About Angel Falls and Devils Slide
Angel Falls and Devils Slide were a pair of waterfalls on Willow Creek that spilled into the popular play areas on the north shore of Bass Lake in Sierra National Forest.
Of the two named waterfalls on Willow Creek, Angel Falls was the more popular one.
It featured an estimated 60ft cumulative drop over a long slanted light-colored granite slope as you can see in the photo above.
Its popularity was further exacerbated by many other cascades in Willow Creek further downstream of the falls.
I’ve noticed many people enjoying these intermediate cascades as they sought relief from the hot Summer days in the Bass Lake area.
Indeed, if people weren’t busy playing in Bass Lake itself, it seemed like Angel Falls and the downstream cascades on Willow Creek certainly drew their share of people frolicking in water.
Contrasting Angel Falls, the Devils Slide (or Devil’s Slide Falls) seemed to receive far fewer visitors despite consisting of another series of steep cascades.
I suspect the reason for the lack of visitation of this reportedly 200 yard (600ft) long cascade was the presence of uninviting fences discouraging an optimal experience.
I’m not totally sure of the history of this waterfall, but I would bet that the authorities erected the fences in response to the history of fatalities at this waterfall.
In order to get the best experience at the falls, I had to go behind the fences.
This was where I really had to evaluate the risk versus reward of getting dangerously close on the slippery granite slopes versus a subpar viewing experience.
In any case, I tend to view these waterfalls on Willow Creek as more of a mid- to late-Summer experience.
Even though the waterflow would be less this deep into California’s dry season, the fun factor and the overall experience would be better.
When Willow Creek would run high in the Spring and early Summer, I could foresee access issues due to the increased spray (or even snow and ice) making access to the best viewing spots hazardous at best.
Hiking to Angel Falls
There were actually a couple of approaches to the Angel Falls.
One was from the Willow Creek parking area (see directions below), which started from and followed an easy-to-miss trail along the west side of the creek up to the top of Angel Falls.
The other was from the east side of Willow Creek (also accessible from the Willow Creek Trailhead next to the Falls Day Use Area; again see directions below).
This trail followed a rougher series of trails that eventually provided access to the bottom of Angel Falls before scrambling to the top.
The latter hike was described in our Ann Marie Brown book on California Waterfalls.
I’ll be describing this hike as if it was a loop that started from the east bank of Willow Creek and returned on the creek’s west bank, because that’s how I ended up doing it.
However, in hindsight, it might have been easier to do this loop in the reverse direction given the amount of head-scratching moments that I had faced on the east-bank approach.
Hiking to Angel Falls – The East Bank Approach
We started from the Willow Creek parking area on the west side of Willow Creek itself.
Initially, we had a bit of confusion as we couldn’t find where the trail went from here despite an ominous Willow Creek sign warning of fatalities due to slippery rocks.
After searching around for a way to get to the east bank of Willow Creek (per Ann Marie Brown’s directions), we eventually walked onto the Road 274 before crossing the road bridge over Willow Creek.
Only on the other side of this bridge did we find a somewhat rough access road leading to a very limited parking area with a trail continuing past a small footbridge.
I only learned later in hindsight that the trail along the west bank of Willow Creek started from one of the lone unmarked parking spaces on the left (just before you arrive at the main clearing).
We’ll get into that part of the hike in the next section.
In any case, after the small footbridge, we followed what appeared to be a fairly obvious path that stayed elevated above Willow Creek.
About 10 minutes into the hike, I noticed a small detour leading to one of the attractive intermediate cascades on Willow Creek, where there was a clear pool beneath it as well as a rope swing tied to a branch above.
The scrambling here was quite dicey and I didn’t bother trying to access that rope swing.
When I returned to the main trail, I then saw how quickly the trail conditions kind of degenerated into something where it was hard to tell which was the sanctioned trail and which ones were scrambling trails to access Willow Creek.
Even Ann Marie Brown’s directions were confused about this.
So in all likelihood, I’d imagine that you’d have to do your best to try to stick with the most obvious path, but if it dead-ends or gets too dangerous, then be prepared to backtrack.
Many of the false trails went towards other intermediate waterfalls or were anglers trails.
We spotted at least two or three attractive intermediate cascades that looked inviting for a swim.
However, they were too slippery and potentially very dangerous as we had one person in our group slip and fall even into a shallow part.
The pools were larger and more accessible on the other side, and that would be my recommendation if you want to have a go at water play.
Anyways, after persisting along the Angel Falls Trail (always keeping an eye out for clues like water pipes buried in the ground or railings or even chainsaw-cut logs lying on the ground), I eventually started to see the real Angel Falls.
According to my GPS logs, it suggested that I had gone around 3/4-mile with spotty reception, but I think I might have gone about a mile.
From this vantage point, the falls appeared at its glorious best as I could see the entire sliding sheet of water fanning out on its way down with some kind of weird weir or water tank or something near its top.
