We paused at a split in the trail and wondered which fork would lead us to Kathleen Lake, the small lake hidden in the forest of Knox Mountain Park. The left trail headed up the rocky mountain and teased us with the promise of spectacular views; the right headed deeper into the forest and beckoned with the unknown. Our insatiable curiosity lead us to explore both.
Located within walking distance of Kelowna’s bustling downtown core, Knox Mountain is an absolute favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. Comprising of 766 acres and bordering just under a kilometer and a half of Okanagan Lake, Knox Mountain is Kelowna’s largest Natural Area Park and is home to numerous hidden gems. The summit rises almost 300 meters above Okanagan Lake and offers unparalleled views of both downtown Kelowna and Okanagan Lake.
History of Knox Mountain Park
Knox Mountain, now a prominent Kelowna landmark that’s enjoyed by nature enthusiasts, is named after Arthur Knox, a convicted felon from the late 1800’s. According to The Friends of Knox Mountain, after arriving from Scotland he purchased 4,000 acres in the Okanagan. Through a Crown grant, he acquired lakeshore land from Manhattan Beach to Winfield, including the mountain which bears his namesake. Knox was accused of setting fire to 200 tons of haystacks belonging to Tom Ellis, his competitor, because he wanted to reduce the number of cattle in the valley. He claimed his innocence, but after witnesses — many of whom later admitted to being bribed — accused him, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years of hard labour.
Upon his release, Knox returned to Kelowna. He then donated some of his lands, became the president of the prestigious Agricultural and Trades Association, and later sold his ranch to the Okanagan Fruit and Land Co. When he died in 1925, his large estate was distributed to relatives in Scotland.
Dr. Benjamin deFurlong Boyce, a well-known physician in the valley, bought 190.82 acres of Knox Mountain in 1912. Twenty-seven years later, in 1939, he sold it to the City of Kelowna for $1. The park has since been developed and up kept by a trust Stanley Simpson set up upon his death. Boyce and Simpson’s contributions are acknowledged by small, unkempt cairns; Knox, by a small plaque.
Beginning our exploration
There are numerous entrances to the park, the most popular of which is on Ellis Street. Instead of the usual Paul’s Tomb or Apex hike, we decided to explore a different section in search of Kathleen Lake. We followed Clifton Avenue up the mountain and parked on a street in Magic Estates.
The Woodwind Entrance, which we decided to take, is nothing more than a deer trail that rapidly climbed the mountain. The trail leveled off and eventually ran parallel to the below houses. We scoped out our favourites and imagined what it would be like to have a pool or hot tub — although truth be told, we don’t want either — and marveled at the size of the houses.
The trail wound through a gorgeous sparsely treed forest and soon left the houses behind. It was still too early for wildflowers, but come late April the hills would be covered in yellow Arrowleaf Balsamroot which is Kelowna’s official wildflower. We soon came to the first of many forks in the trail; this particular one gave us the option of ascending to the summit for amazing views or exploring further into the forest. As view junkies, we climbed to the summit. A small section of the climb turned into a scramble over rough rocks before presenting us with a large plateau high above the city.
A stunning view of the Okanagan
The neighbourhoods below were nestled like a hidden alcove in the mountainside. Kelowna stretched for as far as the eye could see, from Rutland to downtown, all the way to Westside and beyond. Northern Okanagan Lake was blocked by a patch of trees which only slightly blocked our 360° view. A couple was sun tanning and an energetic senior couple followed us up the mountain — I hope we have even a fraction of their vigor when we’re 70!
We settled onto a rock near the edge of the plateau and drank in the beauty of the Okanagan. While taking in every tree and every drop of water, we marveled, once again, that this is our backyard. As is common of your home, we often forget to appreciate the beauty of where we live. Moments like these serve as a stark reminder.
Navigating the maze of trails
We retraced our steps down the mountain and, after falling down a steep, gravelly slope, we met back up with the original trail. We headed into the forest and resumed our search for Kathleen Lake. The path branched often which left us guessing which way to go. We used the Trails app to track our progress because without a GPS tracker we would have become truly lost in the maze of trails spanning Knox Mountain.
Knox Mountain is a favourite for mountain bikers and we wandered upon a bike path, lined with numerous cairns; however, we didn’t linger long because hikers are advised to stay off bike paths for the safety of both parties. We only met one biker and stepped aside as he navigated the rough terrain. Shortly after, the trail we were on ended abruptly in a swampy mess and we turned back.
Finding Kathleen Lake
We consulted our phones and found trails that headed in the direction of Kathleen Lake. After slowly slipping down a steep, well-worn trail we finally found it!
Kathleen Lake is a small lake and geographically isolated open water basin with no outlet and completely surrounded by upland. According to the sign at the lake, “the highly fluctuating alkaline water table creates a dynamic habitat, rich in plant and animal species. This biodiversity is valued for its interdependent role in the protection of species at risk. In the hot, dry summer, Kathleen Lake provides essential water and cooler temperatures for wildlife. It is a critical nesting and foraging area for a diversity of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians; it is also a migratory resting area for waterfowl.”
As we enjoyed the lake we heard and soon spotted, a woodpecker high in the trees. No other animals made themselves seen but coyotes and mule deer are known to frequent the area. The lake was peaceful, a secluded hideaway from the bustling city. We were careful to stick to the paths as the ecosystem is very fragile and dry which makes it highly vulnerable to erosion and deterioration.
Finishing our exploration of Knox Mountain and Kathleen Lake
The trail wound its way around Kathleen Lake, along a large retaining wall, and back into the thinly treed forest. The sun sparkled through the leaves and created a dreamy landscape. We even found a viewpoint that overlooked Okanagan Lake.
The trail eventually met up with the road that climbs to the summit of Knox Mountain. The upper half of the road was closed this early in the year which made for an easy climb for hikers and bikers alike. Come mid-April, the road will be open to vehicles from 9:30 am – 9:00 pm, Monday to Saturday. On Sundays, it’s open noon to 9:00 pm.
We didn’t want to hike on the pavement so we stayed on the trail that ran parallel to the road; we enjoyed the tranquility and knew that in only a few short days it would be broken by an onslaught of vehicles. A sharp curve in the road marked the Woodpark Entrance which brought us back to the subdivision we’d parked in. We navigated the houses and meet back up with our car, completing our exploration of Kathleen Lake and Knox Mountain.
Information & trailhead location
Knox Mountain is riddled with trails, making your hike a “choose your own adventure”. To follow in our footsteps, begin from Woodwind Entrance and make your way over the mountain where you’ll eventually find Kathleen Lake.
|Distance||~5.5 km (3.5mi) return|
|Duration||~2 hrs 15 min|
|Difficulty||Easy with some steep sections|
|Notes||If you start from the Woodwind Entrance, be sure to bring a GPS to avoid becoming lost in the many trails on Knox Mountain. An easier hike to Kathleen Lake is available via the Knox Mountain’s summit.|