hikes

July 26, 2015

Opal Creek

Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation gain: hiking books say 300 ft. gain, my GPS said 800 ft. gain

I’ve never hiked at Opal Creek at this time of year when the water levels are much lower, and it makes it look quite a bit different. See this post for photos with higher water levels: Opal Creek, May 2013

HIKE DESCRIPTION

This is a hike with a lot of Oregon history. The trail begins on a gated gravel road to Jawbone Flats, a former mining town with buildings dating from the late 1920s. The area was originally a summer camp for the native Santiam tribe, where for hundreds of years, they met to trade items from the Pacific Northwest. In the 1850s, gold was discovered, and mining for lead, zinc, copper and silver continued until the 1980s. There was also an operating sawmill, Merten Mill, until the 1940s when it burned down. In the 1980s, there was much controversy over logging the area, and after twenty year legal battle, it was designated as a protected scenic wilderness area. Old mining and sawmill machinery relics and vehicles are scattered throughout the wooded areas alongside the trail and in the tiny town.

The trail traverses the forest next to the Little North Santiam River, with waterfalls and deep pools of emerald green water along stretches of this crystal clear river. The first 2 miles are on the gravel road that residents of Jawbone Flats can drive on, but all hikers park behind the gate at the trailhead. Along this first section of trail, there is an old mining shaft located on the left side of the trail, and several side trails on the right side that lead to viewpoints. About 2 miles in, a side trail leads to an area filled with old mining and sawmill machinery. Look for an old building that is barely still standing, and the trail beside it that goes towards the river. This leads to impressive Sawmill Falls, the end of the line for the winter run of steelhead coming up this river. Back on the trail, in another .2 miles is a bridge going over the river to the Opal Creek trail. Both the road and this loop trail lead to Jawbone Flats, so turning right to cross the bridge is a nice alternative to the road trail. The trail traverses the hillside next to the river, and crosses several smaller tributaries on rustic bridges before reaching Opal Pool, a deep pool of  water with high walls of rock surrounding it. Just above the pool, the water chutes through a narrow gorge, and a bridge above that leads back to the road and Jawbone Flats. From here, take the road all the way back to the trailhead.

the first section of the hike is along a gravel road

Opal Creek hike

large pool of water on the river

Opal Creek hike

Jawbone Flats

Opal Creek hike

Jawbone Flats sign

Opal Creek hike

home in Jawbone Flats

Opal Creek hike

old machinery

Opal Creek hike

Jawbone Flats

Opal Creek hike

small home in Jawbone Flats

Opal Creek hike

signs

Opal Creek hike

Battle Ax creek

Opal Creek hike

bridge at Jawbone Flats

Opal Creek hike

narrow gorge at Opal Pool

Opal Creek hike

Opal Pool

Opal Creek hike

view from above the river

Opal Creek hike

campsite next to the river

Opal Creek hike

trail through the forest

Opal Creek hike

old footbridge

Opal Creek hike

forest above the river

Opal Creek hike

ferns

Opal Creek hike

lush green forest

Opal Creek hike

new footbridge

Opal Creek hike

tall trees

Opal Creek hike

green waters of the Little North Santiam River

Opal Creek hike

Sawmill Falls

Opal Creek hike

emerald green water in a pool

Opal Creek hike

barely standing barn

Opal Creek hike

old sawmill relics

Opal Creek hike

sawmill equipment from the 1930s

Opal Creek hike

water running through roots of a tree

Opal Creek hike

old mine

Opal Creek hike

new half-bridges on the road

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