Hikers seeking well-shaded trails that wind through mossy forest floors with ferns growing beneath old firs might think they have to haul themselves all the way to the western side of the Cascades. Or those wanting to immerse themselves in the relaxing sound of rushing water carving its way through a basalt canyon might think they have to pack up their car and fuel up their tanks to drive a couple hundred miles to the Columbia River Gorge. But it turns out all that can be found in a small, almost secret alcove right here in the Walla Walla Valley.
About 25 minutes away from downtown Walla Walla, the West Tiger Creek trail is a much more lush, forested trail than one typically expects to find in the more arid Eastern Washington region. In addition to its woodsy landscape, another large part of the appeal of this trail is its relaxing soundscape. The easy out and back trail stays close to the creek the whole way, so hikers remain immersed in the sounds of rolling waters and chirping songbirds throughout the hike.
While the trail is well maintained and easy to follow, there is quite a bit of foliage growing along the trail, so expect to be hiking through a few brushier stretches. To account for this, lightweight pants or longer leggings may be preferable to shorts.
One of the highlights of this hike comes about 3/4 miles into the trail, where the creek rushes over a basalt ledge, forming a small waterfall. If the weather is warm enough, this spot offers an inviting opportunity for a quick plunge in the deeper basin formed at the bottom.
After the sixth creek crossing at about a mile in, the trail begins to thin out, becoming less discernible from this point on. While it’s possible for more confident hikers to continue on, the trail runs for about half a mile more and ends at a landslide that occurred after significant flooding in the late 1990s. Since the slide cuts off what is now the West Tiger Creek Trail from the longer Tiger Ridge Trail that it used to be part of, this final creek crossing is the ideal turn-around location to head back to the trailhead, making it a two-mile adventure roundtrip.
Getting there and back again:
From Walla Walla, head east on E Isaacs Avenue, which turns into Mill Creek Road just on the outskirts of town. Drive along Mill Creek Road for 14 miles. Turn right onto Forest Service Road 65. The road number 65 sign is a bit hard to see from the main road, you’ll know if you missed your turn because Mill Creek Road dead ends up ahead, and the Dead End sign that is posted just after the Tiger Creek road turnoff is easy to spot.
The West Tiger Creek Trail turnout is about a half mile up Road 65. The turnout is only large enough for 2-3 vehicles, so if you’re travelling with a larger group, consider carpooling rather than caravaning.
Not only is the West Tiger Creek trail close to Walla Walla, there are also several really great wineries, such as K Vintners (open Fridays and Saturdays) or Abeja Winery that you’ll want to visit on your way back into town. Plan ahead as – like many wineries in the Valley – reservations are needed.
Things to know before you go:
- The West Tiger Creek Trail and the surrounding hills are located on land that holds an important place in the traditions of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes. Learn more about how the Blue Mountains, including this area, are used by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla to foster culture and support their way of life.
- If you pack it in, pack it out. If you aren’t already, get familiar with these basic seven principles of Leave No Trace for protecting and preserving natural landscapes.
- The West Tiger Creek Trail is dog friendly.
- There are no bathroom facilities or potable water sources. Even though this isn’t a long hike, it’s always a good idea to be prepared.
- The West Tiger Creek Trail is on the Umatilla National Forest. Access to the trail is free. There are no recreation fees or passes required, even for vehicle access.