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U.S. Forest Service

Northern Region Viewing Area


Balsamorhiza incana. Balsamorhiza incana. Photo by Mike Hays.

Hesperochiron pumilus. Hesperochiron pumilus. Photo by Mike Hays.

Mertensia longiflora. Mertensia longiflora. Photo by Mike Hays.

Phlox Viscida and Lomatium. Phlox Viscida and Lomatium. Photo by Mike Hays.

Rocky seeps. Rocky seeps. Photo by Mike Hays.

Sage and wildflowers. Sage and wildflowers. Photo by Mike Hays.

Cow Creek Saddle

Forest: Nez Perce National Forest

District: Salmon Ranger District

Description: This site straddles the divide between Hells Canyon and the lower Salmon River Canyon, two of the largest and deepest canyons in North America. Interesting botanical features are found from the meadow and basalt scab on the south side of Wickiup Butte to the grasslands/scabs along road 672 north of Cow Creek Saddle. This site supports highly diverse plant communities that are ever changing in species composition and color from early spring until late summer. The entire area is situated on basalt flows that create perched water tables to support ridgetop meadow communities that are saturated in spring, but become dry by mid-summer. The moisture breaks out onto the slopes at various locations extending seasonal moisture in some areas. Deeper soils provide rangelands of sagebrush and moist forests that breakup the variable meadow/grassland complexes.

A long list of rare or endemic species includes broadfruit mariposa (Calochortus nitidus), Wallowa primrose (Primula cusickiana), stalk-leaved monkeyflower (Mimulus patulus), puzzling halimolobos (Halimolobos perplexa), lovely penstemon (Penstemon elegantulus), Snake River bush penstemon (P. fruticosus serratus), Payette penstemon (P. payettensis), Cusick’s rockcress (Arabis cusickii), Columbia lewisia (Lewisia columbiana wallowensis), and sticky phlox (Phlox viscida), along with the interesting Brown’s peony (Paeonia brownii), steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora), clustered birdbeak (Cordylanthes capitatus), sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum stellatum), big-head clover (Trifolium macrocephalum), and American dragonhead (Dracocephalum parviflorum). Also present are at least six species of Lomatium, many showy tall forbs, along with a fascinating display of arrowleaf balsamorhiza (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and hoary balsamroot (Balsamorhiza incana) exhibiting extensive integration manifest by an endless array of leaf forms.

Safety First: The Cow Creek Road is steep, rocky and narrow. Pullouts are generally adequate, but many corners will offer little warning of oncoming traffic. Rocks in the road from the steep slopes are not uncommon. Washboard conditions, usually on the lower reaches are troublesome particularly for descending vehicles so watch your speed.

The saddle and adjacent ridges can provide drastic changes in weather. Summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees in the canyon while the high divide may range from nearly as hot to cool on the same day. The saddle also can funnel strong winds. Bring water as there is none. Always be prepared for inclement weather. Bring appropriate clothing and footwear.

Directions: Exit Highway 95 at the southern entrance into Lucile. Follow the road a short distance through town and across the Salmon River. Continue on the main road for approximately seven miles to the saddle. There will be other turnoffs and forks, but they will be gated or access private land. Stay on the main travel route, which should be obvious, to the saddle.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Nez Perce National Forest, Salmon Ranger District, (208) 983-1950.

Closest Town: The tiny town of Lucile is approximately seven road miles east in the bottom of the Salmon Canyon. The nearest community with services is Riggins, which is about 15 minutes south of Lucile on Highway 95.