Cow Creek Old-Growth (Azalea, Oregon) 10-Aug-2020

Huge, old-growth trees – those feet in diameter and hundreds of years old – were undoubtedly more common back in the day. Now you have to go looking for patches of them. When found, they are truly awe inspiring. It’s humbling to be in the presence of living creatures that have graced the Earth for dozens and dozens of human generations. One such patch of these ancient, living giants exists along Cow Creek in the Umpqua National Forest east of Azalea, Oregon. I first found out about it from John & Diane Cissel’s 2003 Best Old-Growth Forest Hikes, Washington & Oregon Cascades (Hike #96) and made my first visit in March of 2018. The middle of a wet Oregon winter was probably not the ideal time to be visiting a deep, old forest dripping with ferns and moss. After wading through a swollen, cold Cow Creek several times, I vowed to visit again during the drier, warmer months. When today’s air temperature was forecast to soar above 100°F (37°C), it seemed the ideal time to be deep in a forest. So The LovedOne and I made the drive to Azalea and then east past Galesville Reservoir to the Cow Creek Trail #1424 Trailhead.

The trail runs from Forest Road 3232 up along (but not always near) Cow Creek through five un-bridged crossings of the creek. Then it climbs, in 1.5 miles, to its end at Railroad Gap on Forest Road 3232-911. The bulk of the old-growth lies between the trailhead and the fourth creek crossing. Today we explored a little beyond this crossing. As expected, the creek was much lower at this time of year and each crossing could be done dry (I did and The LovedOne didn’t). The trail was in good condition up to the third crossing but between there and past the fourth it was often obscured by low-growing, seasonal vegetation. Fortunately, some maintenance seems to have been done to remove the really big trees (and here they can be REALLY big) blocking the trail. Still, for a trail designated as a National Recreation Trail, it could use a little more maintenance. :/

The first crossing of Cow Creek
Near the creek the vegetation is lush and thick
Loving the old-growth (6+ feet in diameter)
Sitting inside one of the fallen giants
Crossing #2
More lushness
A ‘schroom amongst the moss
Red Huckleberry
Along the trail between crossings #3 and #4
A little color in an otherwise green forest
Sprout
Ferns encroach on the trail
Crossing #4
Fern

Our somewhat flexible original plan had been to go as far as the fifth crossing. But wading through all that low growing vegetation (which often obscured deep holes in the trail) was getting tedious. And, having worn shorts in anticipation of creek crossings, our legs were getting mildly scratched (or very scratched if we plowed through a wild rose by mistake 😥 ). So we found a nice, cool spot along the creek for a snack break and then headed back.

Cow Creek (at our turn-around point above crossing #4)
Wading through a patch of massive Yellow Skunk Cabbage on the way back
A massive “nurse” log runs parallel to the trail
Great Hedge-Nettle
The big trees had been cleared but we were knee deep in Salal
Each of the trees flanking The LovedOne is 6 or more feet in diameter
Leaf
Plowing through a patch of ferns
Back across the first crossing

Out-and-back to just past the fourth crossing came to 7.7 miles with just 650 feet of gain. Although the trail could use a little grooming, it was clear of really big obstacles and relatively easy to follow to the end of the old-growth section at the fourth crossing (you might want to wear long pants though, even if you plan to wade the creek). On this scorching hot day, it was cool in the forest – particularly along the creek – and the old-growth trees were superb. 🙂

Our path along Cow Creek (1-5 are the un-bridged crossings)
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One comment

  1. Made a note for this hike since it is new to us. Maybe next year we will give it a try. Haven’t been out a whole lot lately as it is hot and too many personal things going on right now. Thanks for the info on a new hike

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