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Willow Valley Loop - Coconino National Forest

Summary: A nice hike with climbing, swimming, and bush whacking, through a nice canyon at the head waters of West Clear Creek. You'll want a warm day for this trip, since you'll hit the swimming pools early in the day when temperatures are cool. To do this hike I'd suggest bringing: dry bags, floatation device for your pack (a child's pool float toy works good) and a walking stick (for balance on the rocks).
Download a map of this route here (481k).
Directions: From Phoenix, take I-17 north to Exit 306 for Stoneman Lake Road (Forest Road #213). Head east following the signs for Lake Mary Road (about 15 miles). At the junction with Lake Mary Road turn right (south) and drive to between mile markers 297 & 298. Turn right (west) at the sign for West Clear Creek onto Forest Road (FR) #81. Follow FR #81 for 3.1 miles then turn left onto FR #81E. After driving 3.8 miles stay left (continuing on 81E) at the junction with FR #693. After another 0.5 miles you'll arrive at the junction with Maxwell Trail Road. To spot a car, stay right at this junction and follow it 1.5 miles (ignoring any faint side roads) to the signed trailhead. To reach the trailhead, turn left towards Maxwell Tank. After 0.9 miles a road will come in from the right (stay left), you will reach Maxwell Tank after another 0.4 miles.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Moderate
Length: ~9.0 miles
Date Hiked: August 2003
Weather Conditions: Hot and humid
Required Skills:
Hike Description: Walk east from the road past Maxwell Tank. Hop the barbed wire fence and find your way into the brushy drainage on the other side. Once in the bottom of the drainage, turn right and work your way down canyon through the brush, avoiding the sharp thorns of the New Mexico Locust where possible. A very faint trail can be found in places, which makes the going somewhat easier. Near the bottom of the drainage you will encounter several drop offs. The author and his wife were able to down climb each obstacle without too much difficulty. Push your way through the brush at the bottom to enter the main canyon of Willow Valley (it took the author and his wife 45 minutes to reach this point). From this point, turn right (south) and begin boulder hopping/climbing down canyon. The canyon soon constricts and you will encounter three pools in quick succession. According to Williams (reference below), it is possible to climb around the first two of these pools, but I swam right through them. The third, and longest, pool is unavoidable, and involves a tricky down climb / jump into a long, cool, water filled corridor (the most scenic section of the hike). There are no more deep wades, so if you've used a flotation device to keep your pack dry, you can put it away. When ready, continue down canyon. This upper section is full of large boulders that you'll be forced to climb around and over. There are also a few sections that are thick with willows, your best course of action to get through these thickets is to stay in the main stream channel. As you continue down canyon the boulders eventually become smaller, and after some hiking, the canyon begins to open up. When running water appears in the stream bed, the boulders give way to tall grasses which fill the canyon bottom, and a faint trail sometimes appears on one side of the canyon or the other (or right through the grasses in the middle). As you hike, you will have to wade the stream multiple times, but if you do a little searching you'll rarely have to go in more than knee deep. The deep grass makes foot placement tricky (since you often can't see the ground) and will slow you down, so look for a path along the edge of the canyon whenever possible. Further down stream you will find some long sections of decent trail through the pines that form a bench along the canyons edge. Finally you'll reach the confluence with Clover Creek, which enters from the left. Stay right (continuing down stream), you are now in West Clear Creek. After 0.5 miles, just before a prominent side canyon enters from the right and the main canyon bends left, look for a cairn and prominent use trail which heads up the slope on the right (north). This is Maxwell Trail #37, turn right and begin climbing this steep path. The trail climbs up to a cliff band near the top of the canyon, bends right, then continues up past a West Clear Creek Wilderness Boundary sign, trail register and parking area. If you have spotted a car here, your hike is over, otherwise, turn left and walk 1.5 miles down the road (ignoring the faint right hand branch along the way) to the junction with the road you drove in on earlier. Turn right and walk the remaining 1.4 miles (stay left at the one junction) back to Maxwell Tank and your car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife camped near Maxwell Tank (note: if you plan to pitch a tent you might have a difficult time finding a spot that is not covered with cow pies, we slept in the back of our truck), then with an early start, hiked the loop described above in just under 7.5 hours.
Maps: Coconino National Forest Map
Books: 'Canyoneering Arizona', Tyler Williams
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

Wet section.

Typical scene in the grassy
lower section.

Boulders and pools. Swim #3 Boulder hopping.