Editor’s note: Before you go, it’s a good idea to check the algae bloom advisory page for the presence of algae growth that’s harmful to humans and pets when the temperatures soar.
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 midweek trip, when you are likely to see far fewer people out, or consider going to a more out-of-the way spot. Often that can mean just walking downstream to another location.
No matter where you go, be mindful of others there to enjoy the water too. That means leaving behind zero trash and always work to leave the site better than you found it. Your furry friends may love the water too, but consider leaving them home, along with any drugs or alcohol.
To stay safe in the water, it’s wise to follow a few guidelines. If you’re bringing children, give them your full supervision and remember to wear a properly fitted life jacket — it’s required for ages 12 and under and highly recommended for others regardless of age. It may just save your life if you end up splashing into the water unexpectedly, especially in cold water temperatures. Take frequent breaks from the water to warm up to prevent muscle cramping. Many lake areas have free life jacket loaner kiosks if you don’t have your own. Once you’re on the water, beware of changing winds or boats creating large waves or wakes.
“The message is to love these places; treat them gently,” says Relan Colley, author of Oregon Swimming Holes. “You’re going to be outdoors. Listen to the sounds of the outdoors; don’t make it unpleasant for others.”
With that in mind, here are some great swimming holes to enjoy this summer.
Urban Beaches Near Portland
Float in a tube or just splash around after exploring some of the 12 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, easy to access and have the water quality monitored weekly in summer. Before you go, it’s a good idea to check the algae bloom advisory page for the presence of algae growth that’s harmful to humans and pets when the temperatures soar.
Pristine Lakes and a Quiet Dip in 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. The Deschutes River through Bend gets quite crowded on hot days with tubers and swimmers, but Tumalo State Park, just 7 miles north, has a day-use area on a quieter section of the river. Walk upstream to find a spot to call your own.
Freshwater Dips Close to the Coast
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, a sandy beach and a series of 12-foot rocks that look like an elephant taking a dip in the water.
Go Where the Locals Go in Oakridge
Find your own slice of paradise along the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River off the Aufderheide Scenic Byway near Oakridge. When you reach the Office Covered Bridge in Westfir, watch your odometer, and at about 3 miles, look for a spot locals call Swimming Hole Rapid. At high water there is indeed a rapid there, so stop by the uber-cozy Westfir Lodge & Mountain Market across from the bridge to get real-time local intel.
Note: Use extra caution when visiting these pools. Know that the water temperature can be icy and cause shock when you jump in. Take care to avoid missing the pool when you jump, and to avoid falling in by accident along the rugged trail. Many visitors have had to call for rescues.
Waterfalls and Quiet Near Roseburg
At the base of a 7-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 11 miles south of Glide — and stay overnight at the campground for total serenity.
A Dip in the Columbia River 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.
Swim With the Fish in 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 snowcapped Wallowas on three sides of the lake will leave you breathless.