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Pets allowed
Yes
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
7.20 mi (11.59 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Until 1998, the fate of the old-growth forest surrounding Opal Creek was in jeopardy due to highly controversial Forest Service logging proposals for the area.  Luckily for hikers, sun bathers and outdoor enthusiasts, the area is now protected as the Opal Creek Wilderness. The Opal Creek Hiking Trail is the ideal way to tour this diverse area.

Gold mining in the valley began as early as 1859, centered around Jawbone Flats, and continued as late as 1992.  Remnants of the mining operations can be seen along the entire length of the hike, including abandoned mine shafts, old machinery, structures from Merten Mill, and by visiting the rejuvenated community of Jawbone Flats.

Beyond exploring the valley's history, the Opal Creek Hiking Trail will lead you to some of the state's best swimming holes...albeit with very cold and often shaded water.  Jump in the pools below Sawmill Falls, shoot yourself through Slide Falls only three quarters of a mile down the trail, or take the roughly 30-foot plunge into Opal Pool. More, continue an additional 1.5 miles past Jawbone Flats and Opal Pool along Opal Creek to Cedar Flats where a grove of western red cedars up to 1,000 years old soar over the valley floor and remind us what a true old-growth forest feels like.

Note: Significant crowding, vandalism, and disruptive behavior have resulted in several new regulations. The implementation of these regulations follows an extensive public comment period. Effective May 26, 2017:

  • Cars will be turned away once the 90-space parking lot for Three Pools is full, and parking will no longer be allowed outside of the parking lot.
  • Significantly, alcohol is now prohibited at the Three Pools Recreation Site.
  • Campfires are now prohibited along the route from the Opal Creek Gate Trailhead to Jawbone Flats. Parking will only be allowed within a quarter mile of the trailhead.
  • Camping is prohibited for 5 miles up Road 46 along the Breitenbush River 500 feet from the roadway.
  • Camping is prohibited at Elk Lake outside of the official Elk Lake Campground.
  • Dispersed camping is prohibited for the first 2 miles up French Creek Road and 8 miles on Blowout Creek Road.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass

Pros

Stunning river. Waterfalls. Swimming. Historic mine.

Cons

Peak summer crowds.

Trailhead Elevation

1,900.00 ft (579.12 m)

Net Elevation Gain

200.00 ft (60.96 m)

Address

Opal Creek Trail
Gates, OR 97346
United States

Features

Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Mine
Waterfalls
Old-growth forest

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

08/27/2017
The Opal Creek area is a study in contrasts. Not so much the landscape, but in its visitors. I arrived at 1:00 PM on a Sunday and the trailhead was pretty packed. Note that I saw no evidence of anyone being turned away due to capacity, nor did I see any Ranger or police presence of any kind the entire day, save for a few volunteers at Jawbone Flats.

My goal for the day wasn't Opal Pool itself, but rather Cedar Flats, a little over 5 miles in from the trailhead. I stuck to the old road all the way through to Jawbone Flats, then continued through and took a right onto the Kopetski Trail at the Battle Ax Creek - Kopetski Trail junction. This is where the contrast showed itself.

The way in on the old road was bordering upon overrun. Families with small children, teenagers with giant inflatable novelty inner tubes and blaring music over bluetooth radios, and I even saw one guy on what looked like an improvised one-wheel skateboard while carrying his young daughter. If this is the "after regulations" crowd, I can't even imagine what the "before" would have looked like.

However, things changed as soon as I turned onto Kopetski. Immediately the trail changed from a gravel forest road to a narrow, switchbacking, incredibly rooty path. And just as immediately, all other trace of human life vanished. I'm terrible at distance estimates, but I'd guess that from the trail junction to Cedar Flats is a little under 2 miles, and I didn't see a single other person the entire time.

The trail here alternates between hugging Opal Creek fairly closely to suddenly jutting up and away from it in steep intermittent climbs and plunges. Along the way, however, you'll pass several waterfalls on Opal Creek itself, plus you'll actually pass directly between two tiers of another at Flume Creek Falls. At the end of the trail, Cedar Flats is home to a number of old-growth (what else?) Cedars, some said to be over 1000 years old. Several campsites line Opal Creek in this fairly level space, both look like they would make good spots for an overnight, if you wanted to try and navigate the blowdown on the trail in with a heavy pack. In theory, the trail continues until the intersection with Beachie Creek. However, I lost the trail around here and didn't want to lose more time trying to search for it amongst the blowdown, so I considered this my turning around point, despite another waterfall being *just* within sight a bit further up Opal Creek that I would have liked to have seen.

On the way back out, I took the bridge across the creek just before re-entering Jawbone Flats to see Opal Pool itself, hopefully with a thinner crowd. There were still a few cliff-jumpers around, but at this point in the day it looked like most had packed out (it was around 4:30 at this point and the area had already lost most of its direct sunlight). The lessened light unfortunately meant that I wasn't able to see the vibrant colors of the pool quite as well, though plenty of green still remained evident in the water.

From there I headed back to the trailhead. This trail on the south side of the creek is actually more of the Kopetski trail, so is similarly rooty in spots but a bit more well-traveled. The trail continues along the southern bank until you come to another bridge crossing that will link you back up with the old forest road. You can take either path in or out, just all depends on what you want to see. I'd suggest taking the old road at some point, however, if only because by sticking to Kopetski the entire time you'll miss Jawbone Flats entirely, and that would be a shame as it's a very cool old mining town with a lot of relics from the 30s and 40s that now operates as a hub for the Opal Creek Forest Center. Lots of classes and events are run out of here, with cabins available for rent mixed in with a few private residences (presumably for the staff on-site).

The guide I was following says the total distance is about 10.5 miles from trailhead to Cedar Flats. Unfortunately, I haven't picked up any kind of GPS or tracking device yet so I have no idea how close to the mark that is. All I know was that I was exhausted by the end and it served as an object lesson that I need to slow my pace a little bit and take more breaks if I don't want to burn out halfway through.

Short version: Opal Creek is an interesting area with some impressive waters, a lot of old mining relics, and an eclectic crowd of visitors.
06/15/2017
Easy to see why this place is one of the most visited in Oregon.
06/09/2016
want to start hiking
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