We highly recommend that summer visitors carpool if at all possible. The Forest Service has established parking limitations at the Opal Creek trailhead. Please see the Willamette National Forest website for special regulations in place at Opal Creek.
You are hiking to a remote location with no potable water. Plan accordingly; carry water and snacks with you and dress for the weather. At Jawbone Flats we do not have the ability to provision hikers with missing supplies or to drive people out to their cars. Thank you for your understanding – happy hiking!
The Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Areas are covered by the US Forest Service’s Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forest map, which also includes the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness and the Bull of the Woods Wilderness. These maps can be purchased on our website, from our office, or from our staff on-site at the Jawbone Company Store from April through October. They are also sold at most Forest Service locations and outdoor retailers.
Google Maps has this aerial view of the area around the trailhead and Jawbone Flats.
This topographic map is centered on Jawbone Flats.
Hikes from the Opal Creek gate
Gate to Jawbone Flats and Opal Pool
Mileage: 6.25 round-trip
Elevation change: 200 feet
Bikes allowed?: yes
This trail follows the original road into Jawbone Flats along the Little North Fork of the Santiam River, past some of the oldest trees in the Opal Creek Wilderness. About ½ mile from the gate, the road crosses Gold Creek on a 60-foot high bridge and begins to climb gradually. Shortly after Gold Creek, a spur trail leads down to the right to the Santiam 1 mine and river access. Several hundred feet farther up the road the Whetstone Mountain trail intersects to your left. About a mile and half into the hike, you will enter the Bertha E. Hewitt Memorial Grove, named in honor of the wife of James P. Hewitt, whose mining company built Jawbone Flats in the 1930s. At 2 miles you will reach the historic Merten Mill, built in 1943, a steam-powered sawmill that logged five of the surrounding acres. A steam engine repurposed from the U.S.S. Battleship Oregon still lies in the clearing. You will also see a work shed built in the early 1970s, which collapsed in 2016 after several years of hikers removing boards from the walls. A short side trail behind the mill leads to Cascada de los Niños or Sawmill Falls, a 30-foot falls that marks the end of the native winter steelhead run.
The road forks 0.2 miles ahead giving you two options:
- Continue on the road another 1.1 miles to the historic mining town of Jawbone Flats, a collection of buildings built between 1929 and 1932 now operating as our education and hospitality center. A short distance beyond Jawbone Flats is Opal Pool, a scenic gorge and an easy day-hiking goal. To get there, continue through camp across Battle Axe Bridge making a right turn past a building humming with a water-powered generator. Continue down the road past the meadow to a sign indicating a short trail to Opal Pool.
- To bypass Jawbone Flats and head straight to Opal Pool, make a right turn across the log bridge, and turn left following the Kopetski Loop. This single-track trail winds its way through dense forest for a mile before reaching an overlook for Opal Pool. Please note that bikes are not allowed on this section of trail.
Opal Creek gate to Cedar Flats
Mileage: 10.5 round-trip
Elevation change: 500 feet
Bikes allowed?: Only as far as Jawbone Flats (first 3.1 miles)
The Cedar Flats trail winds past a waterfall at Flume Creek and along the north bank of Opal Creek before dead-ending at an ancient grove of cedars. Cedar Flats can be reached from Jawbone Flats or from the Kopetski Loop trail.
- From Jawbone Flats, hike towards Opal Pool, but continue uphill past the junction and turn right at the Kopetski trail sign.
- From the Kopetski Loop, continue across the bridge and rejoin the main trail. Turn right and then right again at the Kopetski trail sign.
Whetstone Mountain loop
Mileage: 14-mile loop or 11-mile summit-and-back
Elevation change: 3,000 feet
Bikes allowed?: No
This loop trail takes you to a lookout site on top of 4,969-foot Whetstone Mountain, with views stretching from Mt. Adams to the Three Sisters. Noble firs and Pacific silver firs dominate the summit ridge with rhododendrons and beargrass in bloom from June to early July. There is no water access for the first 9 miles. A map is highly recommended on this hike.