I had noticed quite a lot of people up at the top of the falls basking or finding a chill out spot up there.
That said, down where I was at, it seemed like a lesser known spot so it was quiet.
I was able to scramble right to the bottom of the Angel Falls where it was possible to stare right up at the whole cascade.
If I wanted to, I also could have scrambled a bit downstream and take advantage of some of the flatter granite sections to sunbathe.
In fact, I saw one person lay down a towel there and sunbathe in the nude.
Anyways in general, I thought the entire trail along the east bank wasn’t that well-suited for children.
After having my fill of the bottom of Angel Falls, I then had a choice of following a couple of ways to get to the top of the falls.
I could either scramble along water pipes leading up to the weir or diversion contraption at the top of the falls.
Or, I could take a steeper trail further inland on the right.
I opted to take the trail on the left though there was another group that I saw take the other trail (though they said it was no easier than the way I took).
Overall, it took me about 45 minutes to go the mile or so to get to the top of Angel Falls.
However, this involved a lot of route finding and head-scratching so progress was slower than anticipated.
Hiking to Angel Falls – from the top of the falls, then finishing the loop along the West Bank
The top of Angel Falls was definitely buzzing with activity as there were calm sections of Willow Creek slightly further upstream of the brink of the falls, which allowed people to wade into.
The trail actually continued further upstream towards Devils Slide, which I’ll discuss in the next section of this write-up.
In any case, I also noticed a different trail going more inland and ultimately in the downstream direction.
So that made me wonder if that was the sanctioned (i.e. less rough trail) for Angel Falls that we should have taken but somehow missed all along.
I didn’t pursue this trail so I can’t say for certain, but maybe that was the “trail” that Ann Marie Brown talked about.
In any case, I also noticed an interesting wire-pulley car traversing Willow Creek though this would require the cooperation of someone willing to do the pulling by hand to get puller-car-rider across.
I didn’t have to use the pulley car as I was able to scramble to the other side through good old fashioned route-finding by evaluating the best spots to avoid stepping into the slippery and wet spots of the granite surface.
One thing that I did know for sure about being up here was that the viewing experience of Angel Falls was interesting, but it wasn’t as great as the view from below.
And that only seemed safely accessible from the trail I had just taken to get here.
So those who came here from the trail I’m about to describe below would have to scramble down one of the informal access trails along the east bank of Willow Creek.
They could also try to follow the diversion pipes to join up with that trail.
In any case, after I managed to cross Willow Creek, I then followed a descending trail where it didn’t seem all that obvious which way to go down (let alone up).
Basically, I noticed where there were people on the trail, and that hinted at where I needed to go.
Eventually after making it to the bottom of the immediate descent, the trail then became a little more obvious as it meandered within earshot of Willow Creek.
Often times, I’d see some spur trails accessing the creek on the left, and they often led to the same intermediate cascades that I had seen earlier on the east bank.
However, from this side, I could clearly see not just the cascades, but more accessible plunge pools that many other people (families with older kids included) were taking full advantage of.
The trail itself continued to meander mostly within the shade of trees with more accesses to other cascades of the east bank.
After a seemingly endless parade of cascades, I reached perhaps the largest and most accessible pool and cascade where I saw multiple families chilling out.
This happened to be the same cascade that I saw earlier from the other side of the creek that had a rope swing.
Barely a couple of minutes after this spot, I finally made it back to the parking area for Willow Creek by the Road 274.
Overall, this hike along the west bank of Willow Creek took me about 20 minutes (though I’d imagine in the uphill direction, it might take a little longer).
Continuing the hike to Devils Slide
Although I’ve described the “loop” hike with Angel Falls as the most distant point of the loop in the above sections, I actually did an out-and-back detour to Devils Slide before finishing off this loop.
So it’s that detour that I’m describing in this section.
I chose to divide up the write-up this way because I view this hike as more of an optional excursion.
After all, it was the less popular and potentially the more hazardous of the waterfalls on Willow Creek.
So from the top of Angel Falls, I then continued along the main trail which continued following along the east bank of Willow Creek.
The trail initially curved to the right and then went past some minor cascades flanked by some interesting potholes and chutes before it finally meandered along a much calmer Willow Creek.
This calmer section persisted for about 15 minutes (or 3/4-mile) before the trail finally started to climb in earnest.
It was during this climb that I started to see obstructed views or hints of the full height of the Devils Slide in the distance.
However, I wasn’t able to figure out a way to get a satisfying all-encompassing view due to these tree obstructions.
The trail eventually climbed to a point where it then followed along fencing that was obviously put there to prevent any temptation to deviate from the trail and try to access parts of the steep Devils Slide.
When I finally made it up to the end of the fencing, I found myself at the very top of the Devils Slide, where there really wasn’t much to see.
If I had allowed myself just this sanctioned trail, then the Devils Slide would be a disappointing experience.
For all along the sanctioned part of the trail, you can’t properly get a good look at any part of the cascade.
