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Little North Santiam Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The rock pillar at Three Pools, Little North Santiam Trail (bobcat)
Violet cortinarius (Cortinarius violaceus), Little North Santiam (bobcat)
Footbridge in the mossy forest (cfm)
The pellucid waters of the Little North Santiam (bobcat)
Admiring an old-growth Douglas-fir, Little North Santiam Trail (bobcat)
The route of the Little North Santiam Trail (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS


Hike Description

Treat your eyes to a visual feast of green and turquoise as you hike through an old growth forest along a magical river with deep pools. This hike on the Willamette National Forest's Little North Santiam Trail #3338 is located in the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area. The route parallels the river with a trailhead at either end, but be prepared for quite a few ups and downs. The trail can generally be hiked all year; if you prefer solitude, avoid the summer, when the crowds converge on the river's well-known swimming holes, especially those at Three Pools. This is a great trail for shuttling or stashing your bike near the Little North Santiam East Trailhead before driving back to the Little North Santiam West Trailhead.

Starting at the Little North Santiam West Trailhead, you'll head into a Douglas-fir plantation. The trail drops through a rocky area and switchbacks down. Soon enter an old-growth Douglas-fir/hemlock forest. A spur leads left to the bank of the Little North Santiam. Switchback down to a footbridge. This part of the trail exhibits a variety of mushroom species in the fall. Descend a little, and make a traverse. Another spur leads down to a cobbled bar where a mossy rock offers a good look at the river and low, wide Elkhorn Falls. The trail undulates and then drops down wood steps to a footbridge. At river level now, you're hiking under old-growth Douglas-firs and western red-cedars. A spur leads left to rocks and a defile in the river through which gushes a small waterfall. Salal, Oregon grape, and sword fern form the lush understory. When you reach a junction, keep right here and head up past some large Douglas-firs. The path switchbacks up, and then weaves up and down to a lookout over the river under a large cedar. Make two switchbacks up a rock face, and follow the edge of a cliff. Then drop to a rocky stream with a thin thread of a waterfall below. Rise again and see Lower Henline Falls (Triple Falls) through the trees on the opposite bank of the Little North Santiam. Pass a campfire circle and more large Douglas-firs. Traverse to the right, and then switchback up. There’s a view left to Henline Mountain and the gorge below. Wind up, and make nine switchbacks on a rooty tread to an open viewpoint.

Continue to rise, and then descend in four switchbacks into dark woods. Look for a tall nurse stump hosting a hemlock with 15-foot roots. Cross a footbridge, and make three switchbacks down. You'll undulate above the river before reaching the log crossing at Crown Creek (Two hundred yards west of Crown Creek is the abandoned trail up to the old Crown Mine. It's very hard to find under the sword ferns at its junction with the Little North Santiam Trail.). Pass a spur down to a large campsite. Cross a salal bench, a note a forested island where the river braids. Cross a creek on planks, and look for the short spurs to the left for clifftop views to the Three Pools area.

Take a side trail that leads down to the rocky defiles and contorted formations of Three Pools. A natural pillar, unfortunately with frayed ropes attached, rears up from the river. Clamber around to your left to discover a grotto with two entrances, a formation scoured by the river when it was at a higher level. This area has become Oregon's most popular swimming hole in recent years as attested to by the 90-car parking lot at Shady Cove across the river. Broken glass litters the creek bottom, and the river valley is filled with screams and yells. In fall and winter, you're likely to have the place to yourself.

Continuing on the main trail, you'll pass another campsite. Cross the sturdy footbridge over Little Cedar Creek, and switchback up to get views down to pellucid pools on the Little North Santiam. Cross another creek, and note a massive Douglas-fir to your right. Look up to see insulators from an old lookout wire. The trail proceeds to a view of the road bridge over the river and reaches the Little North Santiam East Trailhead on FR 2207. Over the bridge to your left is the Shady Cove Campground. From the bridge, you can look up the Little North Santiam to its confluence with Cedar Creek.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • 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
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades , by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Wild in the Willamette edited by Lorraine Anderson with Abby Phillips Metzger

More Links


  • cfm (creator)
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.

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