Follow the Opal Creek trail a quarter mile past the Gold Creek Bridge. On your left (north) take trail 3369 to climb up an old road towards Whetstone Mountain. Traveling a total of 4.5 miles on trail 3369 with many switchbacks, you will reach a steep side trail heading to the Whetstone summit. A fire lookout stood on this summit from 1934 until the mid-1960s.
At this point you have the option of turning back for an 11-mile round trip hike. To complete the entire loop, continue east along the ridgeline on trail 3369 for 0.8 miles. Make a right at the junction of trail 546 and 3369. In 0.4 miles you reach another fork in the trail where again you take a right continuing downhill on trail 3369. This 1.8-mile section drops 2,000 feet before reaching Battle Ax Creek. In the summer it’s an easy rock hop across but high spring run-off can make it a cold wet crossing. Continue uphill a short distance before making a right onto trail 3339. As you approach Jawbone Flats you will pass an old wilderness boundary gate, several mines, and the remnants of an old mining camp.
About 1.5 miles down trail 3339 you will come to a large fork, with the right-hand trail heading downhill. This trail will take you directly into Jawbone Flats and back onto the main trail out to the gate. Continue on the more level left-hand trail to stop at Opal Pool on your way, which gives you the option of returning to the gate via the Kopetski trail or turning through Jawbone Flats to reconnect with the main trail.
Opal Creek to Bagby Hot Springs
Mileage: 17.5 miles one-way
Elevation change: 3,200 feet
Bikes allowed?: No
If you arrange for a friend to pick you up at the end of your hike, Opal Creek to Bagby Hot Springs is a great backpacking trip or long day hike. A map is highly recommended for this hike.
Follow the Opal Creek trail a quarter mile past the Gold Creek Bridge. On your left (north) take trail 3369 to climb up an old road towards Whetstone Mountain. Traveling a total of 4.5 miles on trail 3369 with many switchbacks, you will reach a steep side trail heading to the Whetstone summit. Pop up to the summit for a stunning view or simply continue along the ridgeline. Trail 3369 turns into trail 546 about ¼ mile past the summit spur—continue on the right-hand fork. Trail 3369 branches off to the right about ½ mile later—continue to the left on trail 546. Turn left at the junction with trail 544, which continues straight all the way to Bagby. Silver King Lake is a great midway camping spot.
For about the same mileage with a 2,700-foot elevation change, hike from the gate into Jawbone Flats and continue about two miles past Jawbone to the eastern end of trail 3369. Turn left to follow trail 3369 across Battle Ax Creek and up the ridgeline, climbing 2,000 feet in a short 1.8 miles. Turn right on trail 546 east to the junction with trail 544 and continue on past Silver King Lake to Bagby.
Hikes from Elk Lake
Driving directions from Detroit to Elk Lake
At Detroit turn off Highway 22 at a sign for the Breitenbush River on paved road 46. Drive north for 4.4 miles and turn left at a small sign to Elk Lake onto gravel road 4696. Drive 0.8 miles and turn left onto road 4697. After 4.7 miles turn left at a sign for Elk Lake. After 2 miles of travel on a bad dirt road, park at the junction to Elk Lake campground.
Elk Lake to Battle Ax Mountain and Mt. Beachie
Mileage: 3 miles to Battle Ax, 2.8 miles to Mt. Beachie
Elevation change: 1,765 feet to Battle Ax, 1,350 feet to Mt. Beachie
Bikes allowed?: No
From the tops of Battle Ax Mountain and Mt. Beachie, stunning views of the Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wilderness Areas stretch to your east and west, with the High Cascades from Mt. Adams to Diamond Peak to your north and south. These hikes are exposed to the elements, so remember sunscreen and avoid storms.
