This driving tour takes you to the historic Fort Simcoe State Park Heritage Site on the Yakama Nation Reservation. An important piece of the Yakima Valley’s heritage, Fort Simcoe became a State Park in 1956. On your way, you’ll drive through an abundant agricultural area, dotted with fruit and produce stands, and then through the City of Toppenish, known for its Western themed murals.
This drive tour takes approximately one hour to reach Fort Simcoe, and is approximately 90 miles round trip.
- Beginning at the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center, turn left out of the parking lot and proceed under the freeway bridge, taking the first left onto I-82 East.
- After 4.0 miles, take Exit 37 to Highway 97.
- Around 6.2 miles down the Highway, there is a pull off on the right side with a historic marker denoting the spot of a battle between Army troops and the Yakama Indians during the “war” of 1855. Just up from the historical marker you’ll find Rembrandt Fruit Stand, where you can pick up picnic items and Yakima Valley fresh fruit and produce to enjoy when you reach the Fort.
- Continue back on Highway 97 to Fort Road.
- Turn right onto Fort Road, driving past the Legends Casino & Hotel, and follow the signs to Fort Simcoe.
Note Mt. Adams in the distance directly ahead. “Phato” to people of the Yakama Nation, the mountain figures prominently in the history and legends of the Yakama people.
MUST-SEE SPOTS TO STOP
This site was long used as a camping area for the tribes of the Yakama Nation. The cold springs, called “Mool Mool” (bubbling water) by the Indians, offered an abundance of water in the otherwise dry region. Timber was nearby, and grassland was readily available. The weather in the valley here was normally better than further north. Simcoe is derived from the Yakama, “Sim-Ku-ee”, or SimKwee, the name for a dip in the ridge about three miles northeast of the fort. Sim refers to the female wrist, Ku-ee, or Kwee, means spine or back.
Pioneers first began to settle on the east side of the mountains from 1856 to 1859. Fort Simcoe served as a base for military expeditions in the Washington Territory. A change in military command in 1858 resulted in a proposal to abandon Fort Simcoe. In 1859, the site became the Bureau of Indian Affairs Agency Headquarters, providing services to Native Americans living on the Reservation. Reading and writing were taught at the post as well as trade skills like carpentry, blacksmithing and farming. The school lasted until the early 1900’s.
Fort Simcoe State Park
Recognizing the historic significance of the site, Fort Simcoe was established as a State Park in 1953 with the assistance of the Fort Simcoe and Mool Mool Restoration Society. Under a 99-year lease from the Yakama Nation, the 200-acre park is administered by the State Parks and Recreation Commission. The park offers picnic facilities, restrooms, tables, picnic shelter, and running water in a grassy portion of the large oak grove adjoining the parking area. The Interpretative Center in the park depicts the history of the site through displays, artifacts, and photographs. Open from April 1 to September 30 daily from 6:30 a.m.to dusk and from October 1 to March 31 on weekends and holidays only.
The town derives its name from the native word “gapuishlema” meaning “people from the foot of the hills”. The name has also been generally interpreted to mean “sloping downward and spreading”. In that sense, it describes the easterly slope of the lands from the mountain until spreading flatly to form the basin of the Valley.
When the Northern Pacific railroad spanned the Valley, it erected a section house, telegraph office and water tank in 1883 to serve as a maintenance center, and they named it Toppenish. The city’s motto is “City Where the West Still Lives,” and is known as the City of Murals. There are more than 70 bigger-than-life murals throughout downtown, depicting the lives and times of Toppenish and the early days of the Yakima Valley. Stop by the Toppenish Mural Office, where you’ll find a map of the city and key to mural locations, along with the original artist work submitted for approval for each mural.
The Toppenish Railroad Depot was built by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1911. The museum features historic railroad artifacts, along with caboose rides and activities for the kids. Open May through October: Tuesday to Saturday, 10:00am to 4:00pm, and Sunday from noon to 4:00pm.
Located in the heart of the nation’s largest hop producing area, the museum features exhibits and artifacts depicting hop growing, harvesting and the Yakima Valley’s long history of growing this important crop. Open: May 1st. through September 30th. Wednesday through Saturday, from 10:00am – 4:00pm, and Sunday from 11:00am – 4:00pm.