East of downtown Ellensburg
South side of Judge Ronald Road
West of Wilson Creek Road
About once a year I go to Ellensburg (Kittitas County in Central Washington) for several days to house and catsit for my aunt. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement because I can’t often afford to take real vacations. I feel like a tourist renting a lovely vacation home in the country, and my aunt and uncle have the reassurance that someone they trust is taking care of things as they travel.
I love Ellensburg. It has a wonderful downtown full of historic buildings, and it is surrounded by farmland and the natural beauty of shrub-steppe and mountains. The area is so dramatically different from the lushness of Western Washington.
Ellensburg also has a unique vibe that comes from the combination of being both a western cow town and a college town. (Central Washington University.) Rodeos, agricultural fairs, and the arts all get equal attention.
There are several neat places in the area that I would like to preview, but this year I was housesitting the first week in August and it was HOT. (I’m a heat wimp.)
So I chose to preview Paul Rogers Wildlife Park because it’s fairly close to my aunt’s place. Hopefully on future trips weather will be more amenable to longer outings.
To call Paul Rogers Park a wildlife reserve is a bit grandiose, because it’s very small as those things go in the eastern half of the state. But the birds and other critters seem to like it anyway.
The park is situated on 20 acres of flat land just east of downtown Ellensburg in a part of the valley that is predominantly farms and ranches, but with some large-lot suburban housing also mixed in. If you enjoy looking at (and photographing!) cows, horses, goats, birds, and old barns it’s a great area to go for a leisurely drive, with a stop at the park to stretch your legs or eat a picnic.
Located at the Paul Rogers parking lot is a pit toilet and a single picnic table. A level walking path makes loops through the acreage, with both ends of the shorter loop starting near the picnic table.
The walking path is gravel and slightly raised to prevent wet feet in damper times of the year. Be careful on the path because strips of wood are placed every few feet to help keep the gravel in place and you don’t want to trip.
The main path makes a large circle around a meadow of grasses and wildflowers, with lots trees and bushes sprinkled throughout. A strip of wetland goes through the center of the park. There are ponds at other times of year, but things were pretty dry on this recent visit.
I’m terrible at judging distances, but I’d guess the short loop is at least a quarter-mile in distance, but well under a half-mile.
In the middle of the south stretch of the main loop another path branches off to go further south, making a second loop for a longer walk if desired. The second loop joins the main path again where it turns north to head back to the parking lot.
I haven’t ever taken the second loop. If you’re not sure if you want to go that far, look for the fenceline to the south that marks the park boundary to get an idea of distance.
If you want to go for a walk, but know the full main loop is too much for you, take the path starting to the left of the park sign and picnic table.
There is a bench located where the two loops meet, and a bit further on a footbridge. The bench is kinda low to the ground, so if you have trouble with standing back up from low seating keep that in mind.
The bench is a lovely spot to sit for a while, enjoying the peacefulness of nature, watching swallows dart through the air, and listening to wind in the trees.
If you’re there in late spring through early fall don’t let the Ellensburg wind fool you. The Kittitas Valley is frequently windy and in warmer weather it can be easy to forget how intense the Eastern Washington sun is when the breezes are cooling your skin. Make sure you have water with you to stay hydrated and consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
What wildlife you will see depends on time of day and year, and also a great deal of luck. I don’t know if it was because it was early August or if this is just an off-year, but there weren’t nearly as many birds in the valley as I’ve seen on previous trips. I only saw one hawk and a few magpies the entire week. Normally I see many more of both.
In addition to various types of birds you will see dragonflies, and if luck is with you maybe a deer, rabbit, or vole.
Paul Rogers Park can be a pleasant little spot to visit any time, but it’s prettiest early or late in the day when the slanted sun casts a golden light over the meadow. Once the sun is up in the sky the light can be pretty harsh, especially if you’re interested in taking photos. (I got there a bit late in the morning for taking the photos for this preview.)
Things to Know
The only park hours I could find posted online were specifically for the two Ellensburg skateparks, so as long as you’re not up to anything nefarious you’re probably free to be at Paul Rogers anytime.
One picnic table at parking lot.
One bench on the left (east) loop.
A unisex pit toilet at the parking lot.
Large lot with plenty of space always available.
Paul Rogers Wildlife Park is primarily used by locals out for a walk or jog, and local birders.
I’ve had the park completely to myself before. On a “crowded” day I saw four other people.
There are no busy times that need to be avoided in order to have the best experience.
Birds, footbridge, nearby barn, scenery.
Best light: early morning or late in the day.
Wildlife I’ve Seen
Birds – black-capped chickadee, house finch, barn swallow, magpie.
(Not a very extensive list of the birds that can potentially be seen there because on previous visits I wasn’t paying attention and there wasn’t much variety on my recent visit.)
Other – dragonflies.
The park entrance is easy to miss because there is no sign out at the road. Look for the line of trees and a break in the rail fence.
Be careful when leaving the park. It’s a blind corner on your left because of the fence and trees, so you can’t see approaching vehicles on the road. Traffic is very light though, so not much of a problem.
Several quilt barns are in the general vicinity (by country reckoning) of Paul Rogers Park.
Located just off the second Ellensburg freeway exit when coming from the west, on the left/west side of the road. Good place to stop to pick up a free area map and a free Kittitas visitor’s guide. You can also grab some souvenirs, fresh fruit, and an ice cream cone while you’re at it.