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Opal Creek Wilderness | Fall

Dispatches from the Road

A selection of travel logs from both near and far.

Opal Creek Wilderness | Fall

Laurel Dailey


With trails like this, who needs the sidewalk (ever)? Despite growing up an hour from here, I didn’t discover this hidden gem until embarrassingly recently. And while there are plenty of hikes you could take, but my favorite begins at the Opal Creek/Jawbone Flats trailhead. You’ll easily put ten miles under your feet by the end of the day, but along the way you’ll see waterfalls, emerald pools, ancient forests, rusted mining equipment, abandoned WWII-era vehicles, and plenty of labradors (this is Oregon, after all). 


Confession: When I go on hikes, I often end up stumbling over my own feet because I’m spending all my time looking up. But can you blame me, when the primeval Douglas firs in the Opal Creek Wilderness avail themselves like this? There are forests, and then there are old-growth forests. Turns out, Oregon’s lousy with ‘em. With moss underfoot, overhead, and covering every surface in between, the forest here feels as though it’s breathing. 

If you’re the type to power through a hike, dogged step by determined step, you might miss Sawmill Falls. But listen closely. Follow the sound, off the trail, under a mossy tunnel and onto a basalt outcropping. There are times when the sound of rushing water is a better wayfinder than the marked trail. Speaking of water, even as colder fall temperatures draw a boundary around the day, it’s hard not to want to strip off everything and jump in at Three Pools (at the north fork of the Santiam River).