Tribal Life Trail

An Ethnobotanical Demonstration Garden at Lake Wilderness Arboretum

Address: 22520 SE 248th Street, Maple Valley

Tribal Life Trail

The Tribal Life Trail meanders 270 feet in and out of the shady forest edge along a sunny meadow, where plants historically used by Native Americans for food, medicine, ceremony, clothing and utility are showcased.

The Lake Wilderness Arboretum’s vison for an ethnobotanical display garden took shape in 2005 with clearing the trail and installation of the initial plantings. Desiring a demonstration garden located in the south end of King County, the Washington State University Extension Master Gardeners assumed responsibility in 2008. Sections were developed to illustrate five main types of plant usages. June 5th, 2010 marked the grand opening of the Trail.

The garden was designed to create an understanding of our cultural horticultural heritage and focuses on an appreciation of sustainability. Understanding the usefulness of native plants encourages good stewardship.

Grants from the Washington Native Plant Society and the Soroptimist International of Kent, provided descriptive plant signage along the Trail teaching visitors about plant information and typical Native American usages. To learn more about native plants, visit the Washington Native Plant Society website.


  • The Culinary Section features Wild Strawberry, Trailing Blackberry, Tall Oregon Grape and Hooker Onion. These plants and many others were used as a source of food.
  • The Medicinal Section features Wild Ginger, Licorice Fern,
    Columbine and Sword Fern. These plants and many others were used to treat a number of maladies from sore throats to wounds and stomach troubles.
  • The Utilitarian Section features Bear Grass, Birch, Serviceberry and Red Osier Dogwood. These plants and many others point to the resourcefulness and creativity of Native Americans.
  • The Clothing Section features the Western Red Cedar, whose inner bark was split into layers and woven into hats or pounded to soften it into a fiber for clothes.
  • The Ceremonial Section features Sword Fern, Red Columbine and Snowberry. Bountiful snowberries were believed to indicate a bountiful salmon run.

Totem poles can symbolize cultural beliefs, clan lineages or notable events in Native American life. Our two totem poles feature the Eagle, Bear, Salmon, Frog and Hummingbird.

The Tribal Live Trail is open to the public year-round during daylight hours. Admission and parking are free. Download Tribal Life Trail Pamphlet.


Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) branches were used for which of the following?

  1. To add flavor to beverage
  2. For spear shafts
  3. To make soft cushions

Wester Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) was used to make?

  1. Hats
  2. Shelters
  3. Clothing

Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) was used for what by many tribes?

  1. A wash for skin sores
  2. A good-luck charm
  3. Flooring and bedding

Birch (Betula papyrifera) was used for which of the following?

  1. To make clothing and hats
  2. To make baskets
  3. Leaves were used for coughs and colds

Plentiful Snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus) were a sign of what to come?

  1. Good weather
  2. An indication that many salmon were coming
  3. Good luck

Please visit the Tribal Life Trail to find the answers and much more about how Native Americans used plants.


King County purchased Lake Wilderness Park in 1966. Since the 19th century, the site had been used for a variety of purposes. In the 1890s a large logging mill operated on the site. In the early 1900s, it was the home of several resorts featuring sports fields, tennis courts, dance pavilions, a skating rink, airstrip and swimming beaches. The site is now home to the award-winning Lake Wilderness Lodge, constructed in the 1950s with a 33-foot-tall totem pole surrounded by a spiral staircase. In 1969 the King County Parks Department approved the development of an arboretum on 40 acres. In 2003 the City of Maple Valley transferred Lake Wilderness Park and Arboretum from King County and the name was changed to Lake Wilderness Arboretum.

Directions and more information about the arboretum are available at

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