Santiam, Little North (Classic Opal) - 2. Gold Creek to Three Pools

Santiam, Little North (Classic Opal), Oregon, US


2. Gold Creek to Three Pools (Classic Opal)

Usual Difficulty III-IV(V) (for normal flows)
Length 3.9 Miles
Avg. Gradient 100 fpm

Opal Creek

Opal Creek
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 11/21/13 @ 970 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-14182500 600 - 4000 cfs III-IV(V) 07h10m 433 cfs (too low)

River Description


Flows:  This section has been run below 400 cfs and was reportedly still worth doing.  It has also been run over 5,000 cfs and was reported (by strong class V boaters) to be mostly class IV+ still, with portages at Fluffy and Thor's.

Most boaters look for between 800-2500 cfs for medium flows.


Stream:  Boaters normally just refer to this upper reach of the Little North Fork Santiam as Opal Creek and it is without question one of the most beautiful runs in the Cascades. Historically this river was known for small mining operations and you can see relics of that history at the put-in. Today the river is protected as the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area and benefits from the stewardship of Friends of Opal Creek who manage the forest education center a couple miles up from the put-in.

The run itself features great advanced whitewater through a spectacular river canyon that passes through old-growth forest. Crystal clear water and beautiful pools between the drops round out what is one of the best boating adventures in the entire region.

From the put-in the action starts right away with boulder gardens, ledge drops, and fun chutes interspaced with stunningly beautiful pools surrounded by overhanging moss-draped cliffs and an impressive canopy of old-growth forest. Many of the rapids can be boat scouted but a few have lines that are not immediately obvious from above. Use caution at the S turn drop where the river slams into a couple of big boulders with a sieve in between them.

Big Ugly is the first of the bigger drops.  The small rapid above pushes boaters toward the right wall.  The river then turn 90 degrees to the right and the next rapid is Big Fluffy.  Scout/Portage right.   Here the river flows through a narrow slot down river left along the wall or you can take the sneak on the far right depending on flows.

Below here is a narrow chute that is best run left, driving as far right as possible.  The stream then spreads at a gravelly island, shortly downstream of where the water reconsolidates the bedrock is obvious as a small horizon presents itself.  Scout on the right before this ledge as around the corner is Big Fluffy with no reasonable egress in between.  If you would like to portage, there is a seal launch on the right or you can walk accross the logs spanning the canyon and return downstream. 

Below Big Fluffy the action tapers off but there are a few more fun rapids. The run ends with a finale at Thor's Playroom. This is a three-part rapid. You have a couple options at the start through one of several different entrance doors, a bouncy flume of holes and waves in the middle section, and then a big ledge at the end that drops you into the pool at the take-out and the short hike up to the parking lot.

For more information and photos see Lower Opal on .

Logistics: From Highway 22 mile 23.2 turn onto Little North Santiam Road (this turn is at a flashing light on the west side of the Highway 22 bridge across the North Santiam). Head up this road paralleling the river and at mile 16.9 where the road comes to a Y turn right onto Forest Road 2207. Follow this road down 0.7 mile to Three Pools which is the take-out. To reach the put-in head back up to the Y and this time take the left fork onto Forest Road 2209. Follow this road to the gate at mile 21.1. From here you will hike in a few minutes and cross the bridge at Gold Creek. After crossing this bridge continue a couple hundred yards and take the old road that heads off to the right down the hill to the put-in at the old mine shaft. It's a total of about 3/4 of a mile hike in.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-03-29 22:22:10

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.3Ledge DropIVPhoto
1.5Big UglyIV+
1.8Big FluffyVWaterfall Photo
3.8Thor's PlayroomIV+Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Ledge Drop (Class IV, Mile 1.3)

Opal Creek

Opal Creek
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 11/21/13 @ 970 cfs

Beautiful pool followed by a nice ledge drop.

Big Fluffy (Class V, Mile 1.8)

Big Fluffy Portage

Big Fluffy Portage
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 11/21/13 @ 970 cfs

Waterfall that can be run but with a portage and seal launch option on river right.

Thor's Playroom (Class IV+, Mile 3.8)

Thor's Playroom

Thor's Playroom
Photo of Megi Morishita by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 11/21/13 @ 970 cfs

A couple of options for the entrance drop, then a fun bouncy ride through waves and holes, and then a fun ledge drop to finish it off.

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