Background: This trail provides an alternate route into a section of Willow Valley, upstream from the headwaters of West Clear Creek and the Maxwell trail. It is steep and route-finding is required! A few parts require some low-level climbing hand-over-hand.
Trail: From the parking area, proceed due west downhill into the trees. Cairns and a faint trail meandering through the forest should appear as the grade descends down towards the canyon below. The trail abruptly turns right/north briefly towards a ridge, where an old fire ring can be found. At this juncture, a rocky but navigable slope will appear to the left, lined with cairns. Proceed down the slope, staying to the left at all times. A ledge will appear containing a faint set of switchbacks. Navigate this ledge and the switchbacks to a lower ridge and point facing due west, overlooking the broader canyon below. A good view of Willow Valley and West Clear Creek beyond to the west should appear! At this point, a clef descends to the right/north and to the left/south. Descend the clef to the left/south; cairns should again be present, but may be toppled from snowmelt/runoff. At this point you should see/hear the creek below. Follow the best route down. A faint trail of descending switchbacks will re-appear at the tree line just above the creek. At the creek you should intersect a worn fisherman's trail that lines the east side of the creek.
Campsites: Two nice campsites are just upstream, a smaller one near a swimming hole, and a larger one in a dell of pines with an amazing canyon-wall backdrop. A fairly well-worn fisherman's trail follows the creek, meandering up and down the embankment, in and out of the trees, and crossing the stream every few hundred yards.
Proceed upstream along the fisherman's trail that lines the embankment. Within a short distance you will need to cross the stream to the opposite bank. Continue following the fisherman's trail through the trees. Just downstream from a large swimming hole you'll need to cross back to the original stream bank. Almost immediately on the opposite side, through a thicket of bushes you'll enter the first campsite. To reach the second, larger campsite, continue upstream along the fisherman's trail on the east bank. A fallen tree spans the stream in a very grassy area, where the stream bends 90 degrees. Use this fallen tree to cross the stream again to the opposite bank. Continue following the fisherman's trail as it meanders away from the creek through the trees on the embankment. Some of the most picturesque parts of Willow Valley are here! The embankment will narrow as the stream bends and a canyon wall encroaches. Cross the stream again to the opposite bank, where the forest is thicker on the opposite side. As you proceed through the trees heading due north, you'll soon find yourself in a campsite secluded in a dell of ponderosa!
If you decide to continue upstream from this juncture, you will enter what is referred to as "the straightaway" of Willow Valley. This area is very grassy, and the fisherman's trail will disappear, along with the pools of fish.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
High Clearance possible when dry
To canyon trip High clearance vehicle needed as there are several rocky sections of the forest road. Proceed west onto Forest Road 122C at the gas station just south of the intersection of SR87 and Lake Mary Rd. at Clints Well. Stay on 122C for approximately 2.9 miles to the intersection with FR 9399S. (Be careful that you DO NOT veer right onto FR122 at 2.8 miles.) At the intersection of 122C and 9399S, continue straight/northwest onto 9399S for another approximately 1.7 miles to a parking area overlooking Willow Valley and West Clear Creek.