Last visited this trail in 2002. At that time, there was no official bridge crossing Crestone Creek at the TH. We were able to get across on fallen logs, but in higher runoff, you may have to wade. After crossing the creek from the TH, the trail climbs east up an open hill, then begins a series of switchbacks through forest, crosses a ridge and then contours up valley, well above Willow Creek. As the trail approaches a large waterfall it climbs on switchbacks more steeply, heading in a more southerly direction, crosses Willow Creek below the waterfall on a log bridge, and climbs steeply up an area of rubble as it turns back to the east and begins to level out as it approaches the beautiful Willow Lake. A scenic waterfall plunges into the far eastern end of the lake. Overall, this is a moderately strenuous backpack. Trail is maintained and easy to follow except where it crosses back over Willow Creek above the waterfall and a little before the lake.
Note: Expect high weekend traffic at the trailhead because this is an access for climbing Challenger and Kit Carson and has become very popular.
Main camping on the approach is at Willow Lake. In keeping with FS camping policies, campsites are located away from the lake and along the northern side, somewhat elevated above the lake. Also, there are sites well before reaching the lake on the hike in. Watch for FS signs designating where to camp. Camping locations may have changed due to FS regulations since our last visit in 2002. There are also some limited primitive camping spots at and just before arriving at the trailhead.
Note: This area has become very popular with the 14er bagging crowd. Competition for campsites at Willow Lake on weekends may result.