by Andy Stepniewski

revised by Teri Pieper and Andy Stepniewski

Some 20–25 miles west of Omak and Oroville a high divide separates the Methow and Okanogan drainage basins. Loup Loup Pass, on the crest of the divide at 4,020 feet elevation, is in the mixed-conifer belt with interesting forest species. Farther north, the peaks, valleys, ridges, and meadows of the Cascade Range along and east of the divide are justly famous for their boreal habitats and avian specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, and White-winged Crossbill. FR-39 provides ready summer access to this country; a map of the Okanogan National Forest, obtainable at headquarters in Okanogan or at most USFS ranger stations, is a useful aid. 



Loup Loup Pass, on SR-20 toward the south end of the Methow-Okanogan divide, is an especially good place to observe species of the mid-elevation forests. (Map on page 432.) From the intersection of US-97 and SR-20, turn west with SR-20, cross the river to Okanogan, and turn left with SR-20 to climb out of the Okanogan Valley. In 9.0 miles from US-97, turn right to check the Ponderosa Pines around Leader Lake, a popular camping spot. Pygmy Nuthatch and Cassin’s Finch are common here. Four-tenths of a mile farther along SR-20, turn right onto Buzzard Lake Road. Look and listen for Common Poorwill at dusk during the warmer months. Bear left in 0.4 mile onto Bawlf Road, keeping straight where a connector from SR-20 comes in from the left. The road (aka Loup Loup Canyon Road) from here to Rock Creek Campground is good for Flammulated Owl, especially along the mountainside about 3.5 miles from SR-20.

Take the connector back to SR-20 and travel west 8.3 miles to the turnoff for Loup Loup Campground (USFS, fee). Go right on FR-42 for 0.5 mile, then right another 0.5 mile to the campground. Birding at Loup Loup is especially good in May and June. The camping area is usually uncrowded then, but nights can be cold at 4,000 feet elevation. Great Horned, Northern Pygmy-, and Barred Owls, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, Western Tanager, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill are some of the species found in this forest of Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, and Western Larch. A small wet meadow adds many other species. Snowshoe Hare, Northern Flying Squirrel, and Black Bear are among the mammals observed here.

Descending west from Loup Loup Pass, SR-20 reaches the Methow Valley and a junction with SR-153 in about 11 miles (page 424). Going north 16 miles on FR-42 from the Loup Loup Campground takes you to a junction with FR-37 between Conconully and Baldy Pass—a shortcut to the route described in the following section.



Taken consecutively, this and the two following sections form a 75-mile loop through more high-elevation habitats than any other birding route in the state, beginning in the Okanogan Valley at Conconully and returning to it near Loomis (no services available between these two points). The road is usually snow-free from June through early November.

This route used to traverse miles and miles of mixed-conifer and boreal forests. However, in 2006, 175,000 acres of this area burned in the lightning-caused Tripod wildfire. Some areas burned in a mosaic pattern leaving patches of live trees while other areas burned completely leaving vast swaths of standing dead trees. Lynx numbers are down, while more Moose are being observed in newly open areas. This landscape will continue to change in the near future, served in newly open areas. This landscape will continue to change in the near future contributed to make this aonce extraordinary route, are more difficult to find. On the other hand, Northern Hawk Owls are using the dead trees for nesting. As the forest returns, we can expect these owls to decline again. Other species using the burned forest include various woodpeckers, Mountain Bluebird, and Chipping Sparrow. Trailheads continue to provide access to the alpine areas such as Tiffany Mountain. Nearby are riparian habitats, lakes, and marshes.

From Conconully Road (Main Street) in Conconully, go west on Broadway to West Fork Road, continuing past the entrance to the state park (page 437). After you leave Conconully Reservoir, bird the riparian area and begin ascending the South Fork of Salmon Creek through forests of Douglas-fir, Western Larch, and Ponderosa Pine.

