The culturally diverse city of Wapato is the first stop on the highway outside of Yakima and Union Gap.
About the Community
The town of 5,000 residents is known for its many farms, wineries and produce stands, so plan on making a few stops as you go.
The name Wapato is of Yakama Indian origin — Wa-pa-too — an edible root valued by native Yakamas and settlers alike. Settlers have been in the area since as early as 1885.
In 1903, the Postal Service changed the name of the town from Simcoe to Wapato, because Simcoe was too much like nearby Fort Simcoe. It was incorporated as a town in 1908.
The first Buddhist temple in Washington was built in Wapato and remains open today. The area is known for its fresh fruit and vegetable stands and nearby wineries.
As one of the most diverse multicultural towns in Washington, Wapato offers two fun tourist events for travelers visiting the Yakima Valley — the Harvest Festival in September and the Tamale Festival in October.
For the past 15 years, the Tamale Festival has supported the town’s multicultural community, with people of Japanese, Mexican, Filipino, Italian, German and French ancestry as well as Yakama Nation residents.
The festival, which began in 1944, features a variety of multiethnic performers from the Wapato Middle School Indian Dancers to Latino dancers to a Mariachi band.
Tourists are invited to participate in a tasty tamale cook-off competition and buy tamales by the dozen during the event
Visitors can sample foods showing Wapato’s ethnic diversity at the festival, including tacos, Indian fry bread, barbecue sandwiches and pies of various varieties, and of course, lots of tamales.
Every Labor Day weekend, Wapato residents and tourists alike look forward to the Harvest Festival, offering various activities, a parade, food, carnival rides and entertainment for the whole family. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for the city’s swimming pool, wrestling club, baseball league, children’s theater and high school scholarships.
The Wapato Lions Club is the festival sponsor each year, but it takes the whole community to host the celebration.