Simplicity is the basis of greatness, and people who take the time to discover this hike will find something new to cherish each and every time out.
Over time, Squaw Valley Creek has sliced the surrounding dark basalt rock into a cascade of cool pools that babble under a canopy of mature, mixed conifer forest that includes Pacific yew, incense cedar and Douglas fir. The under-canopy includes black oak, willow, dogwood, alder and vine maple, with wild ginger, iris and wild rose clinging to the mossy ground. Indian rhubarb grows thick at the water’s rocky edge, hiding delightful pools where man and beast can soak on hot summer days.
Given the elevation, poison oak also does very well here. Be sure to wash your dogs before loading them back in the car, and give them a good bath when you get home. The volatile oil that causes your skin to itch — urushiol — sticks to dog fur and can cause a breakout days later.
Every season brings a new reason to visit this trail, which offers lots of level ground and a few gentle climbs. Spring, when the dogwoods are in bloom, brings anglers to the creek, where native rainbow trout will rise to suck down a meal of hatching aquatic bugs. Summer is the time for birders, swimmers and wildlife watchers. Be sure to pack the binoculars for a chance to view mountain quail, common nighthawk, hairy woodpecker, Pacific-slope flycatchers, Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwing, evening grosbeak and a host of other species.
If you’re quiet, there’s always a chance to glimpse a blacktail deer munching on vegetation or California black bear sipping from the creek.
Fall brings on a burst of color from the under-canopy. The creek, which rarely dips from view along the trail, flows through a blaze of orange, crimson and yellow.
To get there, turn right at the McCloud central business district and follow the signs for Squaw Valley Creek Road and the McCloud Reservoir. Continue on this road for 6.1 miles. Just past an RV and camp park named “Friday’s Retreat,” turn right onto Squaw Valley Creek Road. The sign says “rough road,” but this dirt path can be handled easily in the family sedan. Continue for 3.1 miles, where you will cross over a concrete bridge. The parking area, trail head and restroom will be on your immediate left once you cross the bridge.
A sturdy wooden bridge takes hikers across Cabin Creek, then hugs the west side of Squaw Valley Creek for the duration of the trek. The U.S. Forest Service has completed five miles of trail, and is adding more miles to the experience. The complete, out-and-back trek can be done in a leisurely six hours with plenty of time to play in the chilly water. Be sure to bring a purifier to drink from this spring-fed creek.
At Cabin Creek, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail crosses Squaw Valley Creek. During the summer months, there’s always the chance to talk with thru-hikers about their adventure.
Opportunities to take a dip along this stream are constant, but a not-to-be-missed pool is located at 2.2 miles. A wide, smooth section of basalt makes a great place to catch some sun and have a picnic. Soft sand coats the bottom of this pool, big enough and deep enough for several people — and their dogs.
The dense under-canopy slowly begins to swallow the trail at 4 miles. Along a rocky wall, the trail finally gives out to a thicket of alder, and it’s time to turn around.
This hike also can be turned into an overnight trip, with good campsites near the south end of the trail. Be sure to camp at least 100 feet from the creek and follow Leave No Trace ethics.
Round trip: 10 miles
Hiking time: 6 hours
High point: 2,800 feet
Elevation gain: 200 feet
Best hiking: March through November
Water: From Squaw Valley Creek — purify first
Maps: Free from Shasta-Trinity National Forest, or U.S. Geological Survey, Girard Ridge quadrangle
Contact: Shasta-Trinity National Forest, McCloud Ranger Station, 964-2184
Photo courtesy Mt. Shasta Trails Association