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Take a dip in the crystal-clear Chetco River at a spot called Elephant Rock, not far from Brookings Harbor on Oregon's South Coast. Always remember to leave no trace and follow safety guidelines when visiting all swimming holes. (Photo by Mike Battey)
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Find paradise splashing around the base of Cavitt Creek Falls, along the Umpqua River near Roseburg. If a swimming hole is crowded, there's usually another great one around the river bend. (Photo courtesy of the BLM)
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Just east of Portland, Oxbow Regional Park on the Sandy River is a family-friendly favorite spot to cool off, all summer long. Come weekdays to avoid the crowds. (Photo courtesy of Jerome Hart Photography / Metro)

If you’ve ever been to a swimming hole in Oregon that seems overrun with crowds, fear not — there are ways to avoid that scenario.

Try swinging a mid-week trip, when you are likely to see far fewer people out. Try a more out-of-the way spot, which you can pinpoint by searching the Oregon Swimming Holes app.

Or, just walk downstream for another spot, says Jake Schirm, who developed the app in 2013 after exploring swimming holes with his family around the state.

The app features 200 stunning natural areas throughout Oregon to go for a swim — in lakes, rivers and sparkling waterfall pools. Lately, Schirm and his app and Facebook community are working to encourage visitors to have fun safely and responsibly in these areas.

That means picking up your trash (so volunteers don’t have to), leaving pets and drugs and alcohol at home, knowing your comfort level in the water, fully supervising children, and being mindful of others who also want to enjoy the space — avoid making it party central.

“The message is to love these places; treat them gently,” says Relan Colley, author of the original Oregon Swimming Holes book, published in 1995, on which the app is based. “You’re going to be outdoors: Listen to the sounds of the outdoors; don’t make it unpleasant for others.”

Before jumping into the water, know the conditions and go feet-first, rather than dive. Consider Oregon State Parks’ water safety page for more tips.

With that in mind, here are seven great swimming holes to enjoy this summer.

Greater Portland

Float in a tube or just splash around after exploring some of the 15 miles of old-growth forest trails at Oxbow Park on the Sandy River, 45 minutes east of Portland. Or kick your feet up along the Willamette River at any of Portland’s urban beaches, which are family-friendly and easy to access.

Central Oregon

Take the family out for a postcard-perfect day at Walton Lake, a pristine swimming hole and campground in the Ochoco National Forest, near Prineville.

Coast Range

Elephant Rock is a dreamy spot along the Chetco River, about 12.5 miles up from Brookings Harbor. A steep trail leads to a turquoise pool with a gravel bar, sandy beach and a series of 12-foot rocks that look like an elephant taking a dip in the water.

Willamette Valley

Find your own slice of paradise along the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River off North Fork Road near Oakridge. When you reach the Office Covered Bridge in Westfir, set your odometer to 1.4, 3.5 and 5.5. If you do visit Three Pools, in the Opal Creek Wilderness Area, keep in mind that alcohol is now prohibited, and parking space is limited to the trailhead area. U.S. Forest Service park rangers will enforce the alcohol ban with a fine of $200 plus a $35 processing fee.

Southern Oregon

At the base of an 8-foot waterfall on Cavitt Creek sits Cavitt Creek Falls, off the Umpqua River, an idyllic spot for a swim. Immerse yourself in the forest of fir, maple and oak trees here — about 17 miles south of Glide — and stay overnight at the campground for total serenity.

Hood/Gorge

Beloved by windsurfers and paddleboarders, Viento State Park is also a sublime place to swim. Halfway between Cascade Locks and Hood River, this sparkling gem is perfect for a Columbia River Gorge road trip break, with a shaded picnic area and easy-access day use.  

