Distance: 5 miles round trip
Elevation: Trailhead-5,400 feet. Trail end-4,500 feet.
Drive time from Gasquet: 1.75 hours
Directions: Travel east on Hwy 199 from Gasquet approximately 16 miles to Knopki Creek Rd (18N07). Turn right and drive about 6 miles to a “Y” in the road. Stay right, remaining on 18N07 and continue another 8 miles to the junction of Sanger Lake and Young’s Valley. Turn right and continue another 1 mile to the road end.
Young’s Valley Trail is a great place to stroll with a friend and soak up the wide views and fresh air of the Siskiyous. It is also a perfect launching point for many other destinations, including a climb of Preston Peak, the high point of the Siskiyou Mountains.
There are a few features that make this trail special and stand apart from other trails in the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA), but one thing that makes this trail perfect for groups or even just pairs, is that it is wide enough to walk at least two abreast. This may not sound so special, but it allows a different experience than always hiking behind or in front of someone on a single track trail. It allows hikers to have a quieter conversation while they walk instead of shouting ahead and behind. Less attention need be paid to following the footsteps ahead and more attention goes to the views of Rocky Knob peak early on in the trail, or the changing tree canopy as the trail descends into the headwaters basin of Clear Creek.
Though Young’s Valley Trail begins in the Smith River NRA after only about one mile it crosses into the Siskiyou Wilderness where no bicycles or motor use of any type is allowed. Like Summit Valley Trail, Young’s Valley Trail begins high in the mountains at 5,400 feet in the sub alpine forest where noble pine, Douglas fir and incense cedar dot the landscape while the ground is a low mosaic of scrubby Manzanita and berries.
Just over a mile down the trail a small meadow is visible through the trees to the south. This is Craker Meadow. Some maps don’t show this meadow, but it is worth a stop. What at first glance looks like any other grassy clearing with a few shrubs turns into a special oasis on closer inspection. This meadow hasn’t been filled in by trees because it is really a bog. The ground is saturated and in some places water is standing a few inches deep. A few smoothed over granite outcrops interrupt the meadow offering a dry place to sit. On a small rise in the western half of the meadow Darlingtonia cluster in a soggy setting. They seem out of place in the meadow, but appear to be thriving with plenty of moisture and serpentine soils.
Another mile down the trail is a turn off for Sanger Creek, East Fork Illinois River, and Black Butte Trails. Some of those trails may not be maintained and it’s best to check with the Forest Service before striking out on one. A half mile more on the trail and you reach Young’s Valley, a meadow of about 30 acres surrounded by forests of Sugar Pine, Douglas Fir and incense cedar. Campsites at the far end of the meadow are well established and a great place to spend the night.
Again there is a junction in the trail and hikers have many options. Continuing in a southerly direction takes hikers onto the Clear Creek National Recreation Trail which is a great creak side trail that is just high enough above the creek to be on a level bench, but not too high that the trees block the view. This trail is colorful in fall with vine maple and dogwood turning shades of yellow and red. As this trail wanders slightly away from the creek in some sections it passes through cathedrals of incense cedars.
The trail to the east leads to another fork which branches after a few hundred yards. The eastern branch becomes the Poker Flat-Young’s Valley Trail and continues in a northeast direction to Poker Flat Trailhead. The southern branch leads to Raspberry Lake and passes Bell Echo Camp along the way. This tiny camp spot is in a spectacular setting with massive rocky cliffs as its backdrop. Wildflowers in the summer and brilliant yellow leaves in the autumn adorn the stepped cliffs with their miniature waterfalls and pockets of moss and lichens. Raspberry lake will be the final destination for many hikers on this trail. It is a beautiful place to camp and the best place to initiate an ascent of Preston Peak.