Gold was first found in the Opal Creek Watershed in 1859. The legacy of the ensuing gold rush left many hillsides up and down the narrow valleys dotted with mine shafts. Silver King — the group of mines near Henline Falls in the Willamette National Forest — today exhibits little of what was once a bustling mining operation. The exception is a 1,700-foot-long shaft right next to the falls. Over the years silver, lead, zinc and gold were pulled out of the mines near Henline Falls. Thankfully nearly all signs of mining have been washed away.
The trailhead for Henline Falls is near the boundary of the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area, which was established in 1998. Despite 20 years of legal battles and direct action, some areas in what would later become the Opal Creek Wilderness had already been cut. Much of the trail to Henline Falls, which lies east of Salem, follows an old logging road and passes through relatively young patches of Douglas fir, though there are some very old western hemlock and Douglas fir that can be found along the way. As you make your way up the road that is being quickly reclaimed, keep left at all junctions until you reach the falls, a short 0.8 miles from the trailhead.
Just before you reach the beautiful blue-green pool that Henline Falls cascades into, you will have to climb over what appears to be the remnants of a power generation station. Keep an eye out for sharp pieces of rebar and other various chunks of metal. If it hasn’t been too rainy you can make your way about 30 feet or so into a mine shaft before it’s blocked by a gate. An immense number of spiders were lining the walls of the mine, so watch your hands. Though a relatively long drive from Eugene, Henline Falls allows for a low elevation introduction to the beauty that Opal Creek Wilderness has to offer. The trail is accessible throughout the year with the exception of occasional low elevation snow.
Directions from Eugene:
Follow I-5 north for 61 miles, turn right onto Highway 22, follow for 23 miles, turn left onto North Fork Road, follow for 17.25 miles to a well marked pull-out on the left.
Hike Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 1,600 feet
Usage: Light in winter
Difficulty: 1 out of 5