Okanagan Dry Forests

Location: Canada (British Columbia) and United States (Washington)

Latitude-Longitude: 47 to 50˚N, 117 to 121˚W


The Okanagan dry forests ecosystem is east of the Cascades and north of the Palouse Prairie. Vegetation is a mosaic of pine forests, sagebrush, and grasslands. Common trees are lodgepole pine, aspen, white spruce, and Douglas-fir. The cities of Penticton and Kelowna, British Columbia, are located in the ecoregion, which extends south to the northern edge of Spokane, Washington. Much of this Kettle River Range is a remnant of the Okanogan subcontinent, which merged with North America before the Eocene epoch, 56 million years ago. At the Stonerose Interpretive Center and Eocene Fossil Site, a 48-million-year-old fossil bed is known for fossil leaves, cones, fruits, seeds, and flowers of many modern plants, including alder, sycamore, roses, maples, and cocoa. The leaves are notable or showing extensive insect damage and allow the study of fossil insects and their feeding habits (Cannon 1999). The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is known for wineries and orchards.

The National Forest (NF) system in the Okanagan dry forests includes two areas. Colville NF, Washington, is 953,000 acres including the Kettle River range between the Kettle River on the east and the Sanpoil River to the west. The portion of the national forest in the Okanogan dry forests also includes the Scotter Creek watershed (N48˚31’ W118˚49’) to the west of the Sanpoil River, the Trout Creek watershed (N48˚46’ W118˚47’) to the west of Curlew Lake, Graphite Mountain (N48˚59’ W118˚48’) west of the Kettle River, and Vulcan Mountain (N48˚58’ W118˚39’) north of the Kettle River. Vegetation in the drier western part of the forest is ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The forest is also home to the Selkirk Mountain caribou herd. There are 367 miles of trail, including the Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail, described separately. The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail traverses the ecoregion from west to east, crossing the Kettle Crest and passing Green Mountain, Deer Creek Summit, Ryan Hill, Copper Butte, Jungle Hill, Sherman Pass, Bald Mountain, Thirteenmile Mountain, Cougar Mountain, Sanpoil River, and Ferry Lake. State Route 20, the Sherman Pass Scenic Byway, traverses the forest from east to west. The forest includes three miles of the Kettle River near the British Columbia border which is considered eligible for the national wild and scenic river system. The Fire Mountain proposed Research Natural Area (RNA) (N48˚30’ W118˚35’) is 1,400 acres of old growth ponderosa pine and Douglas fir between Fire and Seventeen Mile Mountain. The Hall Ponds proposed RNA (N48˚32’ W118˚33’) is 630 acres including wetlands north of Fire Mountain.

Okanogan NF, Washington, is 1.5 million acres. The portions east of the Okanogan River are in the Okanagan dry forests ecoregion. This includes forest areas in the West Fork Sanpoil River watershed (N48˚33’ W119˚9’), Fir Mountain (N48˚40’ W118˚56’), Clackamas Mountain (N48˚43’ W118˚55’), Mount Bonaparte (N48˚47’ W119˚7’), Beaver Lake (N48˚51’ W118˚58’), Marias Creek (N48˚55’ W118˚55’), Cedar Creek (N48˚59’ W118˚55’), and Haley Mountain (N48˚52’ W119˚17’). The Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail crosses the forest, including Deep Creek, Sweat Creek, Clackamas Mountain, Cougar Creek, Bonaparte Lake, Highlands Snowpark, Haley Canyon, and Whistler Canyon. In the Tonasket Ranger district east of US Route 97, Big Tree Botanical Area (N48˚52’ W119˚3’) is reached from State Route 20 via County Road 4953 and Forest Highways 32 and 33. A one-mile trail leads from the Lost Lake Campground to two 600-year-old western larch trees. Whistler Canyon (N48˚55’ W119˚24’) is a bighorn sheep viewing area three miles south of Oroville off US Route 97. Maple Mountain proposed RNA (N48˚44’ W118˚51’) is a Douglas-fir-pinegrass community with some western larch, located north of State Route 20 at Wauconda Summit.

The U.S. National Park System in the Okanagan dry forests is represented by the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (NRA), Washington, which includes a strip of reservoir lands between elevations 1290 and 1310 along the Columbia River impounded by Grand Coulee Dam. The reservoir itself is a Bureau of Reclamation project. The portion in the Okanagon dry forests ecoregion is between Fort Spokane and Kettle Falls. The NRA also includes 11 miles of the Kettle River from Kettle Falls to Barstow (N48˚47’ W118˚8’). The NRA includes Fort Spokane, Kettle Falls, and St. Pauls Mission interpretive areas, all along the Columbia River accessed by State Route 25. St. Pauls Mission is an 1845 Indian mission. Fort Spokane is a western military frontier fort operated between 1880 and 1898. At Fort Spokane is a 1.6-mile interpretive trail.

