How to get there:
From Salem, travel east on Highway 22 for approximately 25 miles, passing through the town of Mehama and turn north onto North Fork Rd. (Look for the blinking light and the Swiss Village Restaurant at this intersection – though the restaurant is never open, so don’t expect to eat there.) Continue on this paved road for 15 miles and turn right onto Elkhorn Rd. Cross over a bridge and continue one-quarter mile more to a gravel parking lot and the trailhead.
Distance and Elevation Gain:
It’s 9 miles round-trip if you walk all the way to Shady Cove Campground and back. You can shuttle if you have a second car, and leave it at the campground. To reach the campground, continue on North Fork Road for about 4 miles and turn right on Forest Road 2207. In 2.5 miles you’ll reach the campground where you can leave your car.
It’s a moderate hike, long but only 400 feet in elevation gain.
Fees and Permits:
A Pacific Northwest Forest Pass is required. You can purchase one online at the US Forest Service website, http://www.fs.fed.us/ for $30. It is well worth the price, as an individual day pass costs $5. You can also purchase the pass locally at Bi-Mart. The trail is open year-round, unless under heavy snow.
What to see and do:
This is by far one of my favorite local hiking trails; I actually hesitated sharing it in the spirit of keeping it a secret. It is located in the Opal Creek Recreation Area and parallels the natural curve of the Little North Santiam River.
From the parking lot, you’ll walk through a logged area that is flat and muddy when the weather is wet. Make sure you wear proper shoes/boots at this time of year. Soon, you’ll descend into the river canyon and the trail meanders through a magical, lush green, old-growth Douglas fir forest. You’ll come to a rustic log footbridge, the first of many. (Careful, the wood can be slick if wet.)
As you walk along the river the views are amazing and there are many access points to the tumbled smooth stone beaches and emerald pools below. (A word of caution if you are traveling with children, the banks can be steep with uneven terrain, and the rocks can be slippery, though it is a wonderful adventure and surely one not to miss.)
The trail switchbacks up and over rocky lava walls covered with moss and ferns, Oregon grape and yellowing oxalis, salal and wild ginger. The day we went, it was below 32 degrees, so icicles hung from the moss on the trees. Rock outcroppings yield great viewpoints of Henline Mountain and Henline Creeks Triple Falls across the river. The trail switchbacks down again to the river and after about 3+ miles you’ll come to four large emerald pools. These can be assessed from North Fork Road and are very popular swimming holes in the summer. The last wooden bridge that would take you to the campground has been washed away with the high water, so we had to turn around here.
It’s good to plan ahead and remember that it gets dark early at this time of year. So keep an eye on your watch; if you hike for three hours out, you’ll need three hours to get back to your car. Also, wear shoes with a good tread.