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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Drop quickly into Willow Valley!
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.
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 towards the canyon below. The trail abruptly turns right/north briefly towards a ridge, where you can find an old fire ring. 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 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. You should intersect a worn fisherman's trail at the creek that lines the east side of the creek.
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, you'll enter the first campsite through a thicket of bushes on the opposite side. 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.
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