The Myra Canyon Section of the Kettle Valley Railway National Historic Site of Canada, located in the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚47’ W119˚19’), was designated because it was an outstanding engineering achievement. During 1912-1914, the railroad was constructed through a rugged canyon using high trestles and tunnels. The original trestles burned in 2003. Today the route is part of the Trans-Canada Trail.

National trails in the Okanagan dry forests include one US national scenic trail (NST), the Trans-Canada Trail, and national recreation trails (NRTs). Pacific Northwest NST, Washington, follows the Kettle River Range through the Colville National Forest, passing Green Mountain (N48˚55’ W118˚23’), Deer Creek Summit (N48˚52’ W118˚23’), Ryan Hill (N48˚56’ W118˚27’), Copper Butte (N48˚42’ W118˚28’), Jungle Hill (N48˚38’ W118˚30’), Sherman Pass (N48˚36’ W118˚29’), Bald Mountain (N48˚34’ W118˚30’), Thirteenmile Mountain (N48˚31’ W118˚39’), Cougar Mountain (N48˚31’ W118˚41’), and Ferry Lake (N48˚31’ W118˚49’). In the Okanogan National Forest, the trail passes Deep Creek (N48˚33’ W118˚54’), Sweat Creek (N48˚41’ W118˚54’), Clackamas Mountain (N48˚43’ W118˚54’), and Cougar Creek (N48˚45’ W118˚53’) before descending to Old Toroda (N48˚47’ W118˚55’) outside of the forest north of Wauconda. It reenters the Okanagan National Forest at Bonaparte Lake (N48˚48’ W119˚’) and continues west to the Highlands Snowpark (N48˚49’ W119˚12’), then leaves the forest and traverses Eden Valley (N48˚52’ W119˚13’). The trail crosses Haley Canyon (N48˚52’ W119˚23’) and Whistler Canyon (N48˚55’ W119˚23’) in the forest before descending to Oroville (N48˚56’ W119˚26’) in the Palouse Prairie ecoregion.

Kettle Crest NRT, Colville National Forest, Washington, extends 31 miles along the ridgetop from Sherman Pass on State Route 20 (N48˚36’ W118˚29’) to Deer Summit (N48˚52’ W118˚24’) and is part of the Pacific Northwest NST.

Spokane River Centennial Trail NRT and  State Park, Washington, begins at the Idaho State Line (N47˚42’ W117˚1’) and continues 37 miles west, ending at Nine Mile Falls (N47˚47’ W117˚33’). The trail is paved for the entire length.

Trans-Canada Trail is a national trail effort extending across Canada. In the Okanagan dry forests ecoregion east of the 121st meridian, the trail includes many rail-trail segments. From west to east, the trail passes the Coquihalla Highway (N49˚48’ W120˚58’), Brookmere (N49˚49’ W120˚52’), Tulameen (N49˚33’ W120˚46’), Princeton (N49˚28’ W120˚30’), Jura Loops (N49˚31’ W120˚29’), Osprey Lake (N49˚43’ W120˚13’), Penticton (N49˚30’ W119˚36’), Chute Lake (N49˚42’ W119˚32’), Myra Trestles (N49˚47’ W119˚19’), Kettle River Provincial Park (N49˚7’ W118˚59’), Midway (N49˚1’ W118˚47’), Greenwood (N49˚6’ W118˚41’, Fisherman Tunnels (N49˚7’ W118˚28’), and Grand Forks (N49˚1’ W118˚24’).

Other federal sites

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation in the Okanogan dry forests ecoregion maintain recreation areas along State Route 21 beside the Sanpoil River and in the Twin Lakes Area (N48˚17’ W118˚23’).

Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, British Columbia (N49˚19’ W119˚37’), Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, National Research Council of Canada, is on White Lake Road near Cawston. It is the largest radio astronomy observatory in Canada and houses a number of parabolic antennas. It has been used since 1960 to map the universe and is known for studies on the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way. The secluded location in the Okanagan River valley provides avoidance of man-made radio signals.

Little Vulcan Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern, BLM, Washington (N48˚55’ W118˚43’) is north of the Kettle River west of Curlew and adjacent to the Colville National Forest.

State and local sites in the Okanagan dry forests include the notable Graystokes Provincial Park and Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.

Allison Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚41’ W120˚36’) is north of Princeton on Route 5A. Stands of aspen are found along the lakeside recreation area.

Anarchist Protected Area, British Columbia (N49˚3’ W119˚31’) is 467 ha in two units off of Route 3 east of Osoyoos. This area contains a low elevation old growth Douglas-fir-ponderosa pine forest.

