As luck would have it one of our weeks of vacation coincided with a visit from my brother and his family from Missouri. We offered to take them on a hike and they accepted so we tried to come up with a worthy “Oregon” hike. We decided on the hike to Jawbone Flats and the Opal Pool. We had been to Jawbone Flats three other times, twice on the Whetstone Mountain Loop (post) and in 2012 (prior to starting this blog) using the route we planned on taking this time.
We picked them up at my parents house and headed for the Opal Creek Trailhead. My parents were also going to do at least part of the hike at their own pace so they drove separately.
We hiked the gated road to Jawbone Flats for a little over two miles to the site of the former Merten Mill. Equipment from the 1943 lumber mill can still be seen including the old boiler but the mill itself is now gone. Along the way we passed over Gold Creek at the .4 mile mark, crossed over wooden half-bridges along cliffs, and entered the areas famous Douglas fir forest.
Fireweed along one of the half-bridges.
Beetle on a half-bridge.
Creek in the forest.
Boiler at the Merten Mill site.
Merten Mill in 2012
A day-use trail leads down to Sawmill Falls from the old mill site.
Being a weekday and still relatively early (we left at 7am instead of our usual 5am because I’m a nice big brother ;)) there was no one else at the falls. We spent some time watching fish swim in the pools and admiring the clear water of the Little North Santiam River. At one point an ouzel stopped by to take a dip.
Fish in the pool below the falls.
Little North Santiam River
After carefully exploring the rocks around the falls we returned to the trail and continued nearly a quarter mile to a signed fork. Here we turned right on the Opal Creek/Kopetski Trail and crossed the river on a footbridge.
Having left the road we were now on an actual trail which made a series of ups and downs along the hillside. When the trail was close to the river we took the opportunity to visit the water where after a little searching we found a couple of rough skinned newts.
Ridiculously clear water.
Newt floating in a small pool.
Cascade along the river.
When the trail was away from the water there was a lot of berry picking going on. We had managed to find a few ripe thimble and salmon berries along with a variety of huckleberries while hiking the road but it was all huckleberries along the Opal Creek Trail.
After 1.3 miles on the Opal Creek Trail we arrived at Opal Pool. There were a few other people here including to our surprise my parents who had apparently passed us at some point while we were down along the river.
Bridge over the river above Opal Pool
Little North Santiam River below Opal Pool
Opal Pool Falls
My parents had missed Sawmill Falls so we let them know where to turn off on their way back. We stayed at the pool for awhile watching some cliff jumpers before crossing the footbridge and heading for Jawbone Flats.
Cliff jumpers sitting down by the pool.
Opal Pool Falls from the bridge.
Approximately a quarter mile from the Opal Pool we arrived at Jawbone Flats, a 1930s mining town that is now a non-profit educational center.
Pelton Shed provides power to Jawbone Flats.
Battle Ax Creek flows through town.
From Jawbone Flats it was a 1.2 mile road walk back to the junction with the Opal Creek/Kopetski Trail and then the 2.1 miles back to the trailhead. Many more berries were consumed along the way. Our niece, Rebekkah, spotted two garter snakes on the hike out.
One of the garter snakes.
We were fortunate to have had a lot of trail and river time to ourselves as a steady stream of people were headed in as we exited. My brother said he could see why we go as early as we do.
With the combination of old growth forest, crystal clear water, a couple of waterfalls, and lots of ripe berries it had been a good choice for a hike. Without any wandering around it would be a 7.1 mile hike, but with several explorations along the river my GPS had me at 9.1 miles. Everyone survived though and seemed to have a good time and my parents did make it to Sawmill Falls before heading home themselves. It was a lot of fun to be able share this hike with Jason and his family and we are already preparing for a “next time”. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Opal Creek