Matt and I got around to hiking the recently completed Holce-Wilark leg of the Crown Z Trail, now that the route negotiation is complete and active logging near the Holce end has finished. The terminal trailhead is signed and connects through to Banks-Vernonia Trail via city streets. It is a beautiful conclusion to a great trail.
We launched from the long-established Wilark Trailhead. The route to Holce goes around the gate and over a placid Elk Creek.
We didn’t see a ton of birds this time around, but in late spring and summer it’s a fantastic location for some of our rarely-seen forest songbirds, including Hermit Warbler and Warbling Vireo. There was a lot of elk, deer, and coyote sign, and I caught a Dusky Shrew in the same small clearing where I previously had seen a Deer Mouse.
The trail starts basically flat for 300 yards and then begins a steady climb up one of the more substantial hills on the CZ, gaining 500 feet of elevation over the next mile. This entire stretch is well-forested and completely isolated from the highway or any other man-made structures. It’s not particularly exciting in terms of scenery, but if you’re looking for a quiet hike away from people it’s the best option on the entire Crown Z trail.
For approximately three-quarters of a mile we maintained this higher elevation. There are two logging road turnoffs onto Weyerhaeuser land during this stretch. In both cases the CZ Trail is clearly marked, but keep your eyes out so you don’t get lost!
The final three-quarters of a mile to Holce Trailhead is a rapid descent of 400 feet back to the starting elevation. This is where you pass through the clearcut that delayed trail access for some time. Arriving at the Holce Trailhead puts you 2.6 hiking miles from where you started at Wilark, giving you a 5.2 mile round-trip total if you desire (which will start with a nice huff-and-puff up that hill you just came down).
We’ve documented 10 species of reptiles and amphibians along this section of the trail, including five different kinds of salamander. The most interesting was this young subadult Northwestern Salamander eyeing a Pacific Banana Slug (his eyes might be bigger than his stomach) near the Holce Trailhead. You can see his body arching with white fluid beading on the tail. That is a defense response caused by me coming too close – the white fluid is poisonous and would sicken any predator who tried to eat him.
Speaking of banana slugs, a year ago Matt photographed a number of them feeding on mushrooms near the Wilark end of the trail. Slugs and snails are the butterflies of the fungus world – they eat the mushroom “fruiting bodies” and then defecate the spores across the forest floor, allowing new mushrooms to spread and grow. Banana slugs also eat dead plants, fallen leaves, and animal droppings, converting it all into rich forest soil.
A big thumbs up to Holce Trailhead and the newly passable final segment of the CZ Trail – vigorous climbs, quiet forests, and the life and death struggles of the banana slug.
Wilark Trailhead to Holce Trailhead at a glance
What: hiking, wildlife viewing
Where: Wilark Trailhead (45.83151, -123.04645) is just off of Scappoose-Vernonia Highway 16.9 miles west of Hwy 30 or 3.1 miles east of Hwy 47. Holce Trailhead (45.86677, -123.16072) is at the end of E Knott Street, off Hwy 47 just 0.6 miles north of Vernonia.
Hiking: It is 2.6 miles to get from Wilark Trailhead to Holce Trailhead, with ~500 feet of elevation gain in a single climb each direction.
Notable Wildlife: Roosevelt Elk, forest songbirds, Pacific Banana Slugs
Property status: Columbia County Parks