Walk an Ancient Forest & the Santiam River
A moderately challenging hike to Jawbone Flats leaves hikers awed at beautiful ancient forest and river. Dogs, bikes are allowed on the Opal Creek Trail east of Salem.
Opal Creek, located in the Cascade Mountains east of Salem, Oregon is a beautiful place. The massive ancient trees, crystal clear pristine water, sky blue, and slate rocks, and sense of enveloping nature awe its many hikers. In the summer heat, this hike is great because it’s mostly shaded. The main trail surface consists of a gravel road, which the staff of Friends of Opal Creek uses to bring in supplies and staff. But there are also trails that extend from the main road and places to stop and take in the views. The pace can be whatever hikers make it.
Opal Creek Trail
The hike to Jawbone Flats is about 7 miles roundtrip, moderately challenging with small hills and a well-maintained dirt road. Make sure to bring a camera, good shoes, and a jacket, as the shade can be cool. Dogs and bicycles are allowed. There are also two outhouses along the way for convenience.
From the end of the road, begin the trek to Jawbone Flats. The Opal Creek trail follows a gravel road, winding along the Little North Fork of the Santiam River. Quick flowing streams flow under the road, cascading to the river below. Just off the main trail, several short paths allow hikers to view several 30-foot waterfalls. Make sure to pay attention to the signs. The road meanders through old-growth forests, some of which are 700 years old. Hikers will notice the abandoned mines and sawmill along the trail. Once at Jawbone Flats, hikers can either continue on to Opal Pool or return to the parking area
How to Get to the Opal Creek Trailhead, east of Salem, Oregon
As the Opal Creek hike requires a short drive to the trailhead, directions are important. From Salem, take Hwy 22 east to Lyons, take a left on North Fork Road traveling 20 miles until the road turns to gravel. Keep going on the gravel road, taking the left fork for about 4 miles. Total mileage from Salem is about 45 miles. When you reach the parking lot, make sure to have your Trail Park permit visible when parking, or pay $5 for one here.
Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center
Until 1992, the Opal Creek area was part of a working mine, the Shiny Rock Mining Company. The land was then given to the Friends of Opal Creek to protect. The Friends Of Opal Creek help keep the Opal Creek ecosystem protected and provide education on ancient forests. In 2005, the organization’s name changed to Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center.
The Center hosts several workshops and educational opportunities throughout the year. Family workshops focus on identifying plants and animals while other opportunities include titles such as “Yoga in the Ancient Forest”. Youth summer camps and backpacking trips are also held at the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center.
Several cabins are available for rentals at Jawbone Flats. These cabins are fully furnished, with kitchens. Make sure to contact Opal Creek for reservations and policies.
For more information on Oregon hiking, read Hiking Trails in Western Oregon.