Opal Creek is backcountry.
It may not seem that way, with the summer crowds and relatively 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.
- Map – Always carry a detailed map of the area you are hiking in. The Opal Creek Wilderness & Scenic Recreation Area can be found on the US Forest Service map including the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness and Bull of the Woods Wilderness, in the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests. You can purchase this map online, at our office in Portland’s Pearl District, or at Forest Service locations and outdoor retailers.
- Compass – Even though there are relatively few trails in the Opal Creek Wilderness, backpackers should still carry a compass to use along with a map. Make sure you know how to convert magnetic north to true north; at Opal Creek, true north is 15° east of magnetic north.
- Water & purification system – There is no potable water available at the Opal Creek trailhead or in Jawbone Flats. Make sure you carry enough water for a full day of hiking to avoid dehydration and heat stroke. There are many surface water sources available at Opal Creek year-round, if you carry a water filter or chemical tablets.
- 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, preferably in a calorie-dense, shelf-stable form that requires no cooking. During the summer there are occasionally snacks available at the Jawbone Flats Company Store, but availability is not guaranteed.
Rain gear & extra layers – Opal Creek is a temperate rainforest! Weather can change quickly, especially during the spring and fall, and getting wet in cool weather can turn dangerous without the proper layers. Choose wool or poly blends that wick moisture and retain warmth even when wet.
- Firestarter & matches – Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center does not support the use of open fires in wilderness area, advocating instead for canister stoves for cooking and extra layers for warmth. If you choose to use an open fire in the wilderness or scenic recreation area, be sure to follow all fire restrictions in effect in the Willamette National Forest, use established fire circles, and be sure fires are completely out before leaving. Every summer our staff find fires smoldering among tree roots at empty campsites. Any one of these fires could be the end of Opal Creek.
- 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. You can assemble your own kit or buy a pre-stocked kit at most outdoor retailers. If you spend a lot of time in the backcountry, consider taking a first-aid class to better prepare yourself for emergencies.
- Knife or multi-purpose tool – A good knife will help you prepare food, cut bandages, repair gear, and more.
- Flashlight & extra batteries – Even if you don’t intend to be out past dark, carry a light source with you. Darkness often falls faster than we expect in the forest, and unanticipated delays can change your trip timeline. Carry extra batteries, since the batteries in your light will drain even if you don’t use it.
- Sunscreen & sunglasses – Even in the forest, sun protection is key to staying safe and comfortable.
In addition to these essentials, 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, if not all, 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.