Insider’s Guide to Oregon Swimming Holes

July 10, 2017 (Updated July 12, 2017)
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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 The
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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Viento State Park
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