Opal Creek Wilderness

The first time I visited Opal Creek Wilderness, it was on a rainy, soggy winter day. By the time I returned to the trail head after a 7-mile hike, my iPhone and camera had stopped working due to the humidity, yet I was all smiles. Why? Despite the damaged electronics, my soul was recharged and I felt blissful for being able to experience such a magical place!


Since that day in late 2012, I’ve been back a few times (armed with a handful of silicon gel packs to help protect my gear) and every trip offers a bit of magic.  This hike was no exception.

My girlfriend and I headed out on a windy Sunday morning from Bend and arrived at the trailhead around 10 am after a three-hour drive. The hike begins by continuing down the same road one takes to reach the wilderness. According to the map on wilderness.net,1 everything to the north of this road is the Wilderness Area, but they’ve closed this road to public use (great!) and is only accessible by permission from the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. It looks like a nice warm day, but there was a powerful cold wind that blew branches onto the highways and had us looking for our gloves when we stopped for more than a few minutes.  However, there wasn’t any snow on this February day.  Not so good for the ecology, but pretty cool for this hiker.


Here’s the GPS track from the hike for this project (Feb 22, 2015):

Here’s the road/trail into the wilderness. It was most likely constructed in 1939 under President Roosevelt’s New Deal. 2


There’s a lot of visible human history here in the Opal Creek Wilderness.  Mining was big business here from 1859 well into the 1940s, where mining camps dug out gold, zinc, lead, copper and silver. Along with ecological and geological features, The Wilderness Act of 1964 protects these rusted metal cogs, bent pipes, and machinery found peeking out of the green forest.3  Jawbone Flats mining camp is still a small village in the center of the Wilderness  that most hikers pass through to get to Opal Pool.4  This structure below is from the Sawmill Falls area (Photographed: Feb, 2015).  I suppose this is the old sawmill. Whatever it is, it seems to be just a light breeze away from falling over. Then again, I recall saying that on my first visit to this wilderness in 2013.


It had rained in the last week or so, but thanks to the wind, most of the ground was fairly dry.  We did find a few soggy sections of trail throughout the day. (Photographed: Feb, 2015)


Jasmine’s eagle eye spotted this possible bobcat track along the side of the trail. (Ruler is in centimeters.) (Photographed: Feb, 2015)


Opal Creek Wilderness is home of many amphibians, including this Rough Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa). There are seven species of salamanders in Opal Creek as well.5 (Photographed December 2012)


Bird’s nest fungi (Nidula candida) is one of my favorite fungi to find on my hikes. Note the dark grey peridioles (or spore packets) that have been dispersed and are sticking to the nearby leaf. I recently wrote about bird’s nest fungi here. (Photographed: Feb, 2015)


Although the easiest path in the Opal Creek Wilderness is the main forestry road, there’s many small side trails leading down to the Little North Fork of the Santiam River and hidden treasures. Jasmine and I would have felt more like early explorers if it wasn’t for all of the evidence of mining.  This beautiful spot has an old mine shaft and was where an old bridge crossed the river, but it did have a beautiful little waterfall. (Photographed: Feb, 2015)



We then crossed the first footbridge over the Little North Fork of the Santiam River and onto the Kopetski Trail. I prefer hiking on this south-side trail then spending more time on the road.(Photographed: Feb, 2015)





About 3.5 miles from the trailhead, you reach Opal Pool. Like many of the treasures in this wilderness, there will not be any signs directing you to the pool, but you’ll find it off the Kopetski Trail just below the footbridge. The next two photos were taken in the summer of 2013.  It’s much too cold to swim in during the winter. (Photographed June 2013)



Just upstream from Opal Pool is a footbridge and some beautiful waterfalls.  I stood on the footbridge to take the following two photos. (Photographed: Feb, 2015)





  1. Wilderness.net Map – http://www.wilderness.net/map
  2. Opal Creek – History & Ecology – http://www.opalcreek.org/history-ecology/
  3. The Wilderness Act of 1964: Definition of Wilderness: An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which… (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. – http://www.wilderness.net/nwps/legisact
  4. Opal Creek – History & Ecology – http://www.opalcreek.org/history-ecology/
  5. Opal Creek Wilderness- Species found in Opal Creek – http://www.opalcreek.org/history-ecology/species-found-at-opal-creek/

7 Responses

  1. Hey Kolby,
    Its really exciting to hear about your own Hikes Challenge! Doing it last year was truly one of the most meaningful personal experiences I’ve ever had. We’d love to have you do a blog post or two for Oregon Wild throughout your challenge. If you want to meet up for a beer to swap trail stories or if I can be helpful with any trail recommendations, just let me know. Well done, sir!


  2. Jaime says:

    Sounds amazing!!! We’re putting this hike on our to hike list for sure!

  3. Marilyn says:

    Hi Kolby. Saw your 159 day video on pinterest! Really enjoyed it. Love the dance you do at the end!! I’ve been reading about your journal pages. Really cool.

  4. Jaime says:

    Beautiful! Sounds amazing.

  1. March 29, 2015

    […] To continue reading, please visit my other site, The Wilds Project. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *