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Down Cache Creek for the bald eagles and tule elk; near Clear Lake, 7-mile trail to see protected wildlife.

Down Cache Creek for the bald eagles and tule elk The remote headwaters of Cache Creek rank second in California as habitat for two impressive wildlife species. More than 50 bald eagles usually find their way each winter to the creek's banks; only the Klamath Basin hosts more of these magnificent raptors. And the 400-strong Cache Creek tule elk herd is surpassed in size only by one herd in Owens Valley.

To protect this vital habitat, designated an area of critical environmental concern by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), motorized vehicles were barred from the area in 1987. However, wildlife viewers and photographers willing to muscle their way up some steep stretches can gain access to the creek's rugged canyon on a 7-mile trail recently constructed by the BLM and the California Department of Fish and Game.

Bald eagles should be at peak numbers this month; some usually linger along Cache Creek into April. Winter's cooler temperatures also bring out many of the area's year-round wild residents, who stay hidden in the shade during scorching summer days.

Besides tule elk, you might spot blacktail deer, wild turkeys, ospreys, or mergansers--maybe even a black bear or a mountain lion.

The trail is about 2-1/2 hours north of the Bay Area via I-80, I-505, I-5, and State Highway 20. From Sacramento, it's about 1-1/2 hours northwest via I-5 and State Highway 20.

Day-hike or overnight destinations

A 1/4-mile road to trailhead parking leaves the south side of State 20 just west of the bridge over North Fork Cache Creek (33 miles west of I-5). Trail maps are available in a box at the trailhead.

Setting out on a dirt road, you'll soon come to the first of many hiker symbols marking the route; it diverts you up and over a ridge on the newly constructed trail, through an oak woodland laced with digger pines and manzanita. After climbing 400 feet or so, the trail drops down the opposite side of the ridge to meet Cache Creek at a grassy open area called Baton Flat (about 2 miles from the trailhead).

Day-hikers might consider stopping and doing some wildlife-viewing here, to avoid having to ford the unbridged creek. The main reason for continuing is to reach Wilson Valley, a mile-long expanse of creek bottom that attracts the greatest concentration of bald eagles. The 6-mile hike to the valley takes 2 to 3 hours, so most people planning to spend any time there will want to pack in camping gear. Look for eagles winging over the water in search of carp, or perched in digger pines along the creek. You can get an excellent treetop view from the ridge that deflects the creek into a horseshoe bend just before it reaches Wilson Valley.
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Date:Jan 1, 1990
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