Consider this fine 4.2 mile round-trip hike for its two nicely distributed rewards: Midnight Hole (at mile 1.5) …and 1/2 mile later, your final cheese treat: Mouse Creek Falls. As I hiked up-valley with Big Creek making noises to my left, I wondered whether Mouse Creek Falls would be tiny, with scant water volume. Secondly, what would be the circumstances under which an explorer/cartographer would name this tributary “Mouse Creek?” (You can let your imagination scramble around on that one.)
If you would like hiking near medium sized rivers that tumble and pool up randomly amongst rounded rocks, you will find this trail enjoyable all the way. It’s wide enough for ‘social hiking’ (two abreast), making it ideal for pairs to walk together.
Big Creek Trail begins at a well-marked point at the family-friendly picnic area along Baxter Creek, with tent campground nearby. The trail cuts a gentle and steady incline without any surprise steep pitches or switchbacks, (but you’ll appreciate good footwear for a few brief rocky portions). Yet this hike is far from a dull plod through the forest. After Midnight Hole at 1.5 miles, it is just about 1/2 mile further to Mouse Creek Falls (at 2.1 miles in).
The trail rises on a ledge that slowly ascends the valley’s right-side slope, gradually achieving a good hundred feet or more elevation above Big Creek. This affords you a hawk’s eye view of the first part of the river during our ‘bare trees’ season. As you continue to work your way upstream, Big Creek catches up to your level, and then runs faithfully on your left side all the way to the waterfall.
On an earlier trail portion still high above the river, we paused to notice rugged evidence of a recent gravitational event signifying the progression of nature. A massive tree, previously anchored for generations just a few feet above the upper edge of the trail cut, recently let go with a crash. Roots were ripped violently out of the rocky soil, and the old tree slammed down across the trail with its treetop ending up far down the steep slope pointing to the river. Two thick heavy branches had sheered off and had also been hurled downward, right and left of the main trunk.
At the instant that the tree root-ball popped, it pitched out a Webber Barbecue-sized boulder, plunking it down hard and dead center on our trail. Too heavy for two people to budge, the boulder remains a new trail curiosity; a symbolic hiker’s speed bump for now. The falling tree, whether it let go near midnight, or 2:39 in the afternoon, must have sent out a raucous “pop-crack-bang” across the valley. Were there any humans around to witness this or hear the crescendo? This question, (and why a creek was named for a mouse), will probably remain a mystery.
If you have kids with you, as you approach the 1.5-mile mark, they might express joy playing on the multitudes of smooth and flat rocks where the water spills from multiple angles into deep pools. (I am channeling my 9-year old self, here.) The grandest pool is presumably Midnight Hole. This is the portion of the hike where Big Creek is actively showing off to you. Reaching this spot also means that you have almost completed your quest to witness (mighty?) Mouse Creek Falls. Can’t you just picture the ‘hiking progress bar’ filling in across to the 75% mark now? Just 25% more energy will takes you to ‘the Mouse’.
As you move forward, Big Creek’s minor waterfalls and pools now play hide ’n seek between the trees, with the trail skirting the lower edges of huge monstrous boulder fields above. Much of that geological evidence will disappear again, as the spring leaves fill in, so take a good look now. As you move on, the path also edges along moss-covered granite cliffs and speckled boulders nudged intimately along the right edge of the path.
Lo and behold, here it comes (into view) and ready to save the day: Mighty Mouse Creek Falls. There is a natural opening on the left side of the trail for your view of the falls. They are beautiful and somewhat multi-faceted. Starting from the highest point, the water first spills out between the trees from a very narrow right-tilted slot. It all begins up high with this almost graceful, delicate and thin spillway shooting out sideways from the thick forest.
From this point the falls grow in power, with the waters tumbling forward in several directions. Widening in multiple stages, the mystery to me is the amount of water that’s emerging… more than the first thin spillway above would ever indicate. The water volume seems to expand out of nowhere. Could this be the mouse that roared?
Just 50’ below the falls viewpoint is a riverside clearing with more flat rocks and lazy pools where you can dig into your backpack for a bite, or just hang out with your sense of destination accomplishment. It is a good place to pull out that proverbial hunk of bread in your pocket, (John Muir style), sip your favorite beverage, and nibble… on perhaps that second hunk of cheese. Let any crumbs land where they may.
Upon your return, you’ll enjoy the replay of nature, as you ease on back down the valley. Keep your eyes open for new angles, as the light has changed again. Hiking feels good, especially when you’ve earned the downhill part.