Deep in a remote, densely wooded basin in the Cascade Mountain range, on the edge of the Willamette Valley, is the home of some of Oregon’s oldest and largest Douglas firs. These trees measure up to 11 feet in diameter. Protected by a ring of cliffs, believed to have been carved thousands of years ago by an Ice Age glacier, Crabtree Valley is sheltered from wildfires and windstorms, allowing the trees to grow for a very long time; many reach towering heights of up to 270 feet. The age of the massive trees is unknown since core samples have never been taken, however, estimates range from 500 to 1,000 years.
By definition, “old growth” means a forest that has undergone no major unnatural changes (such as logging) for more than 100 to 150 years, contains young, mature and standing dead trees (snags) and provides a home for a diversity of wildlife species. The most important feature of an old-growth forest is its resilience. The wooded areas under and surrounding old growth timber stands are a jungle of vine maple, yew, huckleberries and young trees. Such diversity is one of the reasons biologists value old growth. Old growth stands contain all or most of the species of wildlife, fish and plants that are native to them, undergoing constant change. Natural events such as fire or windstorms can alter these forests, but they recover quickly.
The Crabtree area can be reached by driving almost entirely on paved roads; from there a moderate two-mile walk, partly on abandoned roadbeds, provides a pleasant path that leads into the “Hall of Giants,” as well as to a rarely visited mountain lake suitable for swimming or fishing. A trail around the shore to the left leads hikers past a backpacking campsite and a cliff-edge viewpoint. Gigantic cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir trees rise on either hand for a breathtaking view.
To reach the trailhead, drive past Foster Lake and then north up the Quartzville Recreational Corridor, skirting Green Peter Reservoir. Continue along this paved, two-lane road along the Quartzville Creek to milepost 20, where you will fork uphill to the left on a one-lane paved road (11-3E-35.3) for 6.4 miles, sticking to pavement at junctions. Drive slowly because the narrow road has fallen rocks, potholes and sheer ravines off the shoulder. Eventually, the pavement ends at a junction. Park here if you are driving a low-clearance vehicle. Otherwise, turn sharply left on a rocky, bumpy road for .9 mile to a parking turnaround.
The hike is an easy trek walk past boulders and along the abandoned roadbed; the route curves to the right through a pass, entering Crabtree Valley. For the next 1.1 mile the old road descends along a slope. At the bottom of the hill you’ll pass a concrete barricade and reach a small gravel road. Bear left along the track another .7 mile, past another concrete barricade and along a closed road you will reach Crabtree Lake. Down the trail to the left, across the lake’s outlet creek you will find the lakeshore path. Side trails to the left lead to cliff-edge viewpoints. The lakeside trail itself gradually disappears amid giant trees. The largest of the gigantic trees will be a few hundred yards ahead and to the left.