At the next junction (3.1 miles from Conconully Road), keep right on FR-37 (marked Winthrop) and continue uphill. Look for Williamson’s Sapsucker, especially as you enter the Okanogan National Forest where Western Larches are numerous (2.4 miles). The road continues steadily up to McCay Creek (10.5 miles), where Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir furnish the first suitable habitat on the route for Spruce Grouse and Boreal Owl.

Views of the many granite peaks become spectacular as you approach Baldy Pass and enter into the area burned in 2006 (1.8 miles, elevation 6,367 feet). Stop before you arrive at the pass and walk around to look for Spruce Grouse, Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Boreal Chickadee, Pacific Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, and Slate-colored Fox Sparrow. From the pass, the road winds west down the mountain and through a vast burned forest for 5.6 miles to a junction with FR-39. (Continuing straight ahead on FR-37 from this junction for 12 miles, then turning left onto East Chewuch Road, will bring you down the Chewuch River drainage to Winthrop (page 425) in 20 miles total.)

Go right (north) on FR-39 for 1.5 miles to the Roger Lake spur, on the right (may not be well marked). The wet fen surrounding the lake, previously rimmed by a dense Engelmann Spruce forest, is recognized as an area of many unusual boreal plants. A walk around the lake, though not easy (littered with fallen logs and boggy in places; wear rubber boots), is an excellent way to observe many species in an interesting setting. American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Wilson’s Snipe, and Lincoln’s Sparrow all breed in the area. The forest service has designated Roger Lake, as well as nearby Tiffany Mountain, as Research Natural Areas.

Continuing north on FR-39 from Roger Lake, the road climbs steeply to Freezeout Pass (1.8 miles, elevation 6,600 feet). A worthwhile two-mile hike to the 8,245-foot summit of Tiffany Mountain begins here. Species to look for include Dusky Grouse (along the trail), White-tailed Ptarmigan (scarce, above treeline), Clark’s Nutcracker (often near Whitebark Pines), Common Raven, Horned Lark, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, American Pipit (wet swales), Bohemian Waxwing (feeds on Common Juniper berries above treeline, especially late October), Lapland Longspur (fall), Snow Bunting (mainly November), and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. The fall raptor migration (August through October) can often be exciting from these slopes. In October, a magnificent display of color from the scattered Subalpine Larches is an added treat.

From the pass, descend 4.0 miles to Tiffany Spring Campground (USFS, primitive). Along the way watch for Northern Hawk Owls, reported to be breeding in the forest of snags. From the campground, a trail climbs past Tiffany Lake to Middle Tiffany Mountain (elevation 7,967 feet), another good fall raptor lookout. White-tailed Ptarmigan are perhaps easier to find on Middle Tiffany than on Tiffany Mountain. In late fall, look for flocks of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches in the cirque basin north of the peak.



North from Tiffany Spring, FR-39 traverses a band of high-elevation Lodgepole Pine, Engelmann Spruce, and Subalpine Fir forest with meadows and boggy areas in valley bottoms. Vast swaths of these forests were burned. Many of the boreal species that were tied to mature Engelmann Spruce, such as Boreal Owl and Boreal Chickadee, have nearly disappeared. Birds that thrive on sunlight and forest openings, such as Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mountain Bluebird, and Chipping Sparrow have flourished after the 2006 fire. At 3.3 miles, Smarty Creek Trail leads downstream (north), reaching the first of the South Twentymile Meadows in a short distance. Spruce Grouse hens and their broods frequent bottomlands along the trail, beginning in July. Keep left on FR-39 at the junction with FR-3820 to Lone Frank Pass (1.3 miles).

In 4.4 miles, go right onto FR-150 (becomes South Fork Toats Coulee Creek Road) into the Loomis State Forest. Bottomlands along this primitive road are excellent Spruce Grouse habitat, and there are several enticing meadows along the way; unfortunately, the area has been affected by poor logging practices.

