Opal Creek is a temperate rainforest, part of the largest area of temperate-zone rainforest on the planet. We receive an average annual rainfall of about 90 inches, and at least some snow every winter. Jawbone Flats sits at an elevation of about 2200’, surrounded by 5000’ peaks. Our driest months are July, August, and September. Cool, wet weather is common the rest of the year.
You can access a Jawbone Flats forecast here.
There is no camping on the 15 acres of Opal Creek property at Jawbone Flats. The closest official campgrounds are at Shady Cove (U.S. Forest Service, located within the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area) and Elkhorn Valley (Bureau of Land Management, located within the Little North Santiam Recreation Area). Dispersed camping is allowed in the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Areas, following these special Forest Service regulations.
With the increasing popularity of Opal Creek, it is crucial that dispersed campers follow Willamette National Forest policy and Leave No Trace practices. Some of the most important things to remember:
- The best campsites are found, not made. Limit your impact on our sensitive ecosystem by only camping at established, well-used sites.
- Where no campsites exist, camp at least 100 feet away from water sources. Plants in the riparian zone—the buffer area between the waterline and dry land—are especially fragile and are critical to the health of the waterway.
- Campfires are illegal in most of the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area. This includes areas within 200 feet of the road, from the Three Pools junction all the way to the Opal Creek trailhead, and within 200 feet of the Opal Creek and Kopetski trails as far as Opal Pool.
Outside of the campfire ban, we encourage visitors to use canister stoves and forgo open flames, unless in emergency situations. A human-caused wildfire in our narrow canyon would be disastrous to plants, wildlife, water quality, and the public. Please join us in stewarding this important ecosystem during your visit.
Parking at the Opal Creek trailhead is limited to 1/4 mile from the gate. The Forest Service will ticket vehicles parked outside of this zone.
A Northwest Forest Pass or day pass is required to park at the Opal Creek trailhead. America the Beautiful Annual Passes and Senior Passes are also honored.
You can pay at the gate for $5/day (exact change); or purchase several day passes ahead of time and write the dates on them as you use them. Day passes are available at Forest Service offices and visitor centers, many outdoor retailers, or online.
The annual Northwest Forest Pass for $30 is a great deal for anyone regularly visiting Forest Service fee sites in Oregon or Washington. To purchase an annual Northwest Forest Pass or an Interagency Pass online, click here.
Opal Creek is backcountry. It may not seem that way, with the summer crowds and easy access from Highway 22, but the remoteness and lack of cell reception means that, once contacted, it will take a minimum of 45 minutes for emergency medical services to arrive at the trailhead, and longer to reach injured hikers or swimmers on the trail.
When in the backcountry, you are responsible for your own safety. These ten essentials will help ensure that your day hike or backpacking trip is safe, successful, and fun.
- Navigation – Always carry a detailed map of the area you are hiking in. Purchase the official Forest Service map of Opal Creek from our website or at our office. It’s also a good idea to learn how to use a compass—at Opal Creek, true north is 15° east of magnetic north.
- Sun protection – Even in the forest, sun protection is key to staying safe and comfortable. Bring sunglasses and sunscreen, especially if you’re heading up to the ridgelines or the riverbanks.
- Insulation – Opal Creek is a temperate rainforest! Weather can change quickly, especially during the spring and fall. Choose wool or poly blends that wick moisture and retain warmth when wet.
- Illumination – Even if you don’t intend to be out past dark, carry a light source and extra batteries with you. Darkness often falls faster than we expect in the forest, and unanticipated delays can change your trip timeline.
- First-aid kit – A well-stocked first-aid kit will prepare you to deal with any injury short of needing professional medical attention. REI has a comprehensive first-aid kit checklist that would work for the most die-hard backcountry traveler. If you spend a lot of time in the backcountry, consider taking a first-aid class to better prepare yourself for emergencies.
- Firestarter & matches – We do not generally support the use of open fires in wilderness area, but being able to start a fire can be critical in emergencies. Even in cases of emergency, follow all fire restrictions in effect and be sure fires are completely out before leaving.
- Repair kit and tools – It’s amazing what you can do with basic supplies like a knife, multi-tool, rope, and duct tape.
- Extra food – Always bring extra food in case of unanticipated delays – injury, weather, car troubles. When backpacking, you should carry one full day’s worth of extra food in a calorie-dense, shelf-stable form that requires no cooking.
- Water & purification system – There is no potable water available for hikers at the Opal Creek trailhead or in Jawbone Flats. Carry enough water for a full day of hiking to avoid dehydration and heat stroke. For backpackers, there are many water sources available year-round throughout the Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wildernesses.
- Emergency shelter – An extra tarp, space blanket, and sleeping pad could be a lifesaver if you get stuck out in the elements, or even if you need to sleep in your car.
You should always make sure someone at home knows your itinerary, and it’s a good idea to carry a whistle in case you get lost.
Many wilderness areas allow archery hunting, though this is not common in the well-trafficked areas of Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods. If going on backcountry trips in the fall, it is a good idea to wear an orange vest or other bright clothing. Hunting season dates are listed on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife site.