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Opal Pool-Cedar Flats Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Waterfall on Opal Creek (bobcat)
Old ore cart on the Jawbone Flats road (cfm)
At the Opal Pool (bobcat)
Opal Pool Falls (bobcat)
On the way to Cedar Flats, Kopetski Trail (bobcat)
The official trail ends with the crossing at Beachie Creek
Updated map of the Opal Creek trails
  • Start point: Opal Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cedar Flats
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 10.5 miles round trip
  • High point: 2,480 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1240 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All, but check conditions in winter first
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes

Contents

Hike Description

Although the beginning of this hike is not a trail, after visiting here you may consider it one of the most scenic roads you will ever walk upon. You will travel through magnificent old growth, gaze upon the dazzling turquoise waters of the Little North Santiam, and view part of the mining history and artifacts of Little North Santiam Mining District. Above the pellucid emerald splendor of the Opal Pool, you can branch off from the popular lollipop loop and take a new alignment of the Kopetski Trail up Opal Creek's east bank to the ancient groves at Cedar Flats. You can make the return via the historic company town of Jawbone Flats, now part private environmental education center and part outdoor museum. While none of this hike is in the federally-designated Opal Creek Wilderness, it is all part of the adjacent Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area: the jurisdiction for both areas became law in September 1996 after a 16-year battle to curtail Forest Service plans to log the drainage. You can shorten the time taken for this hike by riding a sturdy bicycle in to the Kopetski-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction or as far as Jawbone Flats and hiking from there.

For the first part of this hike, you will be traveling on a gravel road. The track is used by the residents and guests of Jawbone Flats only, so it is not likely that you will encounter any vehicles. Head past the gate at the trailhead and walk along the road in an ancient forest of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, and western hemlock. Salal and Oregon grape form the understory as the road drops. Look down the slope for massive Douglas-firs several hundred years old. Cross the Gold Creek Bridge and view the cascades and pool in the chasm below. The road rises to the Whetstone Mountain-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction, the former trail an old jeep track, FR 2209-330, leading up to the left.

The road bed drops and passes along the recently redesigned “half-bridges” in a steep-sided canyon, the Little North Santiam rushing way below. Pass an old adit as the road levels and then rises. At the top of the rise, a spur leads right to an overlook. Descend and the trail levels to cross several small creeks. A road turnout leads right into the area where equipment from the Merten Mill lies abandoned. Look for relics of the mining era, such as a boiler and smelter, and walk past a picnic table. Before a decrepit wooden shed, take a short trail that leads to the river and the Cascada de los Ninos (or Sawmill Falls). Back on the main road, the tread rises. There are more cascades on the Little North Santiam to the right. Pass an outhouse. The road levels again, and a sign indicates the Kopetski-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction.

The Kopetski Trail #4187 leads right across a long footbridge over the alder-shaded turquoise pools of the Little North Santiam River. Thirty yards after crossing the bridge, reach the Kopetski-Stony Creek Trail Junction and keep left. Cross three small creeks on small footbridges and make a gentle ascent. On the left through the trees, see Slide Falls on the Little North Santiam. There’s a campsite here just where the trail switchbacks up to the right, winding up and then around a rocky buttress where, in the spring, white fawn lilies with their mottled leaves sprout. Head down, passing a campsite on the left, and enter a thicket of younger trees - this small, swampy area was logged in the past. Pass another campsite down to the left. Opal Pool is to your left, and various spur trails offer different vantage points. Look down from the rocks into a narrow gorge on Opal Creek and the lovely turquoise (or emerald, depending on the light) pool where the creek has scoured a passage down to the bedrock. To the south, Opal Pool Falls cascades above a cleft on the creek that feeds into the Opal Pool. Keep walking and reach the sturdy footbridge to Jawbone Flats on the left. The old trail trail alignment continues for a way along the west bank of Opal Creek, but the footbridge to the opposite bank was dismantled in 2012, so go left here.