Return to FR-39 and continue north, stopping in 1.4 miles to enjoy the view of Twentymile Meadows and the rugged crest of the Cascades off to the west. In another 3.2 miles you reach Thirtymile Meadows. Forests in this area were burned in the 1996 Thunder Mountain burn. Although the initial boom in woodpecker numbers has ended, American Three-toeds remain fairly common. The Dwarf Willow patches attract Mule Deer and the occasional Moose. In 4.0 miles, park at a pass and take the half-mile hike up Corral Butte (400 feet elevation gain) for another outstanding view of the entire region. Open slopes may have Dusky Grouse and Townsend’s Solitaire.



Ever northward, look for Spruce Grouse, Boreal Owl, and Boreal Chickadee as FR-39 descends steadily. Townsend’s Warblers are common in ravines with tall spruces. Continue to Long Swamp (4.2 miles), an extensive area of bog and willow-grown marsh hemmed in by Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir. Boreal Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wilson’s Warbler, and Lincoln’s Sparrow are regular here, as are Moose and Lynx; the latter may occasionally be seen when driving the road at night. A few hundred yards after the tiny campground, a spur road on the left (FR-300) parallels the north side of the wetland for two miles. The main road (FR-39) goes right from this intersection, following the swamp toward the east. A dirt spur (FR-375) on the right in 1.9 miles gives access to lower reaches of Long Swamp (Willow Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush).

Keep east on FR-39 (becomes Toats Coulee Road), descending until reaching a junction marked Iron Gate Trailhead (5.0 miles). This spur (FR-500) leads north to a trailhead (5.7 miles) offering a fabulous 4.5-mile hike to Sunny Pass, gateway to the Horseshoe Basin region of the eastern Pasayten Wilderness Area (530,000 acres). This trip is best done as a backpack. Outfitters are available in any of the surrounding towns to facilitate travel to this remarkable region, considered by many naturalists the crown jewel of Washington’s alpine. Once at the pass, it is another mile into the heart of the meadows and two or three miles farther still to various alpine summits—all straightforward rambles on tundra and sketchy trails. These high, rounded summits—markedly different from the jagged peaks of the North Cascades some 35 miles to the west—were enveloped in ice and smoothed over during the Pleistocene. Alpine-zone vegetation is better developed in the Horseshoe Basin than anywhere else in Washington, bringing to mind that of many Colorado alpine areas; a number of unusual plants have been documented here. Spruce Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Boreal Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, American Pipit, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Pine Grosbeak, and White-winged Crossbill (irregular) are all expected. Other interesting species include Northern Harrier(may breed), Golden Eagle, Wilson’s Snipe, Prairie Falcon, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Rock and Pacific Wrens, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Hermit and Varied Thrushes, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, Vesper (uncommon), Savannah, Fox, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows, Cassin’s Finch, and Red Crossbill.

Farther down Toats Coulee Road is an intersection with Fourteen Mile Road (5.8 miles from FR-500). Turn left (north). Keep right at 0.4 mile, left in another 3.8 miles and again left at 1.2 miles. In another 1.1 miles is the Cold Springs Campground. Beyond, in 0.2 mile, turn right into the parking at the trailhead for Chopaka Mountain Natural Area Preserve (2,764 acres), which protects 11 state-listed plant species, including Few-flowered Shooting Star and a number of rare sedges, gentians, moonworts, and cinquefoils. A four-mile hike on an old mining track leads to the summit (7,800 feet). Palmer Lake lies nearly 6,600 feet below, straight down the escarpment. White-tailed Ptarmigan are found with some regularity on alpine meadows on the north side of the summit, and Horned Lark is reliable. If you are not in a hiking mood, drive past the trail turnoff for 0.4 mile to Vista Overlook. Expansive views of the Pasayten country to the west are your reward after a short stroll on this wheelchair-accessible trail. In the forest nearby, look for Spruce and Dusky Grouse and Boreal Chickadee.

From Fourteen Mile Road, Toats Coulee Road descends in 7.4 miles to irrigated hay fields on the Sinlahekin Valley floor, where a large colony of Bobolinks can be seen (best late May through mid-July). In another half-mile reach the Loomis-Oroville Road, two miles north of Loomis (page 441).