The Willamette NF has many wonderful places to explore. With the north part being a short drive from my Salem home; I visit it regularly. One new gem is Sardine Creek. If you enjoy flowing water and beautiful forest scenery Sardine Creek is a great place to visit.
Sardine Creek feeds into Big Cliff Reservoir about a 1/2 east of the dam. It is the first left after the dam off of Hwy 22 it is an unmarked turnoff. Access is via a non-maintained gravel road. The first few miles are easily driven in a vehicle with decent ground clearance and 2-WD. As the road continues it becomes steeper, has many water bars, loose rocks and water crossings. To reach the upper portions of Sardine Creek, we recommend a 4-WD vehicle.
For the first couple of miles the road is next to the creek. This makes a nice hike with countless photo opportunities. It is easy to spend a day hiking around the creek and take pictures in this section.
The road begins climbing above the creek. In this section there are some nice smaller falls on the creek, although they need notable bushwhacking to get there. As you drive, you hear the roar of the creek, have nice views across the canyon and depending on time of year; water cascading down here and there.
At about the 4 mile mark there is a junction, go left, continuing straight is an adventure for another day. The next section has bigger water bars, but they are easily crossed. About 1 1/2 miles past the junction you come to a creek crossing. The creek here is fun to explore only requiring mild bushwhacking with some good photo opportunities. Most of the year, the creek crossing is nothing to worry about. At times of high flows and snow it may not be advisable.
From here it is about one mile up canyon back to Sardine Creek. This section, although not difficult, requires 4WD. In the winter with snow and running water on the trail, proceed with caution or hike the last stretch.
Reaching Sardine creek is normally the end of the line. There is good bushwhacking hiking both up and down stream with many good photo opportunities.
If you venture across Sardine Creek, go ahead with caution. The last part of the crossing drops into a hole, the last time I was there it had added a boulder; making things interesting. We winched it out, but you never know what will wash down next.
At one time, the trail on the other side climbed to the top of the canyon and connected with 2111 – the road to Rocky Top. A washout happened several years back close to the top making the way impassable.
Whether for some hiking along the lower section or if you have a 4WD to explore up canyon, Sardine Creek is a great place to visit.