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South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area
About This Protected Area
The Richter Pass has long been a priority for conservation efforts in the Okanagan. The primary role of the South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area is to protect the dry grasslands and open forests that represent one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada.
The protected area comprises four sites: Mt. Kobau, Kilpoola, Chopaka East and Chopaka West and protects all known Canadian sites of at least three plant species and habitat for an astonishing number of rare and endangered birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Know Before You Go
- Camping and campfires are not permitted anywhere in the protected area.
- Mushroom picking or harvesting is prohibited in provincial parks.
- The Chopaka East and Chopaka West sites are closed to motor vehicles. Kilpoola is closed to motor vehicles with the exception of Kruger Mountain Road. The main road to the summit of Mt. Kobau is open to motor vehicles, all other roads are closed.
- Mine adits found in the protected area are closed to the public. They are hazardous and entry is strictly prohibited.
- The extremely hot, dry Okanagan climate can result in overexposure to the sun. Visitors should use a sunscreen and wear a hat during long periods in the sun. Hikers are reminded to bring plenty of water since there is none available in the park and consider scheduling their activities to avoid the heat of the day.
- The value of the park lies in its rare wildlife. Tread lightly wherever you go. Use established trails only to help minimize disturbance and prevent the spread of unwanted plant species.
Location and Maps
Please note: Any maps listed are for information only; they may not represent legal boundaries and should not be used for navigation.
Access to the Mt. Kobau site is via Kobau Lookout FSR, which is 10.75 km west of the intersection of Hwys 3A and 3 (Osoyoos).
Access to the South Kilpoola and East Chopaka sites is via Kruger Mountain Road, which is 6.75 km west of the intersection of Hwys 3A and 3 (Osoyoos).
The four sites that make up the South Okanagan Grasslands are in the Richter Pass 9 km west of Osoyoos on Hwy 3. They are separated by both crown and private land. The Mt. Kobau site is at mid to high elevation and roughly bounded by Tinhorn Creek in the northeast, Cawston Creek in the northwest and Hwy 3 in the south. Chopaka West is centered on Little Chopaka Mountain and roughly bounded by the Similkameen River, Nighthawk Road and the international border. Chopaka East encompasses Black Mountain from Richter Lake to the international border. The Kilpoola Lake valley separates Chopaka East from the Kilpoola site, which encompasses Kruger Mountain. These locations are very general, the boundaries between protected area and private land are irregular.
Maps and Brochures
Any maps listed are for information only; they may not represent legal boundaries and should not be used for navigation.
Park Map [PDF 6.5MB] (May 27, 2019)
Motorized and non-motorized access routes through South Okanagan Grassland Protected Area are shown on this map. Both Kruger Mt. Rd. and the road to Mt. Kobau are gravel roads and maintained infrequently. Strawberry Creek Access Road is a very rough, unmaintained dirt road. Some sections may be difficult to pass even with a 4 x 4 vehicle. Please respect private land, including private conservation lands.
Mt. Kobau Trail Map [PDF 1.24MB] (August 15, 2016)
There are 2 hiking trails accessible from the parking lot at the top of Mount Kobau. Mount Kobau Lookout Trail takes you 600 metres up to where the former fire lookout tower stood. There are great views over the Okanagan valley. The longer Chopaka Lookout Trail (formerly known as Testalinden Lake Trail) has recently (summer 2016) been re-routed and no longer passes Testalinden Lake. The trail still includes the Chopaka Lookout with great views into the Similkameen valley and of Mt. Chopaka in Washington. The new section of this trail is well-marked.
Nature and Culture
- History: The South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area was established on April 18, 2001 as a result of the Okanagan-Shuswap LRMP process.
- Cultural Heritage: There is a long history of First Nations use near Spotted Lake. Mining was common throughout the grasslands of Kilpoola and Chopaka East near the international border and on Mt. Kobau. The Dewdney Trail passes through the northern portion of Chopaka West.
- Chopaka East protects four red-listed plants and is one of the best known sites for rare dry ground lichens (cryptogams) with several species new to science. Almost all Canadian observations of the rare Lyall’s Mariposa Lily occur within the site.
- Kilpoola protects three red-listed plants and one blue-listed plant as well as the big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass plant community. Blue Lake has unusual water chemistry and high salinity with significant growth of rare anaerobic purple sulphur bacteria and an extreme temperature gradient with depth that prevents mixing. A mosaic of open forest, burned areas, grassland, deciduous and wetland habitats is present here.
- Mt. Kobau protects rare terrestrial lichens, including species new to Canada and new to science. It contains bighorn sheep range and class 1 mule deer winter range and provides an excellent example of mid and high elevation climax grassland/sagebrush communities. Of special note are the red-listed Vasey’s big sagebrush and big sage/bluebunch wheatgrass-balsamroot plant communities.
- Chopaka East contains six red and six blue-listed wildlife species. The feature birds are the sage thrasher and the grasshopper sparrow.
- Chopaka West contains 11 red and nine blue-listed wildife species. Two of these red-listed species which have been observed in or adjacent to the park (pygmy short-horned lizard and white-tailed jackrabbit) are now thought to be extirpated in the province. The feature bird is the sage thrasher. Chopaka West is the only place in the province that they regularly breed.
- Kilpoola contains eight red and seventeen blue-listed wildlife species. The feature bird is the grasshopper sparrow.
- Mt. Kobau contains one red and three blue-listed wildlife species. The feature bird is the Brewer’s sparrow.
- Management Planning Information
- Approved Management Directive Statements are available for Chopaka East, Chopaka West, Kilpoola and Mt. Kobau Sites.
Activities Available at this Protected Area
The protected area has few developed trails. There are opportunities for hiking on the old roads that traverse the sites. Coulee Road passes over Black Mountain. There are various old 4-wheel drive trails leading up Kruger Mountain. Parking space is limited.
Mt Kobau trails: (Mt. Kobau Lookout and Chopaka Lookout Trail). Both trails begin at the parking area atop Mount Kobau.
Mt Kobau Lookout Trail is a short distance up to where the former fire lookout tower stood. There are great views over the Okanagan valley.
The 3 km Chopaka Lookout Trail (formerly known as Testalinden Lake Trail) passes through mixed sub-alpine forest and open grasslands including the red-listed Vasey’s sage plant community. The trail provides interesting landscape diversity and excellent views of the Similkameen Valley and the Cascade Mountains. This trail was re-routed in 2016 and no longer passes Testalinden Lake. See link above under “Maps and Brochures” for a downloadable map of the trails.