Located about 2 hours east of Seattle off Interstate 90, Ellensburg is the perfect mix of charm and history. Home to Central Washington University and the annual Ellensburg Rodeo, this college town is bursting with art, culture, and character.
To make the most of your Ellensburg itinerary, plan to stay in the area for three days, leaving plenty of room for day trips. Although Ellensburg’s downtown is compact and walkable, having a car is recommended so you can easily explore other areas.
With so many things to do in Ellensburg, here’s a suggested itinerary for your next weekend (or mid-week) escape.
With museums, galleries, and historic architecture, there’s no shortage of things to explore in downtown Ellensburg. Kick off your first full day with coffee and a light breakfast at Hayday Bake and Brew on Third Avenue. Enjoy a quiche or fresh pastry on their outdoor patio or sidewalk seating before heading out to explore.
Visit the Kittitas County Historical Museum
Make the short walk to the Kittitas County Historical Museum, which features permanent exhibits covering everything from antique automobiles to the Ellensburg blue agate. The museum’s collection spans thousands of years and offers a glimpse into the county’s people, places, and events. Find more museums and galleries.
You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate downtown’s architecture. For those who want to take a deeper dive into history, the Kittitas County Historical Museum offers downloadable self-guided walking tour maps focused on history and public art. Many buildings date back to 1889 and the early 1900s. Don’t miss the iconic Davidson Building on the corner of Fourth and Pearl streets and “The Bull” sculpture by artist Richard Beyer.
For lunch, check out Young T & Tea for authentic pho, Vietnamese sandwiches, and bubble tea. Whether you’re looking for healthy bites, pub fare, or sweet treats, Ellensburg’s dining scene has you covered. Explore more dining options here.
Walk Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park
This park along the Yakima River is the perfect place to stretch your legs after lunch. Do as much or as little of the easy 3.7-mile loop as you like, and be sure to keep an eye out for birds.
Tour the Clymer Museum of Art & Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame
After lunch, head back downtown for more art and culture. The Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame joined with the Clymer Museum of Art and Western Art Association to showcase the area’s art and Western history. The Rodeo Hall of Fame highlights the lasting history of the Ellensburg Rodeo, which celebrated its 1o0th anniversary in 2023. View historic photographs and memorabilia including a trophy and saddle as you learn about the history of the rodeo and the communities—from cowboys to the Yakama Nation—who brought it to life. Time your visit for Labor Day Weekend to experience the rodeo for yourself.
After a full day of exploring, head to dinner at one of Ellensburg’s excellent restaurants. For an upscale steakhouse experience, consider The Huntsman Tavern, which features a wood-fired grill and robust whiskey bar. Not ready for the night to end? Grab a nightcap at Julep (21+), known for Southern cooking and award-winning cocktails.
Today is all about exploring the scenic landscape surrounding Ellensburg. Fuel up for your second day of adventure with breakfast at The Early Bird, where you’ll find everything from breakfast burritos and avocado toast to Nutella and berries waffles.
Explore the Yakima River Canyon
After breakfast, head south to explore the Yakima River Canyon. Park at the Umtanum Creek Recreation Site along the Yakima River and hike the Umtanum Creek Canyon Trail, a scenic 6.5-mile out-and-back route that meanders through towering basalt formations. The trail begins after crossing a narrow bridge over the Yakima River. In the spring and fall, the leaves and flowers add a brilliant pop of color.
If visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day, consider arranging a guided tour or shuttle service to float the Yakima River. Yakima River Tubing offers floating trips, and Red’s Fly Shop can provide gear rentals and shuttle service. Aim to budget at least 4 hours for this experience.
Tip: A Discover Pass or $5 fee is required to park. Cell phone reception can be scarce, so plan accordingly and download offline maps. If floating the river, be sure to come prepared with proper sun protection, water, and gear.
