Mary West: Hike the Windy Point Trail
Editor’s note: While many local trails offer opportunities for responsible recreation, please be sure to practice social distance to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 spread in Nevada County and elsewhere. Many parking lots and access ways to recreational areas are closed. Please respect these restrictions, and visit the trails at a later date when it is deemed safe to do so.
It is time for wildflower hikes. Teacher, author, lover of the outdoors, Eric Peach, first took me to Windy Point Trail in Colfax years ago. The poppies on the hillside are epic with the American River below and a view of the canyons to hold your gaze. It is a celebration of spring and renewal.
Walking the mountain side trail, take in the amazing view of this deep canyon with the azure blue of the North Fork of the American River far below. The wildflowers make me smile the length of the hike. Not just poppies, but the green grass, new foliage on the bushes and trees, the scent of tempting nectar from so many spring flowers in a variety of colors is invigorating.
To get there, get on I-80 East, take the Colfax Grass Valley 174 Exit. Take a right over the freeway to Canyon Way, another right then left on Iowa Hill road. Enjoy the windy road lined with tall pines as you make your way down to the river. After you cross the river heading back uphill, look to your right. You will find several boulders with a small parking area. If you look close there is a small wooden sign with Windy Point written on it in faded red letters.
The trail wanders down to the left bees buzzing, birds chirping. Follow the narrow trail and it will take you out to the edge where the wind blows through the canyon. Take a break at the bench and just thrill at the hillside covered in gold. Contemplate how grateful we are to live here.
At 1.5 miles this could be enough for you, or carry on down the narrow trail as it leads to the coolest waterfall. Just before the water crossing is a rope, informally tied off to trees, I gladly use it to traverse the steep grade. The water just spills over large boulders, around thick vines and tree roots. The boulders are large enough for you to find a seat to sit and listen to the sounds of the water and simply breathe.
From here it can get a bit sketchy, but for those who are up for the challenge, continue down to the river’s edge. With the higher water levels, you may find access difficult. This portion of the river is narrow and runs fast so I wouldn’t suggest swimming but just watching from a safe distance, and don’t be surprised if a kayaker swiftly passes by.
This is an out-and-back trail. At least it has always been the case for me. As usual the return trip is a completely different hike with the changed perspective. For one, it is uphill so make sure you take your time. Stop if you need to. Drink plenty of water. Enjoy a snack and stop to take pictures.
That bench at the edge of the canyon will probably be looking like a great idea on the way out so why not enjoy the view of the canyon and its field of flowering gems a bit more? One of my common refrains when on a hike is “Yes, because who knows when I will be here again.”
Say “yes” to taking the time to enjoy spring and Windy Point Trail in Colfax. I hope I see you on the trail soon.
Mary West is author of the book series “Day Hiker — Gold Country Trail Guides.” The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, and favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond (Available on Amazon). West was the recipient of the 2017 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Newspaper Column by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram.
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