You couldn’t even legally access any part to get into the water except maybe a little upstream of the Devils Slide cascades themselves.
It seemed like quite a waste of effort for such a subpar experience.
So I actually followed along the fence, stayed back from the sloping and dangerous parts of Devils Creek, and always kept in the back of my mind why the fences were put there originally.
Perhaps about half-way down, I was able to get some partial views towards the upper half of Devils Slide though the temptation was great to look down at the main part of the slide.
However, the increasing slope and potential for a slip-and-fall here made me realize that this was perhaps one of the trouble spots where past fatalities may have occurred.
So I didn’t bother improving my downstream views from here.
However, I did see that the trail of use continued further away from the cascades, then went down what appeared to be an overgrown gully with some thin rope set up perhaps to aid with balance.
Since the authorities neither placed nor sanctioned the presence of the rope, I definitely used them at my own risk.
The steep rope-aided descent eventually got to another sloping granite section, where it seemed like another spot to easily slip and fall right into the churning Willow Creek below.
The rope helped me check how much weight I was putting on my feet on the descent, and without the rope, I wouldn’t be sure I could confidently make this descent without a slip-and-fall.
At the bottom of the descent, I finally got a good look at the bottommost of the main drops of Devils Slide, and this was by far the most satisfying one of the bunch.
I even felt spray from this drop, which on the one hand felt good, but on the other hand made me realize the slip-and-fall potential as the granite here would be too slick if wet.
Eventually after having my fill of this spot, I scrambled back up the rope path, returned to the end of the fence, and then returned back the way I came on the more sure footing of the sanctioned trail.
By the time I had made it back to the top of Angel Falls, I had gone a little over 2 miles, and it took me about 90 minutes to do both the hike as well as the scrambling around the Devils Slide.
So overall, for the entire excursion taking in both Angel Falls and Devils Slide as described in the write-up above, I went nearly 4 miles round trip, and it took me 3.5 hours in total.
That said, Ann Marie Brown said this hike was more like 4.8 miles round trip, which I can’t dispute since GPS reception wasn’t the greatest along Willow Creek.
In any case, I definitely needed hiking boots on this hike to maximize the traction on the slick granite surfaces.
Angel Falls and Devils Slide reside in Sierra National Forest near Bass Lake in Madera County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Angel Falls and Devils Slide were on the Willow Creek Trail in the Bass Lake area.
To my knowledge, there were two main trailheads, but parking was very limited in both spots without an early start.
The most convenient trailhead access was at an unmarked parking area just west of the Willow Creek Bridge along the Road 274.
The other trailhead was the signed Willow Creek Trailhead, which was right next to the Falls Picnic Area on the north shore of Bass Lake.
Driving from Oakhurst to the most convenient Willow Creek Trailhead
To get to the convenient trailhead from the Hwy 41 and Hwy 49 junction in Oakhurst, I would drive about 3.4 miles north on Hwy 41.
Then, I’d turn right onto the Road 222 (Bass Lake Road) and continue for another 3.5 miles.
Next, I’d continue straight (not taking the fork on the right for Bass Lake) for the next 0.8 miles before reaching an unmarked turnoff on the left.
Immediately to the right after going into the turnoff was where there was an unmarked and unpaved access to the clearing or lot for Willow Creek.
Overall, this drive would take around 15 minutes.
If I was coming from Bass Lake, there were other ways to get there, but I found it easiest to just backtrack on Road 222 until its junction with Road 274.
Then I’d turn right on Road 274 and follow it for 0.8 miles to the unmarked turnoff and access to the convenient trailhead for Willow Creek as mentioned above.
Driving from Oakhurst to the Willow Creek Trailhead by the Falls Picnic Area
To get to the more signed trailhead access (this would increase the length of the overall hike by about another mile round trip), I’d follow the directions as above to get from Oakhurst to the Road 274/Road 222 junction near Bass Lake.
Then, I’d take the fork on the right to go onto the Road 222 towards Bass Lake for about 0.3 miles to another fork in the road.
Keeping left at this fork to continue onto Road 432 (North Shore Rd), I then kept on Road 432 for the remaining 0.8 miles to the Willow Creek Day Use Parking on the left or the Falls Picnic Site street parking another 0.1-mile further.
It was very busy here, especially on Summer weekends so I had to exercise a lot of patience (as well as a willingness to walk further) to find parking.
Like with the convenient trailhead access, this drive would also take around 15 minutes depending on the traffic.
Had I come from Bass Lake, I would have taken the Road 222 back towards North Shore Road, then turn right to go the final 0.8-0.9 miles towards the aforementioned parking spots for the trailhead as well as the picnic areas.
To give you some geographical context, Oakhurst was 46 miles (about an hour drive) north of Fresno, 64 miles (under 90 minutes drive) east of Merced, 103 miles (under 2 hours drive) east of Modesto, 194 miles (over 3 hours drive) east of San Francisco, and 266 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Los Angeles
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