(Old Mine to Three Pools)
Known to the boating community simply as Opal Creek, this section of the Little North Santiam is revered by advanced and intermediate boaters alike. This area has largely been protected from logging by old mining claims and the tireless effort of The Friends of Opal Creek and other local groups. From the beginning, boaters travel through spectacular old-growth forests, beautiful gorges and an uncountable number of intermediate rapids with crystal clear water. The rapids are classic pool drop with small pools and numerous eddies throughout the run. This run is simply one of the best intermediate runs anywhere.
Below the put in are many fun rapids, mostly consisting of boulder gardens and a few tight chutes. Expect to do a fair amount of scouting your first time down, although all the drops can be boat-scouted by experienced boaters. All of the hardest drops have good recovery pools at most flows. Be on the lookout for a steep rapid that plows into two large boulders on the left before squeezing through a narrow slot on the right. The boulders create a dangerous sieve that can be avoided by staying right. About 50 yards downstream from another sharp right-hand corner lurks Big Ugly. Catch the small eddy on the right in order to scout/portage. Boaters tend to get slammed into the left wall at most flows so be sure to boof right and stay upright. At low flows there is a dangerous pin spot in the left chute so a portage is recommended. Below Big Ugly is another narrow slot that should be scouted for wood.
Don't relax below Big Ugly as shortly downstream is Big Fluffy. At the sight of a dramatic cliff wall on the left and mist rising below a significant horizon line that disappears to the right, boaters should eddy-out on the right to scout this 15-foot waterfall. Although Big Fluffy has been run at a variety of water levels, the hydraulic at the base has a reputation for punishing even the best of boaters. Scout carefully and set safety before deciding to run this one. The best portage route is to seal-launch off the 16-foot platform directly below the falls or jump into the pool below the falls and collect your gear at the end of the pool.
Below Big Fluffy the gradient tapers off and the canyon walls open slightly although there are still many fun rapids. This section gives boaters plenty of time to soak in the great scenery. Just as the scenery has lulled boaters into a fuzzy state of mind, it is time to run Thor's Playroom. Thor's is a long rapid that can be broken into 3 sections. Several technical slots at the top lead boaters into a pushy middle section with swirly currents. The final drop that can be seen from the take-out has a powerful hole at the base that can easily separate people from their equipment. There is a big recovery pool below this rapid.
Several drops could pin boaters. Always scout for wood before committing to a drop. Big Ugly and Big Fluffy should be approached with caution. Thor's Playroom should be scouted by hiking down to the river at the take-out.
How to get there
Take-out (GPS: 44o50.355'N, 122o18.665'W)
To reach the take-out, take Oregon 22 east from I-5 near Salem. After about 21.8 miles turn left on Little North Santiam Road. Turn right after 16.5 miles at the sign for 3 Pools Recreation Site. Stay right at the next fork and follow this road to the parking area at the end.
Put-in (GPS: 44o51.563'N, 122o15.214'W)
To reach the put-in, return to the main road and turn right. The road ends at a trailhead after 4.5 miles. Hike along the road beyond the gate for about 0.5 miles to an old road on the right. The road is just after the bridge at Gold Creek. Follow this road down to the river.
Little North Santiam River
This gauge is far downstream of the take-out so only approximates the actual water level of the run. The correlation between the gauge and the actual water in the run fluctuates depending on whether water is coming from snowmelt or rain.
Check out Jason's description of this run.