Windy Valley (Oregon Coast Range) 21-Oct-2020

Windy Valley is an amazingly beautiful place at the end of a long drive and a short hike. Despite being burned around by the 2002 Biscuit, 2015 Collier Butte, and 2017 Chetco Bar Fires, it has remained a pristine mountain meadow bisected by a small, crystal clear creek. Amazing! I first found out about it while perusing the “More Hikes” section of Sullivan’s Oregon Coast Guide (Fourth Edition, 2018), where it’s Hike #139. I was intrigued. But it’s a long drive for a day trip. So it had to wait until we could add it to an extended trip to the coast. Which we did. So after being baffled by the Trees of Mystery and charmed by barking sea lions near Hidden Beach, we headed inland to visit the valley.

You access Windy Valley via the Snow Camp Trail #1103 and getting to that trailhead is about 16 miles (25 km) on paved road and another 13 miles (20 km) on good gravel road. A good deal of that drive is through a stick forest of snags created by the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire.

Clouds gather over the Big Craggies, with a burned forest in the foreground

We arrived at the trailhead to find most things burned, except for a small wooden outhouse that was still operational and freshly stocked with TP! Miracles!

Relief amongst the snags
Looks like a new trailhead sign

The trail itself was in good shape as it took us to the remains of Cedar Camp (where, judging from all the nails and spikes lying around, there once was some sort of wooden structure) on Cedar Creek and then up a slope to where a seep supported a patch of Darlingtonia (Cobra Lilies) – a totally cool plant.

Starting out
Point 3349 on the left, overlooking what once was a forest
Cedar Camp
Cedar Creek – still wet despite the loss of its trees
A patch of Darlingtonia
Yes, I’m a carnivore
Heading toward Windy Creek

Past Cedar Camp, the trail crossed a broad ridge and started angling down and north toward Windy Creek. More and more intact forest appeared the farther north we hiked. At one point we could easily see the Snow Camp Fire Lookout perched atop Snow Camp Mountain. A lookout structure of one kind or another had been on the peak since 1914. Its most recent incarnation was consumed by the 2002 Biscuit Fire but rebuilt by volunteers in 2004. It has since become a very popular addition to the Forest Service’s lookout rental program.

Into the Windy Creek drainage
More live trees appear
The Snow Camp Mountain Lookout (arrow) comes into view
Back into a live forest 🙂

About a mile and a half from the trailhead we came to a junction with the Windy Valley Trail #1103B where the Snow Camp Trail crosses Windy Creek. A shattered sign post still stands there but any sign it held is long gone. But the trail into Windy Valley was obvious and easy to follow.

Windy Creek
On the trail to Windy Valley

The #1103B took us to a crossing of Windy Creek. Our options here were wading ( 😦 ), crossing low on skinny logs, or crossing high on a big log. We crossed on the big log which was not quite the high-wire act it looks like. On the other side we came to a wooden bench and plaque honoring Gladys Mann, for whom Windy Valley was a favorite place.

Crossing the log
Gladys’ bench

The trail got a little vague past the bench but we hardly noticed as we were in awe of the beautiful 13+ acre meadow that stretched before us. The view was enhanced by excellent weather that gave us blue skies flecked with artistic clouds. It was very easy to see why Gladys loved this place.

The meadow in Windy Valley
More meadow
And yet more meadow
We walk to the far side of the meadow

We eventually found pieces of trail that we followed into the forest on the north side of the meadow. We crossed the creek again and ventured a short way up the valley under the canopy. The fire that reached here didn’t crown, only took out the understory, and left a forest that was easy to walk through.

Into the open forest
Windy Creek
One last look at the meadow

After wandering around in the forest a bit and walking around the meadow, it was time to head back. Which, after we got back across the log dry and unscathed, went quickly. Once we got back past Point 3349 we could see the ocean to the west (granted, binoculars helped with this). On the drive out, we stopped for a shot of the Chetco River, lined with a mix of live and burned trees.

Going back
Seeing the ocean past Point 3349
Chetco River

This hike came to just 4.4 miles (7.0 km) with just 700 feet (213 m) of gain. But it took us to a very beautiful destination untouched by the fires that had roared around it. While we’ve done much longer hikes in the past, and still do those occasionally, more and more we find ourselves doing hikes that, regardless of their length, take us to new (to us), unique, or amazing places. Call it quality over quantity (or simply the recognition that 20+ mile days aren’t in the offing anymore). This was one of those – a long drive and a short hike to an amazing place. 😀

Into Windy Valley (M is the memorial bench after the log crossing)
One last night in Brookings

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