Pacific Northwest Region Viewing Area
Knox Creek Wildflower Trail
Forest: Okanogan & Wenatchee National Forests
District: Cle Elum
Description: The Knox Creek Wildflower Trail begins on a hillside meadow bursting with wildflowers. It climbs quickly out of the meadow through patchy sub-alpine forest onto open rocky outcrops-a surprising amount of diverse habitat in such a short distance. Opportunities along the trail abound for plant identification, photography, drawing or any other activity wildflowers inspire.
Viewing Information: Life changes year-round for the plants along the Knox Creek Trail. For most plants growth begins in spring when winter releases its chilly hold and plants begin to protrude through remaining snow. Plants have various strategies for survival. Early bloomers like spring beauties, Claytonia lanceolata, take advantage of super saturated soils. Others, for example Antennaria spp., must rely on vegetative reproduction when the blooming season is too short for insects to be effective pollinators.
The upper dry rock faces do not hold snow, leaving a niche for plants specially adapted to dry habitat. Cushion plants like Phlox spp. have adapted to rocky areas that are lacking soil. Their clumpy growth habit traps windblown particles that will gradually become soil. Long taproots also characterize cushion plants; they send roots 8-15 inches below the surface in some cases to reach water.
While the ridge top may receive its share of winter snow, most of it will blow away or slough off in small avalanches. Adaptations to the arid environment can be seen in the lace fern, Cheilanthes gracillima. It has roots up to 1.5 m long and its spores are resistant to desiccation for 18 months. Lichen and moss work diligently to slowly break down rock into soil. The accumulation of soil pockets will allow plants like parsley fern and lace fern to grow.
As you reach the top of Kachess Ridge you will notice how wind affects tree growth. Imagine how intense and domineering the wind must be at this elevation deep in winter. Wind sculpts a stunted and compact forest in the hemlock and fir. Shorter needles and modified branches convey the story of winter’s influence.
Safety First: The Knox Creek Trail is moderate to steep and about 2.5 miles round trip from the trailhead to Kachess ridge. Carry water, and be ready for fast changing weather at any time of year.
Directions: From I-90, take exit 80 and travel north to highway 903. Turn left (following signs to Roslyn) and travel approximately 11 miles to forest road 4308 (French Cabin Creek). Turn left over the Cle Elum River onto road 4308. Follow the signs to Knox Creek Trailhead (Trail #1315.1).
Ownership and Management: Cle Elum Ranger District, Okanogan & Wenatchee National Forests
Closest Town: Ronald, Washington