Barker Mountain Natural Area Preserve, Washington (N48˚41’ W119˚18’) is 120 acres of ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir in a mosaic with antelope bitterbush shrub-steppe, located east of Tonasket.

Bear Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚56’ W119˚31’) is north of Kelowna on Westside Road on the west side of Okanagan Lake. In addition to lakeside recreation, the park offers a trail through Bear Creek Canyon. Vegetation is ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir with grassland areas and cactus.

Boothman’s Oxbow Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚1’ W118˚21’) is a 42-ha riparian black cottonwood and wetland area along the Kettle River east of Grand Forks on Route 3. The area is noted for waterfowl nesting and rare fish in the river.  The Trans-Canada Trail traverses the park.

Boundary Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚3’ W118˚42’) is a two-ha camping park on Route 3 at Greenwood.

Bromley Rock Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚25’ W120˚16’) is a prominent rock bluff along the Similkameen River 21 km east of Princeton on Route 3. Vegetation is Douglas-fir forest.

Browne Lake Ecological Reserve, British Columbia (N49˚49’ W119˚12’), contains a wet meadow and Douglas-fir-spruce forests. It is located south of Route 33 and east of Kelowna.

Centennial Trail State Park, Washington is described under Spokane River Centennial Trail national recreation trail.

Conkle Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚10’ W119˚6’) is located in the Kettle River drainage west of Route 33. The lakeside recreation area is forested with western larch and lodgepole pine, along with willow and black alder.

Curlew Lake State Park, Washington (N48º43’ W118º40’) is a lakeside recreation area on Curlew Lake, located on State Route 21.

Darke Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚43’ W119˚52’), is a 1,470-ha park with old growth Douglas-fir forests, accessible from Summerland on Route 97.

Dishman Hills Natural Resources Conservation Area, Spokane County, Washington (N47˚39’ W117˚17’) features trails that wind around terrain scoured by flooding from glacial Lake Missoula.  A population of water howellia is protected.

Eneas Lakes Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚45’ W119˚56’), is a 1,000-ha wilderness park accessible by four-wheel drive vehicle from Peachland on Route 97. There are four lakes in a fir and pine forest, including Big and Little Eneas Lakes, Island Lake, and Tsuh Lake.

Gilpin Grasslands Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚1’ W118˚19’) provides bighorn sheep and elk habitat on the Kettle River between Grand Forks and Cascade on Route 3.  The Trans-Canada trail traverses the park, which has old growth cottonwood and ponderosa pine in addition to grassland habitat.

Graystokes Provincial Park, British Columbia (N50˚0’ W118˚50’), is a 12,000-ha complex of swamps; the plateau contains numerous lakes and extends between Mount Moore in the south and the Buck Hills in the north. Vegetation is subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce. The wilderness park is 45 km northeast of Kelowna.

Jewell Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚11’ W118˚36’) is a 49-ha park at the north end of a trout fishing lake, located 12 km north of Route 3 near Greenwood.

Johnstone Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚3’ W119˚3’) is 38 ha west of Rock Creek on Route 3. Trails lead to a waterfall and lookout. Forests are Douglas-fir and spruce.

Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚55’ W120˚34’) consists of two lakes in rolling grasslands and dry open forests east of the Cascades. It is off of Routes 5A and 97C at Aspen Grove.

Kettle River Recreation Area, British Columbia (N49˚6’ W118˚59’) is a 200-ha area on Route 33 north of Rock Creek, with ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and bunchgrass vegetation.

Ranald MacDonald Grave State Park, Washington (N48º57’ W118º46’) commemorates Japan’s first English teacher, who arrived in Japan in 1848 and was initially imprisoned for illegal entry. However, he was subsequently enlisted to teach English. He later settled in Washington and panned for gold along the Kettle River, where the gravesite is located. The cemetery is upstream from Curlew on the Kettle River.

Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚47’ W119˚25’) is 7,800 ha on the south side of Kelowna, providing extensive hiking opportunities. The park includes the escarpment of Little White Mountain, Myra Canyon with 18 wooden railroad trestles and two tunnels (a Canadian National Historic Site), and the Angel Springs karst area with tufa formations. The former Kettle Valley Railroad line through the park is a section of the Trans-Canada Trail. The Okanagan Highlands Trail also runs through the park.

Highlands (High Rim) Trail, British Columbia, extends from Coldstream (N50˚13’ W119˚14’) north of Kelowna south to Chute Lake (N49˚42’ W119˚32’) south of Kelowna, passing Browne Lake Ecological Reserve and the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park and connecting with the Trans-Canada Trail.

Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚41’ W119˚44’) is 11 km north of Summerland on Route 97. The park provides lakeside recreation, but has a ponderosa pine-sagebrush vegetation, with wildflowers such as chocolate lily and Columbian lily.

Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚44’ W119˚38’) is a 11,000-ha hiking park south of Kelowna on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Vegetation ranges from grasslands to spruce-fir forest, with old growth Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, and lodgepole pine. Wildlife includes mountain goats. The terrain is heavily glaciated. A network of trails traverses the area from north and south access points.

Otter Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚35’ W120˚46’) is 50 ha northwest of Princeton and offers lakeside camping and hiking.

Pennask Creek Protected Area, British Columbia (N49˚56’ W120˚7’) is 1,245 ha along a creek surrounded by lodgepole pine forest. Each June, up to 25,000 rainbow trout move into the creek from Pennask Lake to spawn.  Up to two million eggs are collected and sent to the hatchery for use in the Province’s fish stocking program. The area is along Route 97C, the Coquihalla Connector, near the Pennask Summit.

Pennask Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia (N50˚0’ W120˚6’) is a high elevation lake (1,450 m elevation) surrounded by spruce forest.  The park is at the southeast corner of the lake. The park is off of Route 97C, the Coquihalla Connector, near the Pennask Summit.

Riverside State Park, Washington is 14,000 acres along the Spokane River and Little Spokane River downstream from Spokane. The Nine Mile Reservoir is included in the state park. There are 55 miles of trails. The lower end of the Centennial Trail State Park NRT (see) crosses the property.  The Spokane House historic site (N47º47’ W117º32’) is an early 19th century fur trading post and the oldest log structure in Spokane.  There are also pictographs.  Other major park sites are at Bowl and Pitcher (N47º42’ W117º30’) Nine Mile Recreation Area, and Griffith Spring (N47º46’ W117º28’).

Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, Washington includes five units in the Okanogan dry forest and Palouse grasslands. Chesaw Unit (N48˚58’ W119˚4’) is 4,000 acres 20 miles east of Oroville and contains shrub-steppe and dry forest habitat.

Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, Washington (N48º37’ W118º10’) is on State Route 20 just west of Kettle Falls in the Kettle River Range. The forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir are interspersed with meadows of ceanothus.

Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚26’ W119˚33’) is 489 ha adjacent to Penticton. It is a grassland area grading into ponderosa pine-Douglas fir forest. It is known as a premier rock climbing area, with 80-m cliffs.

Stemwinder Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚22’ W120˚8’) is a riverside recreation area along the Similkameen River 35 km east of Princeton on Route 3. Vegetation is Douglas-fir forest.

Trepanier Provincial Park, British Columbia (N49˚55’ W119˚51’) is a 2,880-ha wilderness park north of Route 97C, the Coquihalla Connector, west of Kelowna. An 11-km trail leads to Lacoma Lake.

Trout Creek Ecological Reserve, British Columbia (N49˚33’ W119˚42’) is on the southern edge of Summerland and is a 75-ha track with ponderosa-pine and Douglas-fir vegetation in a semiarid setting.

Vaseux Protected Area, British Columbia (N49˚16’ W119˚27’) is a 2,000-ha grassland area that grades to ponderosa pine-Douglas fir at higher elevations. Locsated east of Route 97 in the Okanagan River valley, it is used by California bighorn sheep. Within the area, McIntyre Canyon and Vaseux Creek provide viewing opportunities.

White Lake Grasslands Protected Area, British Columbia (N49˚17’ W119˚34’) is in four tracts west of Route 97 and the Okanagan River between Okanagan Falls and Oliver. Rare grassland wildlife is protected in the 3,740-ha area.

Big White Mountain Ecological Reserve, British Columbia (N49˚45’ W118˚56’) is a 950-ha area in the Okanagan highlands supporting alpine tundra, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir, located 42 km east of Kelowna.

Private Sites in the Okanagan Dry Forests

Stonerose Interpretive Center and Eocene Fossil Site (N48˚39’ W118˚44’) is on Knob Hill Road in Republic, Washington. The 48-million-year-old fossil bed is known for fossil leaves, cones, fruits, seeds, and flowers of many modern plants, including alder, sycamore, roses, maples, cocoa, and conifers such as the dawn redwood. The leaves are notable for showing extensive insect damage and allow the study of fossil insects and their feeding habits. Numerous types of fossil insects are found, including tiger moths, aphids, flies, wasps, and beetles.


Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Stonerose Fossils. Accessed March 22, 2015, at http://www.burkemuseum.org/paleontology/stonerose/

Cannon, William. 1999. Stories in Stone Read from Ancient Leaves. Smithsonian, June 1999. Accessed March 22, 2015, at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/stories-in-stone-read-from-ancient-leaves-167142261/?page=1

Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Accessed March 22, 2015, at http://astro-canada.ca/_en/a2107.php and http://www.ieee.ca/millennium/drao/DRAO_more.html