The old-growth forests and emerald pools of Opal Creek were an environmental battleground for years until a land swap with a timber company who owned the logging rights. Opal Creek’s 31,000-acre watershed, which includes a grove of 1,000-year-old 250-foot red cedar, has been called the most intact old-growth ecosystem on the West Coast.
While old-growth trees abound not far from the parking lot, be sure to cross over to the south side of the North Fork of the Little Santiam River (indicated by trailside signs). Here you can take in the placid Opal Pool, a small circular translucent aquamarine catch-basin at the base of a cascade that cuts through limestone. Located several miles from the parking lot over gently rolling terrain, Opal Pool is the perfect day-hike destination.
There aren’t just trees and pools of water at Opal Creek; the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center (503/892-2782, http://opalcreek.org) is an environmental education center with a few cabins for rent ($125 and up). A nearby Bureau of Land Management campground, Elkhorn Valley, is a good place to camp and stage a day trip to Opal Creek.
Getting to Opal Creek
To get to Opal Creek from Salem, take Route 22 for 19 miles east to Mehama. At the second flashing yellow light (at the corner with Swiss Village), turn left off Route 22 onto Little North Fork Santiam River Road past the State Forestry office and go about 15 miles toward the Elkhorn Recreation Area.
Stay on this route until Forest Service Road 2209 (mostly gravel) and be sure to veer left, uphill, at the Y intersection. About 6 miles past the Willamette National Forest sign, a locked gate will bar your car from proceeding farther down Road 2209. Park and follow the trail to a large wooden map displaying various hiking options.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel