Picture yourself in a deep canyon surrounded by basalt cliffs rising thousands of feet above the sparkling waters of the Yakima river. Add to this image a healthy dose of outdoor adventure out your front door. Next, fancy sitting on a sun-filled deck with a mouth-watering filet of fresh salmon on your plate – prepared by James’ Beard Foundation best chef semi-finalist Kevin Davis. Do I have your attention yet?
If you think this sounds a little like paradise, you’re right – it is! Deep in the 26-mile long Yakima canyon, among a geological showcase millions of years in the making, sits the Canyon River Ranch. Mostly a shared-ownership lodge, this gem offers public accommodations on a limited basis – year-round! With just 10 lodge rooms, the grounds never feel crowded and there’s oodles of space for distancing.
Honestly, my primary reason for the trip was to enjoy chef Kevin’s extraordinary cooking – after all, my 2021 blogging pledge is to share my travels to delicious nearby destinations. Having worked in Seattle within walking distance of all five of his popular restaurants (since shuttered due to the pandemic), I knew Kevin’s reputation and style. In this new environment – with fin, reel, gun and boat nearby – it was immediately obvious that he’d found home. When a chef is able to commune in his environment, while playing on culinary strengths, in an area with an abundance of agri- and viticulture – magic happens. To say I ate my way up the Canyon River Grill’s menu one way and down the other would not be an overstatement.
If the grill had a Best-of-Kevin-Davis tasting menu, I’d be all over it. But since they don’t, I chose some familiar items, and some less-familiar, for my meals. His Louisiana roots are what bring the soul to his silky, flavorful gumbo. My charred octopus salad, initially poo-poo’d by my husband (stating octopus is “always rubbery”) was quickly devoured (by hubby and I. We were both taken by the flavors and delicate texture, along with the unique preparation with a tasty Romesco sauce. Zane + Wylie’s steak salad was just as I remembered it, but with succulent wagyu beef strips perfectly med-rare. Scallops sat atop a bed of truffled risotto in a perfect marriage with bacon jam. And his ‘Clams in Purgatory’ brought back memories of our favorite Blueacre booth on a cold winter’s day – loaded with big clams and spicy tasso.
It’s immediately evident that Canyon River Grill, under Kevin’s watch, is truly embracing their valley community. Wines are beautifully curated, and waitstaff clearly have the knowledge to help find the perfect pairings for their ever-changing menu. If you really want to go hyper-local, ask about wines produced from the vines on-property!
Breakfast at the lodge is to-go only, and features savory breakfast sandwiches and marvelous coffee – served hot that morning by opera-singer-turned-barista, Nathan. The sammy’s are loaded with sausage, spicy Jack cheese, egg, then nestled on a delicate brioche bun – wrapped in foil, they’re perfect for an oversized pocket as you head out on an adventure!
Eating wasn’t my only reason for venturing to Canyon River Ranch. Here’s where the fun part comes in! With the state’s only catch-and-release Blue Ribbon fishery running along the western banks of their property, they’re uniquely-outfitted to create one of the state’s best fishing experiences. Whether you’re a beginning angler, or a seasoned fisher, there’s something for everyone at on-site outfitter Red’s Fly Shop – from casting lessons to 20-mile float trips on ‘The Yak’. The best part? They’re as passionate about the sport as they are knowledgeable! While my timeline only allowed for a shorter float, the level and abundance of information I picked up from my guide, Steve Joyce, was invaluable. Just watching him launch, wade, fetch, untangle, teach, coach and row was as much an intricately-choreographed dance as a guiding experience. Having watched other guides interacting with guests at the lodge, this passion is a common denominator within their team. It’s obvious that these folks not only know what they’re doing, but that they love doing it!
Fishing’s not the only activity around the lodge. I hiked, swam, hot-tubbed – and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for an afternoon of trap-shooting, either! Having never shot a shotgun, my guide – Jack – outfitted me with a gun that’d be a little gentle on my problematic shoulder, but with plenty of oomph. Walking through their shooting course, less than a mile from the lodge, shooters find 7 different stations – each with opportunity for practice. Even for me, a complete novice to this sport, I found it really fun and engaging – particularly since our guide was (again) knowledgeable, passionate, and an excellent teacher.
The lodge property truly is an oasis in the valley’s barren, basalt-and-scrub-brush landscape. Rooms look out across the river to the towering cliffs to the west – each with floor-to-ceiling windows to capture both natural views and abundance of light. Rooms are equipped with full kitchens, two bedrooms (one with twin beds) and two baths. A covered deck space allows for the perfect spot to read a favorite book, or enjoy a Manhattan as the sun sets to the west. “Comfortable” doesn’t begin to describe the feel here. Though resort-like in amenities (with hot tub, pool, and outdoor games in the front lawn), Canyon River Ranch feels different than your typical resort. Those who work there are passionate, authentic, and caring – leading to an experience that’s not contrived, but simply makes the experience.
Gorgeous architecture and the unique natural beauty of the Yakima River Canyon make Canyon River Lodge a truly unique Northwest destination. Although it’s hard to leave this utopia after my 3-day stay, once back home I immediately flipped through my calendar looking for a Fall date for a return visit! If you’re thinking about venturing out to Canyon River Ranch, or have questions about my trip, I’m happy to share via email or social channels: firstname.lastname@example.org