Living here in Oregon, we are very close to tons of hiking areas. One of these very close areas I have been meaning to go to is called “Opal Creek”.
Getting there is quite easy from Portland. Head towards Salem and the go east on Hwy 22. Head out until you see the “Swiss Village” on your right hand side just past the Lions, Oregon turn off. Directly across the Swiss Village is a road called “North Fork Rd.”; turn left there. The road starts out pavement, but will turn to gravel. You will come to a fork in the road; stay left (forest road 2209).
This road dead ends to the trail head (which is just a road). As an FYI there is a vaulted toilet up there and to park, you will need the mandatory (very normal) Northwest Forest Pass.
The hike into this area is known as Jawbone flats.
This is a very easy 6.25 miles round trip with only a 200 foot elevation gain. Bikes are allowed on the road between the gate and Jawbone Flats, but not on the trail system itself.
The main trail follows a primitive dirt road through an old-growth forest in the Opal Creek Wilderness. Crossing Gold Creek on a 60 foot tall bridge, you continue up the Little North Santiam River valley passing 700 year-old trees, abandoned mines and the Bertha E. Hewitt Memorial Grove, where the forest canopy towers far overhead.
After 2 miles you reach the historic Merten Mill, built in 1943, a steam-powered sawmill that logged five of the surrounding acres. The operation ended after two of the company’s logging trucks fell off a steep area of the road, proving the logging risky and unprofitable. No other commercial logging occurred within the Scenic Recreation Area. A short side trail behind the mill leads to Cascada de los Ninos (Waterfall of the Children) a 30-foot falls that marks the end of the native winter steelhead run.
The road forks 0.2 miles ahead giving you two options. You can continue on the road another 1.1 miles to the historic mining town of Jawbone Flats, a collection of buildings built between 1929 and 1932. A short distance from camp is Opal Pool, a scenic gorge and an easy day-hiking goal. To get there, continue through camp across Battle Axe Creek Bridge making a right turn past a building humming with a water-powered generator. Continue down the road to a sign indicating a short trail to Opal Pool.
Those wanting to continue up to Opal Creek, make a right turn across a log bridge, and turn left following the Opal Creek Trail. This trail winds its way for a mile before reaching an overlook for Opal Pool. The trail then ascends Opal Creek for another 3 miles passing many waterfalls before reaching Cedar Flats, a trio of 1000 year old Western Red Cedars.
All in all, we had a great day and a wonderful hike. Pack your lunch, bring some water and make it a day.