Let’s all agree: There’s nothing like a refreshing dip when the weather is hot. Add a layer of scenic beauty, and we’d say you’re all set for ultimate relaxation. Being in the great PNW, the opportunity to find such gems are a-plenty.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy the water? Open lakes surrounded by trees? Rivers that bend with riverbanks to jump from? Here are the best options for watering holes around PDX that are bound to fit your requirements.
Opal Creek Hiking Trail
This riverside trail will take you past several stunning —if somewhat chilly—natural swimming holes. Wade into the emerald pools or cannon ball in from one of the surrounding cliffs — after checking the water levels, of course. This hike is a little more than two hours from Portland, but the drive there is as scenic as the trail itself.
Oxbow Regional Park
Just like PDX’s Sandy Boulevard, the Sandy River is quite long. Not far from Portland, it offers plenty of real estate for families to enjoy. Oxbow Regional Park doesn’t allow dogs, but that won’t stop the rest of the family from enjoying the picturesque surroundings. Seemingly endless with space, you won’t feel like you’re in a public hot tub at this popular swim spot (thank goodness). The sandy riverside allows a beach feel while also making it very kayak-friendly for when you want to do more than just swim.
Some folks want to earn their retreat. Look no further than Oneonta Gorge. And honestly, you’re going to have to work for these views. Be prepared for a decent hike, in which you’re sure to have to dodge some logs and fallen forest trunks. But you’re not done yet. After that, you’ll have to bog through some waters to get to where you want to be. But once you reach your destination, we don’t think words can do it justice. Plus, a dive in some refreshing water sounds like the perfect way to cool off to us.
Most Portland natives won’t go a summer without visiting Jefferson Park at least once. And if you have visitors for the summer you won’t let them leave before forcing them to behold its beauty (which they’ll thank you for). If you can’t recall the last time you were in pure awe of something, go directly to Scout Lake. Here you will have epic views of the side of Mount Jefferson and a lower landscape surrounded by gorgeous water and rolling green hills. Meet you there?
Bagby Hot Springs
Some of us like a little heat with our…heat. The summer sun may not be enough for everyone considering the upcoming months of overcast skies and chilly breezes last twice as long. So for those of you that fit that description, you’ll want to check out Bagby Hot Springs. These are bathhouses, so not quite your typical watering hole, but both the destination and the trail are equally beautiful and worth the visit.
These falls have a great little picnic area for all to enjoy. (But remember to swim before you eat and not the other way around!) You can work up an appetite by doing a little cliff jumping here, but we can’t stress enough to always use caution (rocks are hard). For the less daring, you’ll be inclined to simply relax in the cool pools of the falls while taking in the massive amounts of the forest-green surroundings.
Lower Lewis River Falls
Whenever the sun is shining, you can bet a handful of Portlanders are dipping their bare feet in the emerald waters of Lower Lewis River Falls. Have a picnic near the chilly water or take a refreshing dip on a hot day. The hike to the cascading falls is equally spectacular — old-growth fir and cedar decorate the thick forest. Visit in the spring or summer and you’re likely to be greeted by wildflowers.
Brice Creek Trail
This gem is closer to Eugene than it is to Portland, but it’s worth the little drive. The area is gorgeous all year round, but during the summer when the trees let in that sun, you should be able to see some happy wildflowers. Plus, there are some nice edges along the river and trails to perform some classic cannonballs. If you like to hike before you dip, the trail can be tricky and moderately difficult for the hiking enthusiast. But Brice Creek Trail is dog-friendly, so feel free to bring along man’s best friend for a little support before some doggy paddle.
Let’s be real folks – summer is the time for tourism. Whether it’s Portland, San Diego, or just about anywhere in Florida, somewhere in the USA is experiencing an influx of people. So, yes, Wilson River is subject to big crowds and heavy use, but once you go you’ll know why. This place is great for cliff jumping, and it’s the best sunbathing spot. The swimming holes are certainly ideal, and there are plenty of nooks to host your own picnic. Once you succumb to its popularity, you’ll be able to enjoy this wonderful spot that much more.
High Rocks Cross Park is located within the large radius that is Portland. It’s known for…well, its high rocks. Naturally, that means there is going to be plenty of cliff jumping. With an easy commute and the thrill of the jump, it’s a great spot to really just have fun. But if you’re not the acrobatic type, the water isn’t a rapid by any means. Floating is cool too. Fitt tip: With its focus on cliff jumping, you’ll likely want to avoid the queue by visiting here in early summer or once most visitors head back to school.
Hood River Waterfront Park
Although Hood River Waterfront Park is the new guy on the scene, it’s built quite a reputation already. What does this watering spot have? Everything! Open areas for picnickers galore, sandy beach sides, playgrounds, and winds for kites/wind surfers. Whether you want to set off in your kayak, or simply live that beach life for the day, this park has you covered. All in all, it’ll fit the active lifestyle you’ve created, or satisfy your inner beach bum, watering hole aficionado.
Willamette River (Big Float)
You ever hear of a “flotilla”? That’s ‘float-tilla,’ as in one large circular formation of humans in floatation devices bobbing down a river. We imagine that from space, this looks like one odd-shaped, giant tortilla. But we’re off topic. Most Portland natives know the beauty of a good float. And we know there’s no place to form a tortilla-like raft conglomeration like one of the most common rivers in Portland – the Willamette. The Big Float, as it’s called, turns the Willamette and downtown PDX into one giant beach party and it’s one of the best ways to experience Portland from the water.
Pristine Buck Lake is only 70-ish miles from downtown, and a good chunk of those miles are plain fun! Forest service roads that twist and bend may try to lose you, but what helps scare off the new blood is that last half-mile is by foot. As you make your way to the lake, there’s spectacular scenery, and it’s impossibly clear water. Heads up though, Buck Lake, comes from Buck Naked – the ambiance and peace from the area persuades some hikers and swimmers to go au natural. You’ve been warned. Aside from the occasional free-spirit sighting, this beaut’s the definition of a must-see in our book.
Chances are you already know Punchbowl Falls from Instagram and social media photos. This iconic place is postcard-worthy, for sure. Punchbowl is amazing, with refreshing waters and the wonderful falls at your back. It gets crowded (what else is new?) during the weekends, but if you’re got a day off and can go early in the day and hopefully savor some solitude. There is a nice, all-levels hike to go along with the water, but do be careful as there are some trails that can be dangerous especially to our pet buddies. So be sure to keep those hounds leashed!
Here’s some trivia for you: Trillium Lake was originally Mud Lake. Back then, it was a boggy depression and the source of Mud Creek. Good ol’ Oregon dammed Mud Creek in 1960 and the lake’s surface area increased. Now, there’s even a campground there along with a day-use area. On summer weekends, the east side of Trillium is a popular picnic destination. (Of course, during the summer all of Portland is a popular destination.) The low-lying lake with truly blue water will call out to you the minute you set your foldable Adirondack chair down. But the main pull to go to Trillium is the picturesque view of Mt. Hood. It’s stunning.
You know that saying “Keep Portland Weird”? Well, Rooster Rock does a good job of keeping that statement relevant. Half of it is a nude beach. Regardless of your feelings on the ideology that is clothing, the beach itself is amazing. OMSI has been known to hold stargazing nights amongst other celestial appreciations. There is a wide spread of beach there, and while dogs must be leashed, there is still plenty of room to let it all hang out – literally too. Hey, no judgment. Just get ready to relax in some cool waters and calm motion of the ocean (it’s actually the Columbia River) at this unique state park.