Cross the substantial footbridge above the Opal Pool and pause to admire the narrow cleft downstream and Opal Pool Falls upstream. The trail then switchbacks up to the Battle Ax Creek-Kopetski Trail North Junction at old road bed of FR 2209, now the Battle Ax Creek Trail. Take a right here on this road. At a switchback in the road, reach the Battle Ax Creek-Kopetski Trail South Junction and go right. This new alignment of the Kopetski Trail #4187 was completed in 2014 to replace the trail on the west side of Opal Creek, which was abandoned when the upper bridge over the creek collapsed.

The Kopetski Trail is rather rough and rooty as it rises in mossy Douglas-fir/hemlock woods with an understory of salal. Switchback up twice, rise and then drop steeply to stop between the second and third tiers of Flume Creek Falls. Stop here to absorb some negative ions, and then as you continue on the trail, look back to the lowest (and highest) tier of the falls. The trail rises a little and then descends a slope to undulate along above Opal Creek (You’ll pass the junction with the old trail route on this descent). Pass some large old growth Douglas-firs and then get a vista up the creek to a small but beautiful waterfall. The trail splits, the right track approaching the waterfall more closely. Pass below a mossy scree slope and come to another spur trail that leads to the creek. Head up a mossy slope. A spur to the right offers a viewpoint over the creek. Go down to a campsite and a view of another waterfall. From here, the trail rises on a rocky tread and crosses a small creek. Descend and undulate along a densely forested slope of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and Pacific yew. On a wet day, the blood orange bark of the yews glistens in the understory. Drop down to Cedar Flats. Almost immediately, you’ll meet a handful of very large cedars, the oldest perhaps 1,000 years old. Across Cedar Flats, the trail keeps close to the creek and passes a few campsites. Eventually, you’ll reach Beachie Creek, which is the end of any significant trail.

Return to the Battle Ax Creek-Kopetski Trail North Junction. Continue straight here if you don’t want to revisit the Opal Pool, and pass the national forest boundary to arrive at the private inholding of the Ancient Forest Center at Jawbone Flats. You pass through an open meadow with an ore crusher to your right. Then you’ll reach a small picnic shelter and a composting toilet. Soon, you’ll pass by an outdoor museum of rusting equipment and vehicles from the days when Amalgamated Mines held sway here. Go right over the Battle Ax Creek Bridge (There's a new bridge as of early 2015). Pass various cabins and buildings from the mining days of the 1930s before exiting Jawbone Flats and continuing up FR 2209 to the Kopetski-Jawbone Flats Trail Junction. Keep hiking up the road 3.3 miles to the trailhead.

Note:

For those enthralled with the Opal Creek area who wish to continue upstream, a trail continues across Beachie Creek but is not maintained. You can ford Beachie Creek or slide across some large logs suspended above it. Follow a rough, unmaintained path through a grove of massive Douglas-firs and over a fairly steep slope to reach an unnamed 80-foot waterfall about a mile upstream at the Franklin Grove, another collection of ancient cedars. It is possible to continue bushwhacking up Opal Creek, passing 250-foot Opal Falls and finally reaching Opal Lake in approximately four miles. This bushwhack should not be done as a day-hike and is only recommended to those who either have a car-shuttle (There is a trail to Opal Lake that drops down from FR 2207) or have set up camp somewhere near Cedar Flats. Do not attempt this unless you are prepared and have extensive bushwhacking experience.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Battle Ax, OR #524 (partial)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • Geo-Graphics: Bull of the Woods and Opal Creek Wilderness Map
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest: Detroit Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required at trailhead
  • Dogs on leash in Jawbone Flats
  • Respect private property in the Jawbone Flats area: keep to the main road and walk your bike
  • The gravel road/trail to Jawbone Flats is not wilderness, but trails north and east of the mining area are, so all normal wilderness rules apply: no groups larger than 12, no bikes, and leave no trace.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon's History by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • 50 Hikes in Oregon by David L. Anderson
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • I Heart Oregon (& Washington) by Lisa D. Holmes
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • 50 Old-Growth Hikes in the Willamette National Forest by John & Diane Cissel (map)
  • Wild in the Willamette edited by Lorraine Anderson with Abby Phillips Metzger
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Oregon's Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon edited by Falcon Guides
  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson
  • A Hiker's Guide to Oregon's Hidden Wilderness (Central Cascades Conservation Council)

More Links

Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.