Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Opal Creek Hike

Our family chose Memorial Day to go on our first family hike of the season.  Kudos to Oregonians.  They like to get outside and play on their day off.  It was CROWDED. I definitely would NOT go on this hike again on a holiday, or even a weekend, but I would try it mid-week.

Opal Creek has been on my Bucket List of hikes for years because I've heard so much about it. Pristine green pools, waterfalls, old growth forest, an abandoned mining town, and remnants of a sawmill that burned to the ground in the 1940's are all part of the 7.1 mile round trip hike.  The Opal Creek Wilderness was also the center of a huge conservation controversy in the 90's. National TV crews visited and it became world famous as efforts were made to save this old growth forest from being logged.  (Read more about this hike in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles by Paul Gerald).

LENGTH: 7.1 miles (round trip) to Opal Pools
SCENERY: Old growth forest. A beautiful creek. Pristine, green, clear swimming pools. Waterfalls. An abandoned mining town. Remnants of a sawmill.
DRIVING TIME FROM NEWBERG: about 2 hours, give or take. The last handful of miles are on a gravel road with some car-swallowing potholes, so be prepared for that section to take a while.

Overall this was one of the best hiking experiences our family has ever had, primarily because all six of the Stilp's maintained positive attitudes with minimal whining, complaining and bickering.  Can I just say this makes ALL the difference in how a hike feels?   Team Stilp for the win.

I will say I was underwhelmed by part of this hike.  It was CROWDED.  The trailhead was remote, but cars were parked single file on the edge of the gravel road to the trailhead a full mile from where we actually started hiking.  Because we arrived later in the afternoon we lucked out and got a parking spot right by the trailhead, something we were all grateful for at the end of the hike when we were over hiking and ready for the car.

I also didn't love that the majority of this hike is actually on a gravel road and not on a single track trail.  My preference is always remote, always single track.  The positive benefit of so much hiking on a level road is that it is a safe option for people with mobility issues who can't do single track trails.

This hike is easy.  The trail is level with very little climbing. The only thing difficult was the distance.  We opted to hike to the Opal Pools - a 7.1 mile hike, according to the Forest Service sign at the trailhead. My Garmin registered 7.6 total miles (including our little side trips) and most of the Stilp Family tapped out around 6.5 miles.  The last mile felt L-O-N-G and boring and we slogged along toward our car.

There are a ton of route options, most of the out and back.  However you can make this a balloon and that's the route we chose. Out and back on the first/last portion, with a loop in the middle.  Two miles into the hike is an area with the remains of the sawmill that burned in the 1940's. Our kids had fun climbing on the machinery.

Behind one of the buildings is a side trail that leads to Jawbone Falls and some swimming holes.  The water was ICE cold, snow melt but it didn't stop Grant from jumping off a cliff into the pools below.  He's crazy.
Jawbone Falls - copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
Opal Creek - copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC

pools by Jawbone Falls

Not too far past the waterfall we turned right and crossed a bridge that took us onto the official Opal Creek Trail, the only single track portion of the hike.  We hiked through the old growth forest to the beautiful Opal Pools.  The trail is narrow with some drop-offs making it a little cumbersome to pass people coming in the opposite direction. At one point an English woman, using her delightful English accent, told her toddler son, "Don't tread on the woofers" as she pointed at our dogs.  LOL!

Opal Creek roars and rumbles over the rocks, creating impressive and small waterfalls.  The water is crystal-clear and incredible beautiful.  We all loved this spot, in spite of sharing it with at least fifty other hikers. Once we were done playing at the creek, we finished our hike.

Tiny Paige.  Big trees.
Movement. copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC
Opal Creek - copyright Jodi Stilp Photography LLC

Can you find Grant?
We crossed a bridge over Opal Creek and followed the trail into Jawbone Flats, what's left of a mining town.  There are cabins that can be rented in Jawbone Flats and a bunch of old, rusted out cars and equipment. We hiked the main road back to the trailhead.

I had to keep my run streak alive, so I ran down the gravel road while the family was packing up post-hike and they picked me 2.5 miles later.  I absolutely loved running that mountain road in the cool of the early evening and wished I had time to run it all the way back to the pavement.

Overall this was a fun hike and definitely worth seeing and doing. Happy hiking.

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