From the Elk Lake campground junction, continue up the road on foot for .4 miles to the Bagby trailhead, trail 544. Hike 1.1 miles to Beachie Saddle, bypassing the trail 544 turnoff on your right towards Bagby Hot Springs. From the saddle, Battle Ax rises 1,200 feet to your north in a short 1.6 miles. Mt. Beachie, though smaller, is a challenging 1.7 miles and 900 feet to the south.
For a 6-mile loop, Battle Ax trail 3340 switchbacks up through weather-stunted trees and sub-alpine wildflowers before reaching the 5,558’ summit. The summit was used as a fire lookout from 1912-1969. The foundation of the last tower built in 1951 still stands. From the lookout site follow a faint trail leading to the north ridge. After 1.6 miles take a right onto trail 544. Follow the east face of Battle Ax, crossing many large rock slides with views of Mt. Jefferson. Trail 544 ends at Elk Lake.
For a 5.6-mile out-and-back, climb 1.7 miles up Mt. Beachie, crossing large rock slides where pikas sound out warning calls. For a longer out-and-back, the trail continues a mile past the summit before reaching a junction for Byars Peak and the French Creek Ridge trail.
Hikes west of the Opal Creek gate
Mileage: 1.8 miles out-and-back
Elevation change: 200 feet
Bikes allowed: No
The Henline Falls trailhead is on the north side of Forest Service Road 2209, about a quarter mile past the junction for Three Pools. This short, easy hike through a classic second-growth forest ends in a spectacular 125-foot waterfall and crystal-clear plunge pool that is shallow enough for wading in the summer. A road track and the unmarked Ogle Mountain trail both head off to the right; keep to the left to reach the falls.
To the right of the falls, the Silver King Mine adit is now covered by a bat gate. The shaft continues 1,700 feet into the bedrock. The concrete foundation obstructing the trail at the falls once held the mine’s flume-powered generator. You will see evidence of a 2015 lightning-caused forest fire on the slopes above the trail as you approach the falls.
Mileage: 3.2 miles out-and-back
Elevation change: 2,500 feet
Bikes allowed: No
The Nasty Rock trailhead in the Opal Creek Wilderness does not lead to Nasty Rock, which sits to the northeast on the border of the Opal Creek Wilderness and BLM land to the north. This hike “aggressively climbs” towards the ridgeline, rising almost 2,500 feet in 1.6 miles. At the ridgeline, an unmaintained trail continues to the northeast. Following this trail is not recommended without extensive bushwhacking experience. From Not Nasty Rock, you are rewarded with views of the Opal Creek drainage, Mt. Jefferson, and the actual Nasty Rock.
Little North Santiam Trail from Elkhorn to Shady Cove
Mileage: 4.5 miles one-way
Elevation change: 300 feet
Bikes allowed: Yes
Follow the driving directions to reach the Opal Creek gate, but drive only 15 miles on North Fork Road. Turn right on Elkhorn Drive/Forest Service Road 201 and continue about ½ mile to the trailhead on your left.
This trail follows the Little North Santiam River past the popular day-use area of Three Pools and on to the Shady Cove campground, with a steep canyon climb midway through. Leaving a car shuttle at either end is a great option for a shorter hike.
Mileage: 7.8 miles out-and-back
Elevation change: 2,955 feet
Bikes allowed: No
The Henline Mountain trailhead is on the north side of Forest Service Road 2209, about a mile and a quarter past the junction for Three Pools. Park in the pullout on the south side of the road.
This hike heads steeply up a scree slope and into the forest, with a number of demanding switchbacks between you and the old fire lookout site. Clear views of the Opal Creek ridgeline, Mt. Jefferson to the southeast, and Marys Peak to the west await you down the right-hand spur of a trail junction. To reach the true summit, head back to this junction and continue one mile along the ridge on a volunteer-maintained trail, where you will catch glimpses of Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack, Mt. Beachie, Battle Ax Mountain, and Olallie Butte.