Tri-Cities, Washington

Dive into the Riverside Charm of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland

 

With 300 days of sun per year, notable wineries and three rivers running through Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, the Tri-Cities region has long been an ideal Northwest destination.

But visitors will find there’s more than sunshine and chardonnay as the area builds its weekend-worthy reputation.

The Clover Island Lighthouse in Kennewick, Washington

The Clover Island Lighthouse in Kennewick, Washington (Photo courtesy of Visit Tri-Cities)

Water Fun

From May through October, there’s no better place in the Tri-Cities to be than on the water.

This is where the Yakima, Snake and Columbia rivers meet, and there are plenty of options in the warmer months to keep adventurous types busy — and cool.

Boating, jet skiing and wakeboarding are popular pastimes for locals and visitors alike. The hydroplanes that race in July’s Water Follies start practicing on the river in early June.

Those looking for a more laid-back experience can try paddleboarding on the Columbia, take a stand-up paddleboarding yoga class or kayak the Tapteal Water Trail. Practice water safety by wearing life jackets, and remember that Washington’s boating under the influence law applies to all vessels, including nonmotorized canoes and kayaks.

The Columbia River is world-famous for its salmon runs, but anglers are also lured by walleye, bass, sturgeon and shad, a feisty fish that runs in May and June within casting distance of the river’s edge.

Northern pikeminnow season starts May 1, with bounties ranging from $5 to $500 per fish to control these predators of salmon and steelhead.

Looking for lunkers? Start at Columbia Point, the marina hosting the Columbia Cup Pro/Am Qualifier (a Wild West Bass Trail fishing tournament) July 31 – August 2.

For a more casual experience, regional outfitters offer guided fishing trips throughout the year.

Touring Hanford's B Reactor near Richland

Touring Hanford’s B Reactor near Richland (Photo by B.O.Kane/Alamy)

Scientific Significance

The Tri-Cities region has a scientific legacy of research and discoveries that dates back to World War II. In the 1940s, nearby Hanford became one of the sites for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop nuclear weapons.

Selected for its remoteness, suitability for rapid construction and its proximity to river water for hydropower and cooling, Hanford’s B Reactor — the world’s first full-scale plutonium reactor — was completed in 1944 and produced the plutonium in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. Four decades later, the mayor of Nagasaki gifted a Bell of Peace model to Richland, where it is displayed at the public library. The bell is rung every August 9 to remember Japanese killed in the bombing and Americans who died at Pearl Harbor.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers free public tours of the decommissioned B Reactor and pre-war historic sites at the Hanford branch of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, as well as tours of the cleanup at what remains one of the most contaminated places on Earth.

Public tours are also available at the more modern LIGO Hanford Observatory. One of three of its kind in the world, this research center was created to detect gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The facility uses an interferometer with arms nearly 2.5 miles long to measure cosmic ripples in space-time. Researchers at Hanford made history in 2015 with the first observation of gravitational waves when LIGO sensed waves from the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago.

Grilled prawns at The Bradley restaurant in Richland, Washington

Grilled prawns at The Bradley restaurant in Richland, Washington (Photo courtesy of The Bradley)

Sophisticated Tastes

While scenic winery views and tasting rooms might be what first come to mind when picturing the Columbia Basin, Tri-Cities distilleries are gaining traction.

The award-winning Black Heron Spirits serves craft vodka and whiskey in an art-deco building with Prohibition-era atmosphere. For a taste of sustainability, swing by Solar Spirits in Richland, which taps the sun’s energy to produce small-batch spirits. (Always remember to plan a safe ride home.)

The Bradley offers an upscale restaurant experience with small plates, craft cocktails and a classy, industrial ambiance. Another bar and restaurant, At Michele’s, offers a decadent brunch menu for special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Balsamroot at the summit of Crow Butte Park on the Columbia River

Balsamroot at the summit of Crow Butte Park on the Columbia River (Photo by Spring Images/Alamy)

Unique Habitat

Wildflowers bloom in April and May where the Columbia River bends north upstream of the Tri-Cities. Called the Hanford Reach, this 51-mile stretch is the river’s last remaining nontidal, free-flowing section in the United States.

Rare butterflies, moths and plants highlight the unique biodiversity of the approximately 196,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument, an unusually well-preserved range of shrub-steppe habitat. Entomologists are still cataloging insect species here, with more than 1,500 already identified, including more than 40 found nowhere else.

Learn about the area’s scientific, ecological, anthropological and geology history at the Reach Museum in Richland, including the basalt lava flows and ice age floods that shaped the landscape.

From there, explore the Columbia River shoreline and waterfront parks in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick via the Sacagawea Heritage Trail, a 23-mile paved loop for pedestrians and bicyclists that offers information about wildlife.

For more wildlife, the nearby Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve has trails ranging from easy to intermediate for hikers, bikers and equestrians. Watch for coyotes, pheasants, chukars and snakes (rattlers are rare), and take in native grasses, sages and wildflowers as you climb to the summit for views of the Tri-Cities and the rivers that made them famous.

–Written by Jim Hammerand and Maggy Lehmicke

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

Location
  • From Seattle: About 208 miles
  • From Spokane​: About 142 miles
Best For
  • Water activities
  • Unique biodiversity
  • Science history
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