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 Oregonkayaking.net .
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.
Beautiful pool followed by a nice ledge drop.
Waterfall that can be run but with a portage and seal launch option on river right.
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.
This gage is located a ways downstream of the run but provides a reference for flow.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Put in at the Trailhead.
Big Fluffy Portage
Looking up the Little North Santiam Valley
Opal Creek Trailhead
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
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On January 15th, American Whitewater submitted comments in support of clean-up activities at two inactive mines near Battle Axe and Opal Creeks in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. The mines operated until the late 1980's, and are located 2 miles east of Jaw Bone Flats in the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area. Waste rock and soil from the mines has the potential to contaminate nearby rivers and streams through leaching and mass wasting events. American Whitewater provided comment to support clean up activities so long as they are protective of all uses, including whitewater boating.
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