Also See: Yakima Valley Summer Itinerary
Lunch at Canyon River Grill
After your hike or river float, head to the nearby Canyon River Grill (open Friday-Sunday) for excellent food paired with river views.
Visit the Ellensburg Rodeo Mural
Back in Ellensburg, head to Reed Park on Craig’s Hill to see the new rodeo mural and enjoy sweeping views of the rodeo fairgrounds and surrounding area. The 40-by-40-foot mural on Craig’s Hill water tower was painted in 2023 to commemorate the centennial of the Ellensburg Rodeo.
Also See: Explore Washington’s Public Murals
To end your day, grab dinner at one of the restaurants in town. Pasta lovers should check out Ellensburg Pasta Company for an extensive menu of classic dishes. For drinks, head to The Pearl Bar & Grill for craft cocktails.
Grab breakfast in town before heading east to explore more of the area around Ellensburg.
Tour a Wind Farm
Get an up-close look at how the power of wind is harnessed for electricity with a tour of The Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center. Just 16 miles east of Ellensburg, free guided tours are offered daily from April through October. The 60-minute walking tour lets visitors explore the solar array and even look inside the base of an active wind turbine!
Explore Olmstead Place Historical State Park
On your way back to Ellensburg, stop by Olmstead Place Historical State Park to take a step back in time and get a glimpse of homesteader life. Three generations of the Olmstead family farmed the land before it was donated to State Parks in 1968. Visitors can view historic farming equipment, a 1908 hay barn, and the original log cabin.
Grab Lunch and Shop in Ellensburg
Back in town, grab a bite to eat at one of Ellensburg’s restaurants. The Porch is open daily and dishes up hearty salads, burgers, flatbreads, and tasty appetizers. While your out and about, make sure to pop into the city’s boutiques. The Botany Shop offers an Instagrammable selection of plants and products from local businesses. If you’re browsing for clothing or jewelry, stop by Flirt, House of Hart Boutique, or Claim Clothing. Find more local shops here.
Search for Barn Quilts
Explore the area’s agricultural roots with a self-guided drive along Kittitas County’s Barn Quilt Trail. Barn Quilts can be found on historic barns and other buildings throughout the county. Be sure to stop by Dusty’s Nursery, which is located on the historic Dominion Farm. The barn has been a nursery and garden center since 1993 and features a star block quilt pattern.
Enjoy Dinner and Drinks
End the day with dinner at one of Ellensburg’s restaurants. Brix Wine Bar & Restaurant dishes up a variety of creative classic pizzas as enticing desserts and local wines. If beer is more your speed, consider a visit to Iron Horse Brewery. This local institution is known for its Irish Death, a dark ale, and you can sample this and more at the brewery’s renovated tasting room is open.
Day 4: Depart
Before you head out, fuel up with a stop at D&M Coffee (multiple locations). If heading west toward Seattle, stop at the iconic Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall right off Interstate 90 for fresh produce, specialty food items, and antiques. The family-owned business has been operating since 1944 and is a much-loved attraction along Interstate 90.
Where to Stay
Conveniently located on Main Street downtown, this boutique hotel opened in 2019 and combines modern amenities with historic charm. The hotel adjoins the updated and renovated Elks building built in 1923 and features exposed brick accents. Dogs are welcome for a fee.
Sagecliffe Resort & Spa
Located about 45 minutes east of Ellensburg, this luxury option is best for those who want high-end amenities and don’t mind driving to get them. The property boasts a swimming pool with stunning views and an on-site vineyard and tasting room.
Also See: Relax and Unwind and these Spa Resorts
TownePlace Suites by Marriott Ellensburg
Located off Interstate 90 and a short drive to downtown, this Marriott property opened in 2022 and offers on-site dining and ample parking, perfect for those on a road trip.
Lodge at Canyon River Ranch
A 25-minute drive toward Yakima brings guests to Canyon River Ranch on the scenic Yakima River. This lodge is the perfect base for those looking for an extended stay and easy access to outdoor recreation. Find other lodging options here.