Opal Creek Wilderness
Drive time: 2 hours
Hike: 7 miles (round trip)
OPAL CREEK epitomizes Oregon in the buff: an ancient Eden teeming with deep green pools, splashing waterfalls, and trees the size of buildings. Saved from the saw in 1998 after a years-long battle, the 20,800-acre preserve provides a rite of passage for local backpackers. On the quintessential trip to Opal Pool, you’ll trace the cascading flows of the Little North Santiam River, passing the pounding Cascada de los Niños (Waterfall of the Children) and Jawbone Flats, a still intact mining town that operated in the 1930s. A short jaunt from here, you can submerge yourself in the blessedly clear waters of Opal Pool—and undoubtedly be initiated into the ranks of those who make visiting this paradise an annual pilgrimage.
Vitals: Green Trails Map No. 521; dogs allowed; vault toilets along trail
Splurge! With a wood stove, a full kitchen, a tub, and a deck with superb views of Battle Ax Falls, Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center’s Cabin 1 hardly qualifies as roughing it. But after the three-mile trek to get here, you’ve earned it. opalcreek.org; $150 per night
Gold Butte Lookout
Drive time: 2 hours
Hike: 3 miles (RT)
BUNK A DAY OR TWO in Gold Butte Lookout, near Detroit Lake, and you’ll understand why writers like Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey sought out similar fire-tower escapes. Easily accessed by a short trek up a Forest Service road, this storied woodland guardian sits atop the barren summit of 4,618-foot Gold Butte and provides 360-degree views of the Willamette National Forest, Mount Jefferson’s sky-cutting cinder cone, and the gnarled spires of Three Fingered Jack. Inside the cabin, there’s a stove and bed, but the star-choked sky will tempt you to sleep outside. And so you should, because come dawn, the sight of the sun’s first pink rays disappearing into the cobalt clouds in the valley below might just prove to be the inspiration you need to start penning your own Great American Novel.
Vitals: Green Trails Map No. 524; $65; firewood; vault toilets; dogs allowed; reservations available