Most Oregonians know better than to expect summer before the 4th of July. But as soon as the warm temperatures arrive, the hundreds of waterfalls cascading amid emerald green rainforests throughout Oregon—not to mention the volcanic lakes and clear rivers for which the state is known—make cooling off in a nearby swimming hole the perfect summer adventure.
A word of caution: There’s no such thing as a “secret” swimming hole in Oregon anymore. With a few exceptions, you’ll likely contend with throngs of like-minded swimmers at these (or just about any other notable) destinations. Arrive early or practice patience to make the most of your summer swim.
If you remain undaunted by the teeming masses, take a dip in 8 of our favorite swimming holes around Portland.
1. ONEONTA GORGE
No story about Oregon swimming holes is complete without a nod to Oneonta Gorge , roughly 37 miles from downtown Portland. The bucket-list hike starts with a massive logjam crawl, continues with a cool walk through the chest-deep water in Oneonta Creek, and ends in a blissfully frigid pool at the foot of a picturesque waterfall. Tucked in a lush green, mossy canyon, there are few hikes like it in Oregon, and the payoff is chilling—in both temperature and beauty.
2. OPAL CREEK
The Opal Creek Wilderness might be a solid two hours from Portland, but the Northwest wonder nevertheless offers some of the most vibrant, brilliantly emerald-green swimming pools in the state. Nearby, Three Pools demands less work and attracts more visitors, but the 3.5-mile hike to Opal Pool is worth the extra effort. Just past the old mining town of Jawbone Flats and surrounded by 1,000-year-old trees, Opal Pool provides a small beach and larger rocks for daring dives.
3. SIOUXON CREEK
Situated in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Siouxon Creek provides no shortage of swimming holes along the 7-mile stretch where the trail parallels the creek. Siouxon Falls plunges into the creek at the two-mile mark and is among the creek’s most popular swimming holes, but Siouxon Creek also collects in deep emerald pools elsewhere along the way, giving hikers plenty of options for cooling off.
The scenery isn’t to be scoffed at, either. The clear, running waters are surrounded by some of the most beautiful old-growth forest in the Portland area, and the dense undergrowth only adds to the trail’s ethereal charm.
4. OXBOW REGIONAL PARK
Oxbow Regional Park is surrounded on three sides by the Sandy River (which starts on Mount Hood), affording swimmers plenty of cool respites from the summer sun. The park is popular with families due to the river’s lackadaisical currents and sheer selection of sandy beaches. (Visitors should be aware that dogs are not allowed in Oxbow Regional Park.)
5. SERENE LAKE
There’s really no such thing as a “hidden gem” when it comes to swimming holes in Oregon, but Serene Lake comes close. Backpackers and hikers alike enjoy wildflowers around the lake at the height of summer, but the real draw for swimmers is the 25-foot-deep swimming hole at the southern end of the lake. A few rocks create opportunity for fun (and safe) dives, as well. And as a bonus, those who tackle the trail will be treated to views of looming fir trees, pristine views of Cascade peaks, and untouched mountain lakes.
6. JEFFERSON PARK
Few swimming holes in Oregon offer the kind of scenic beauty that has long been the hallmark of Jefferson Park . Situated on the north side of Mount Jefferson, the park is home to breathtaking wildflowers, dense forest, scenic mountain views, and pristine alpine lakes.
Russell Lake, Scout Lake, Rock Lake, and Bays Lake are all along the park’s main trail and provide opportunities for a relaxing (if not cold) swim. Bays Lake is especially popular for a peninsula outcropping that is fun to swim out to, and Scout Lake provides one of the best Mount Jefferson views in the park.
7. SALMON RIVER
Oregon is known for its beautiful waterways, but the Salmon River might be among the most breathtaking. Lush, old-growth forest hugs the riverbank, and this particular trail follows the clear river for about eight relaxing miles. The hike is also close to a handful of sandy beaches, hidden waterfalls, and deep green pools, providing a cool break to hikers who’ve worked up a sweat along the way.
8. BAGBY HOT SPRINGS
The bathhouses at Bagby Hot Springs don’t fit anyone’s conventional definition of “swimming hole,” but they nevertheless provide a uniquely Oregon experience on a cool day or before the sun really heats up the forest. The natural hot springs are near a secluded tributary of the Clackamas River, and a soak in the tub provides visitors with stunning views of the surrounding forest.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated. Featured image provided by Matthew Macpherson.