We have been doing our best to uncover some of the more unique, out-of-the-way places around the Willamette Valley, sometimes with more success than others. Hiking along Opal Creek turned out to be absolutely stellar, and we’re so glad to have made a visit to this amazing area! In the foothills of the cascades, about 20 minutes east of Sweet Home, OR, is one of the most pristine natural areas we’ve been able to enjoy.
Opal Creek travels miles over a series of waterfalls and swimming holes, each more picturesque than the last. Natural basalt rock formations in the area make the perfect backdrop for the cascading streams of water that flow year-round through the creek.
Hiking Opal Creek is not a small undertaking, as it’s 7 miles round-trip to the beautiful Opal Pool at the end of the maintained trail, with bushwhackers continuing upstream well beyond that point. (It’s not an especially difficult hike, but long enough to make sure you plan enough time to get through!) The main trail takes you through Jawbone Flats, a small town (population: 12) accessible only by the main footpath, where the main feature is the Ancient Forest Center and a few rental cabins available for overnighters.
As one of the few remaining unmanaged forests to be found around the Willamette Valley, the old-growth trees (including 500+ year old fir and cedar) lining Opal Creek naturally deter erosion with an elaborate root system that keeps the water clear and pure.
Several waterfalls and swimming holes line the path along the river, each with their own character. (Including one with a natural water slide!) During the heat of the day, these are popular destinations, and, while they weren’t crowded, there were a fair number of people to be found enjoying the cool water.
Shady Cove Campground is just up the road, providing a convenient spot for out-of-towners to stay, and other campsites are available along the route as well.
The rocky outcrops around the riverbed are great for climbing on, and Opal Pool, surrounded by small waterfalls, is one of the most picturesque sights we found that day.
Opal Creek itself has a long and tortured history (which entire books have been written about!), but you would never know it from the sense of natural wilderness that surrounds the area. It is absolutely lovely, and we are grateful to have discovered it!
Note that Opal Creek does require a $5 admission fee for the day, or a Northwest Forest Pass.