Eastern Oregon

The marina at Wallowa Lake State Park, in Joseph, offers easy access to the pristine wilderness here. Bring your mask and snorkel; the lake is so crystal-clear from snowmelt that you can see the fish swimming below the surface. Visit the developed swimming areas both at the head and foot of the lake. The sight of the snow-capped Wallowas on three sides of the lake will leave you breathless.

about author Jen Anderson

Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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  1. Barbara says…

    Love seeing all the places in Oregon that I don’t know about. I appreciate the information

    Written on July 2nd, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  2. Jim Castro says…

    There are sooooo many beautiful swimming holes in Oregon it is unfair to pick just five. My favorite is the swimming hole at Yellowbottom on Quartzville Creek just east of Sweethome. I had not been there for 40 years but was lucky enough to visit just last week and I can attest it is as inviting and beautiful as ever not to mention that QV Creek is full of such great swimming places.

    Written on July 2nd, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  3. robert says…

    this is a great story and growing up near Medford

    when i was in school brought back all the memories of

    all swimming holes in the area thanks

    Written on July 3rd, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  4. LettieBug says…

    Oregon is BEAUTIFUL!! Please remember to pack out what you pack in and pick up all trash left behind…. let’s work together to keep Oregon, and our gorgeous swimming holes as breathtaking as they are!! <3

    Written on July 3rd, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  5. Beth Copanos says…

    I always loved swimming in the Rogue River…my favorite place to fish also!

    Written on July 3rd, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  6. ray soyars says…

    you’re forgetting Calapooia river -Mckercher park past brownsville, little fall dreek kind of southeast of springfield, and Triangle lake to the west of eugene, not to mention all the wilderness high lakes thru out the state, and also Wildwood falls just a little south of cottage grove just to name but a few, been in Oregon since i was 13yrs old im 53 now been to most of the good swimmin holes thru out Oregon :)

    Written on July 10th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  7. Brian Wilson says…

    sounds great, i’ll be getting a waterproof I phone very soon. cant wait to try the app.

    by the way, I live in Bend Oregon just moved here from Salem,Or so i like have no idea where to hit some nice swim holes out here, and i wanna take my wife and kinda have a romantic day on the river. sounds great to me anyways. if you or anyone has any good ideas. e-mail me please. peace.

    Written on July 17th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  8. Benno says…

    This breaks the code. Some swimming holes are naturally big public areas. Some are word of mouth and places of solitude. In this age of “everyone must share all information” something is lost. The idea that any person who happens thru Oregon can now just check their App for sweet swim holes takes away any advantage of being local and keeping some places from being overrun. In my world, if I really love a place, I do not publish its whereabouts online. Ever. That is my gift to the place, to keep is mellow and quiet. This kind of publishing of great spots for personal gain as a writer always bothers me.

    Written on July 18th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  9. Danielle V says…

    too bad they haven’t bothered to make it Android.

    Written on July 28th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  10. Erika says…

    I stumbled upon Colley’s book when I wasting time in my college library at OSU. I was so excited after we adventured to a chosen swimming hole that I bought a second book for my best friend. The book has brought me to amazing, unforgettable places and the memories of the adventures are even better than the swimming hole itself. One of my favorite parts about the adventures was that the swimming holes still felt like a secret especially when the book went out of print. I even had a local ask me how I knew to get there when I arrived at one swimming hole. I excitedly told him about the book and he used much profanity to express his feelings towards the book and the outsiders at his local swimming hole. I actually don’t appreciate this app at all as I want to protect these special spaces by limited usuage. It’s one thing to live in oregon all your life and love oregon the way many of us Oregonians do as we know how to take care of these sacred spaces. It’s another to allow outsiders traveling through the ease of an app to take over the swimming holes with their wasteful, disrespectful and trashy ways. Hope Mr. Shirm from CA has time to stick around and clean up the mess that their friends have left behind.

    Written on September 27th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  11. Jenifer says…

    We JUST moved to Elkton and have NO IDEA where we can go and take the grandkids..no..I dont have a smartphone..

    Written on June 5th, 2015 / Flag this Comment
  12. Emeline says…

    At last! Something clear I can untadsdenr. Thanks!

    Written on July 17th, 2017 / Flag this Comment
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