By Jan Jackson
Maybe you didn’t know about the Opal Creek Wilderness Area? The place where you can experience one of the last low-elevation old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest? Andrew tells you about it on the North Santiam Pass GPS Auto Guide Tour. But, don’t think you can drive right in and order a Big Mac, because you have to hike in, bring food and drink with you and carry out your garbage. It is a special place.
Well, let’s start from the beginning. Opal Creek Wilderness area is 20,454 acres that features steep and rugged forested hillsides. The eastern portion of the area encompasses the headwaters of two major creeks (Battle Axe Creek and Opal Creek) which join to become the Little North Santiam River. The western portion of the area is dominated by two prominent peaks, Whetstone and Henline mountains, which offer scenic vantage points and were once used as fire lookout sites.
The area is forested with Douglas fir, Pacific silver fir and Western hemlock plant associations. Western red cedar and Pacific yew occur in wet lowlands while higher ridges have some Engelmann spruce and mountain hemlock. Common hardwoods include big leaf maple and red alder. Understory vegetation includes huckleberry, vine maple and rhododendron. Various bird species, deer, black bear, cougars and elk use the wilderness area in the summer months.
There are eight trails totaling 36 miles. These are remnants of the early day prospecting and fire access routes. Most are single destination, in-out trails with little opportunity for loop travel. Many end at old lookout sites which provide some views. Other trails traverse both the Opal Creek Wilderness and Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area.
I can’t say it enough. It’s a special place. Facts you need to know before you go are available at https://www.opalcreek.org/hiking/faqs/
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