Takhlakh Lake To Rattlesnake Hills And Back: A Journey Around The Lonely Volcano

by | Jul 12, 2013

I recently pitched Travel & Leisure on a “three days in Oregon food and beverage experience,” and I can see how that article–and the trip it will require to write it–plays out. But more on that another day. Today, I want to detail a different route into the heart of south central Washington.


Mt. Adams, visible on a clear day from Portland, is the lonely volcano in the range. Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier are iconic and Mt. St. Helens blew its freaking top, so it’s something of an attraction. Where does this leave Mt. Adams? Unheralded. Unpopulated. And unknown. But don’t feel bad for the mountain, it likely enjoys its freedom from modernity.

Speaking of freedom from modernity, once you pass Trout Lake you’re on rough, boulder-strewn roads to nowhere. Or somewhere, depending on your clarity of mind and purpose. After making it all the way to the northwest flank of the volcano, we were handsomely rewarded for our efforts, as Takhlakh Lake at 4400 feet above sea level is spellbinding and the mountain beyond totally intoxicating in its rugged beauty.


See my Flickr set here.

Darby and I set up camp, then hiked around the lake with Lucy and up into a 3000-year old lava flow. Looking back we saw Mt. Rainier in the distance–the place where we got married on July 4, 2009. What a spot this, saddled between the two towering volcanoes on our fourth anniversary.

Our evening was spent fighting off mosquitos, but happily, as we were prepared with wipe-on bug juice. We also collected plenty of “forest hair” a.k.a. dried moss to smoke the little suckers out. Miraculously, no mosquitos managed to make it inside the tent and we spent a peaceful, firecracker and bug free night under cloudy skies.

In the morning we drank iced coffee and packed up camp early, in order to set sail from Takhlakh Lake to Yakima. We proceeded slowly down and out of the Mt. Adams Recreation Area on Forest Road 23, finally reaching State Highway 12, which runs east and west and skirts the southern edge of Mt. Rainier National Park, en route to the sunny desert and fruits of Yakima Valley.

Along the way, we stopped at Dog Lake and prepared a parfait of fresh fruit, granola and yogurt, which we ate lakeside in the cold alpine wind. After breakfast, we descended down into the Tieton River valley and pulled over for a splash-fresh-water-on-your-face-and-head moment. I love to see a river run and this one runs prettily over its rock bed.

Adams view from Zillah

North Park Lodge, our hotel in Seyla just north of Yakima, let us check in early which was a score since we wanted to shower and prepare for an afternoon of winery visits in Zillah. Rested and refreshed, picnic-basket in hand and Lucy on leash, we zipped down I-82 to the Rattlesnake Hills section of the Yakima Valley, and opened up with an uneventful tasting at Knight Hill.

Next stop, Hyatt Vineyards. Three women on horseback rode up as we entered the property to assure us that we were indeed in the West. The tasting room was on the cheesy side, but we purchased a delicious blend for just $14.99 and Darby and I enjoyed our picnic on the winery’s patio (with Mt. Adams views) immensely.

Down the road at Two Mountain Winery, the host was particularly gracious and the wine worth taking home. Following our tasting, she sent us down the road to Cultura, a micro-producer with three of its four acres planted in Cab Franc vines.

Rattlesnake Hills reminds me of Dundee Hills with its high density of wineries, but the terrain and weather are much different. Therefore, the grapes that thrive here are different. The delicate pinot grapes so beloved in Oregon are not hardy enough to survive the summer in Zillah. Varietals that do enjoy the intense desert sun and high temps naturally produce wine with a ton of flavor and character.

At this time, Yakima lacks the wine tourism infrastructure of Dundee or Walla Walla. It’s an agricultural community, with grapes being one part of a much larger whole. But this lack of tourist charm, or “local character,” also makes the place uniquely appealing for wine tourism. This is red, white and blue America. Family farms under the volcano, and there’s not much in the way of fancy. But if it’s flavorful wine that you want to drink at a price you can afford, then you’re in luck as it’s available in copious supply.