Opal Creek

Opal Creek

Willamette National Forest

Opal Creek Wilderness 


Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 5-7 miles
Elevation Gain: minimal
Location: Opal Creek Wilderness, east of Salem

Just two hours from Portland, a hike into the old-growth groves of Opal Creek is like a walk back in time - to Oregon as it was before logging and development. Trees up to 250 feet high and 1,000 years old can be found here, as well as rare wildlife and beautiful waterfalls. This amazing area is home to a tremendous diversity of fish, wildlife, and plants, including elk, black bears, and the endangered northern spotted owl. In addition to wildlife, hikers exploring Opal Creek can marvel at the sight of dozens of waterfalls, several lakes, and massive cedar and Douglas fir trees that were already ancient when Lewis and Clark first explored Oregon 200 years ago.

About the Hike

This hike begins on a gravel road, which residents of Jawbone Flats can drive on but visitors must park and walk. It  crosses Gold Creek on a 60-foot-high bridge, then skirts the cliffs above the Little North Santiam River and through an old-growth forest. While walking through Jawbone Flats you may see old rusting vehicles, mining equipent, and  restored cabins. Two miles in you’ll reach Mertern Mill and see some of the machinery left behind from the area’s mining days. Continue 0.2 miles past the mill and go right at the fork, cross a 100-foot bridge, and then keep left for the Opal Creek Trail. After a mile there will be a sign pointing to Opal Pool’s scenic gorge. 

The Dirt

Though the rare old-growth forest and pristine waters of Opal Creek are today preserved as Wilderness, in the 1990s the region was the center of intense controversy over plans by the U.S. Forest Service to allow logging in this unspoiled area. The efforts of Oregon Wild and other conservation groups helped stop the logging and win Wilderness protection for Opal Creek in 1996.

Getting There

From Salem, drive east on North Santiam Highway 22 for 23 miles to Mehama’s second flashing yellow light. Turn left on Little North Fork Road for 15 paved miles and 1.3 gravel miles. Go left at the fork onto Road 2209 and continue 4.2 miles to a locked gate and park.