Use caution when hiking Willow Creek

Looking downstream following the water flow of Angel Falls on Willow Creek at the west end of Bass Lake.
Looking downstream following the water flow of Angel Falls on Willow Creek at the west end of Bass Lake. Special to Sierra Star

When I awoke it was still dark outside and my alarm clock read 5:25 a.m. Maybe I can start an early morning hike to a location I haven’t visited for quite some time? With our five year drought over and this year’s late spring snow and rain, Bass Lake’s Willow Creek should be displaying its full potential of run-off.

I arrived at the Willow Creek trailhead as the morning twilight was filtering through the trees. The creeks constant roar verified today’s hike should be a great experience. As my hike increased in elevation and looking down through the thick oak, cedar and pine trees, Willow Creek was cascading over those huge boulders dropping down from Angel Falls.

Surprisingly even with all the late snow and rain this spring season, the trail survived and was easy to follow.

Caution is the phrase when looking for that ideal photo opportunity. These picturesque rocks that border the creek can be very slippery. Also never try to cross or follow along their wet surface because under the flowing water is an invisible layer of slippery algae. Several people have lost their lives over the years at Willow Creek after falling into the powerful, ice cold water.

I dropped down from this elevated trail for a few photo opportunities. Water was much higher then I expected, but I managed to photograph a few angles of this creeks changing personality.

Once above Angel Falls the creek turns right and calms down into a slow moving water source. This historic trail continues to follow along its banks lined with old growth trees which offer an ideal setting for trout fishing.

Another interesting point - the creek almost reached its high water mark. This location or ridge is carved over time by the rushing force of high water. In the spring of 1997 was the highest water level I’ve ever seen in this creek and once again at that time it failed to reach that mark.

It has been quite a few years since I followed the alternate trail along Devils Slide. Once again this is another area that Willow Creek channels its flow into a narrow but steep area.

The fence still exists along the cliffs to keep one from venturing to close to the edge. At the end of this fence line my advice is to double back to the main trail. Continuing beyond this point is not recommended since no permanent trail is established.

As the main trail continues, look for another connecting hiking trail on the left. This pathway leads down to the upper area of Devils Slide. Today its hidden water fall is in rare form displaying the additional run-off from the mountains.

This path does continue beyond the upper slide, but I consider it to be a fisherman’s trail. It is much easier to follow after the high water has receded as it continues to McLeod Flat.

Once again I doubled back to the main trail as it follows toward the upper area of McLeod Flat. Now hike to the left as it decreases in elevation down to the creek.

On the flat stone surface above the creek are verifications of our Native Americans. Their acorn grinding holes reveal their presence from centuries ago. This is another remote area along the creek for trout fishing.

This morning turned out to be very rewarding with many photo opportunities. The creative force of water was the only major changes to the landscaping.

One of the advantages of starting a hike early in the morning, I had this historic tail all to myself. I said hello to the first three hikers just before reaching the trailhead at the conclusion of my most recent adventure.

Follow Road 222 (Bass Lake Road) to Road 274 (Malum Ridge Road) to the Willow Creek Bridge. Park on the north-west side of the bridge at the end of a very short dirt road is the location of Willow Creek Trailhead.

Second trailhead is off of Road 222 at the point Willow Creek enters Bass Lake. There is parking at both locations but the bridge off of Road 274 is the easiest hiking route.