About the Author
William L. Sullivan is the author of six books and numerous articles about Oregon, including a regular outdoor column for Eugene Weekly. A fifth-generation Oregonian, Sullivan began hiking at the age of five and has been exploring new trails ever since. After receiving an English degree from Cornell University and studying at Germany's Heidelberg University, he earned an M.A. from the University of Oregon.
In 1985 Sullivan set out to investigate Oregon's wilderness on a 1,361-mile solo backpacking trek from the state's westernmost shore at Cape Blanco to Oregon's easternmost point in Hells Canyon. His journal of that two-month adventure, published as "Listening for Coyote," was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction . Since then he has authored a popular series of "100 Hikes" guidebooks to the regions of Oregon. Other titles in the series are "100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon," covering Mt. Hood, the Columbia Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, and the Portland area; "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon," including Crater Lake National Park, the Rogue River, the Siskiyous, the Trinity Alps, and Mt. Shasta; and "100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range," describing not only the hiking trails of the scenic Pacific shore, but also the campgrounds, beaches, lighthouses, aquariums, canoeing/kayaking options, bicycle paths, and birdwatching sites.
He and his wife Janell live in Eugene, but spend summers in a log cabin they built by hand on a roadless stretch of Oregon's Siletz River.
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Hike #4. Opal Creek Easy (to Opal Pool) 7 miles round-trip 200 feet elevation gain Open all year Maps: Battle Ax, Elkhorn (USGS)
Moderate (to Beachie Creek) 10.2 miles round-trip 500 feet elevation gain
Opal Creek's ancient forest, on the edge of the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, was thrust to fame in the 1980s by controversy over Forest Service logging proposals. National television crews and thousands of visitors hiked to Jawbone Flats' rustic mining camp and scrambled over a rugged "bear trail" to view the endangered old-growth groves towering above this creek's green pools. By the time Opal Creek finally won Wilderness protection in 1996 an improved path had been built to make the area more hiker-friendly. The new trail shortcuts from the Little North Santiam River to Opal Creek, bypassing Jawbone Flats.
Start by driving east from Salem on North Santiam Highway 22 for 23 miles to Mehama's second flashing yellow light. Opposite the Swiss Village Restaurant, turn left on Little North Fork Road for 15 paved miles and an additional 1.3 miles of gravel. At a fork, veer left on Road 2209 past the sign "Road Closed 6 Miles Ahead." Then drive 6 miles to the locked gate. Residents of Jawbone Flats are allowed to drive the dirt road ahead; others must park and walk.
The pleasantly primitive road crosses Gold Creek on a 60-foot-high bridge, skirts dramatic cliffs above the Little North Santiam River, and winds through an old-growth grove as impressive as any found farther upstream. At the 2-mile mark, stop to inspect the rusting machinery of Merten Mill on the right. The mill operated briefly during the Depression, using winches from the battleship USS Oregon, but folded after two of the mill's lumber trucks fell off the narrow canyon road. Now a camping area for backpackers, the mill site has one small empty building that can serve as emergency shelter. A short side trail behind the building leads to Sawmill Falls, a 30-foot cascade pouring into a deep green pool ideal for swimming.
The road forks 0.2 mile beyond Merten Mill, offering two options. Day hikers interested in the area's mining history may wish to continue straight on the main road 1.3 miles to Jawbone Flats, a well-preserved collection of 27 buildings dating from 1929-1932. Jawbone Flats has been donated to the Friends of Opal Creek as an old-growth study center. Respect the residents' privacy by staying on the road. Cross a bridge, turn right at a building with a humming water-power generator, and walk 0.2 mile further to a sign indicating a short side trail to Opal Pool's scenic gorge<197>a rewarding goal for an easy hike.
If you're headed for the trail up Opal Creek, however, don't go to Jawbone Flats. Instead, turn right at the road fork beyond Merten Mill, cross the river on an old log bridge, and turn left onto the Opal Creek Trail. The path follows the Little North Santiam River a mile, crosses a forested bench to an overlook of Opal Pool, and then continues up Opal Creek 1.5 miles before petering out. Along the way you'll pass several small waterfalls and Cedar Flat's trio of ancient red cedars, 500-1000 years old. The Beachie Creek crossing, on a mossy log, makes a good turnaround point.