Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Biking the Crescent Creek Trail

Last year during our Cooper Landing vacation we biked from the Quartz Creek Campground to the Crescent Creek trailhead and then on up the trail.  That extra 3 miles from the campground to the trailhead did us in, along with mechanical problems, so we didn't make it more than halfway to Crescent Lake last year.  That is why this year it was on my bucket list to make it all the way to the lake.  It is just 6.4 miles and rated easy so I thought it was perfect for the day after Johnson Pass.  It was just about right.

The trail is in fairly good condition with moderate uphills.
Although this trail is rated 'Easy,' it is not necessarily easy.  The elevation gain is 865 feet in the 6.4 miles, and while there were no places that were particularly steep, it was just up-up-up or flat nearly the whole way it seemed.  It wasn't until we turned around, though, that we realized just how much was uphill.  Even on the flats we were flying on the way back.  There are quite a few hairpin turns, which on the uphills were made challenging by rocks scattered strategically in our path on the turn, and a bit difficult on the way down because of the speed we were going.  There are rocks and roots as well as wide, pine-needle covered corridors and narrow paths across talus slopes above dropoffs to a rushing river (which we walked).  However, we did manage to go the 6.4 miles to the lake in 1 1/2 hours, and it only took 50 minutes to get back.

There were some very nice bridges along this trail.
Up at the lake there are 2 cabins for rent from the Forest Service and quite a few nice camping spots.  I was surprised to see a sign pointing the way to the "Beach Access," but what we were greeted with was not what I'd pictured:  it was a tiny gravel bar along the lake.  The lake by the beach was shallow (just a few inches deep), which is unusual for these mountain lakes.  The lake branches when it gets to the lake, with the trail to the right going to one of the cabins and it follows to the other end of the lake where you can descend the Carter Lake Trail.  It is 17 or so miles from the Crescent Creek Trailhead to the Carter Lake Trailhead, but it is not bikeable.  Apparently it gets too overgrown in the summer so it becomes a case of bushwacking.  To the left at the Y is a beautiful bridge, campsites, the other cabin and beach access.

"Beach access" at Crescent Lake:  a gravel bar
I recall this trail being very busy last year, but we met only one other party of 5 bikers who were loaded down, so obviously they'd spent at least a night.  (Frankly, I can't imagine biking that trail with a loaded bike--the the folks were easily in their 60's I'd guess.  They were heading downhill and they looked tired.)  It helped that it was mid-day during the week, and our experience of the trail would have been very different if we'd kept meeting other parties as the trail is narrow and one or the other would have to stop to let the other by.  There were few areas that were overgrown and we didn't need to worry too much about pushki, which also made this a more pleasant ride.

The water of Crescent Lake does not appear glacier-fed (it was clear), but near the mouth of the river a glacier-fed stream feeds Crescent Creek

While this trail can be a bit of a challenge with the uphills, this is a good introductory mountain biking trail for families who are willing to take their time and want a challenge.  We did the whole thing, including lunch at the lake, in 3 hours.  And the ride back to the trailhead from the lake is an amazingly fun ride.  It is worth it just for that!

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