Take a Dip: Best Pnw Swimming Holes

The Pacific Northwest has an abundance of great places to cool off in the summer. Here is a compilation of some of my favorite places to go once the weather has risen above the comfortable 65 degrees and the masses have flooded the city.

Lower Lewis Falls

This is a great place for cliff jumping into some deep pools from more than 40 feet above atop a waterfall. Lower Lewis falls is a couple hour drive from Portland in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It is a magical place with its moss cloaked forest, Giant cedars and abundant flowing waters. If you feel like frolicking in the cool waters and leaving the jumping to the adventure junkies there are multiple ways to get down to the river and take a soak including a rope ladder to assist you down to the base of the falls and then you can wade through the river near the edge to the open pool below, there is even a shallow drop off where you can sit and dangle your feet in the deep waters. This area would be suitable for dogs as well since there is plenty of shallow water. I wouldn’t suggest lugging a ginormous and heavy cooler down there like we did, but do bring beverages and a lunch its a great day trip. If your looking for more adventure you can wander up the trail to middle falls, this is also how you would go to reach the top of lower lewis falls to jump into the pools after you’ve waded across the river of course.

Three Pools

Three Pools is a neat little spot 12 miles North of Detroit in the Opal Creek wilderness, a collection of three deep emerald pools formed by basalt outcroppings on the North Fork of the Santiam River. This place will most likely always be busy on a hot summer day but there is plenty of room to spread out and find your own space. Its another popular spot for cliff jumping there are a couple high boulders you can climb up to jump off but cliff jumping is dangerous so make sure to scout your area well and look for rocks in the water that may be hard to see from above before you take the plunge. otherwise I would suggest swimming in the pools they are quite nice some of the river flows over smooth boulders creating some fun built in water slides.

Tamolitch | The Blue Pool 

Blue Pool – also known as Tamolitch Pool – is where the McKenzie River seeps to the surface through underground lava fields that flowed across the landscape eons ago. You’ve got to hike to it but its not too far or hard (about 2 miles) and on a hot day you will work up a sweat which you will need if you plan on jumping 60 feet into this icy pool where even in the hot summer months the temperatures hover around 37 degrees. But the most beautiful thing about blue pool; its color! The topaz blue color of the water is almost iridescent – like a blue anti-freeze. The water is so clear that is seems to be only about 5 ft deep – yet closer inspection will reveal that in many spots its over 30 ft deep. So pure in fact that you’d swear the water wasn’t moving – yet at the end of this glass like pond – a volume of water rushes out as the McKenzie River is reborn.
Oneonta Gorge

This is a short little 1.5 mile round trip hike through Oneonta Gorge to the falls. This is one of the most unique hikes in the gorge as you must walk through the river the entire way as there is no trail. You park in the designated areas near the Oneonta Bridge, and walk down to the water on the east side of the bridge. After that, you’re on your own. At the start of the hike you climb over a large log scramble squeezing under and catapulting over logs to reach the other side. From here its pretty easy until you get to the last few hundred feet where the water level, even in the summer, is still quite high and you must wade through waist deep water to reach the waterfall and pool at the end.


Toketee Falls

Toketee falls is an out of this world waterfall 3 hours from portland near Crater Lake. These falls offer a beautiful constant flow all year round and a short 1 mile round trip hike with plenty to see along the way. if you want to take the plunge you have to climb over the fence at the view point the right side is easier to get down with exposed roots and wire to hold onto. It’s a little sketchy at first, but definitely worth it! The North Umpqua River has carved a sinuous gorge out of the lava flow, resulting in a waterfall 113 feet high – a 28 foot upper tier which plunges into a pool flanked by a deep alcove, followed by an 85 foot plunge into a large pool. At the trailhead, the wooden 12 foot diameter Toketee Pipeline is passed, which diverts much of the volume of the North Umpqua River to a powerhouse downstream. This artificial taming of the river allows the waterfall to flow in an extremely consistent manor all year long. I think what makes this waterfall so special is the basalt columns framing it on either side of the fall, just magnificent!

Opal Creek Pool


To get to these lush pools its a easy 7 mile loop hike through the Opal Creek Wilderness, a low-elevation ancient forest that represents the largest old-growth forest in the western Cascades. Some trees are over 1,000 years old. The forest and all of its flora and fauna are a site to behold. It feels like you’re taking a step back in time. The trail meanders along the Little North Santiam River, where there are tons of rock outcroppings to explore among the rapids. Keep an eye out for rusted industrial equipment alongside the trail, remnants of the area’s mining history. Continue straight at the trail junction. After about 3 miles, you’ll reach a small town — Jawbone Flats. Follow signs to just beyond Jawbone Flats to reach a bridge over Opal Creek, and then turn right to head down to the pool below. This is a perfect spot to grab lunch, jump in the water, or just sit and enjoy the water’s color.

Lost Lake


A short hour and a half jaunt to Mt.Hood’s wilderness will find yourself at this lovely lake atop a mountain with winding roads all around. Lost lake has an awesome summer camp kind of vibe going on. There is a store/ rental shack to load up on snacks or rent a paddle board or kayak to take out on the lake and explore. There is a trail that covers the entire circumference of this lake so you can take a casual stroll along the partial boardwalks lining the lake. Jump in when you see a nice spot the water is great and if you find yourself not wanting to leave there is also a campground which is quite large with spacious and well groomed sites. However I would decide on the length of your stay before you arrive as you have to pay day use fees to access the lake and activities anyways.


Columbia River


As a DIY option you could drive out to the Columbia River I would suggest Hood River area, however anywhere along the columbia would not be a wasted experience. In Hood River the main beach area has excellent water access and ample parking as well as man-powered water craft rentals such as paddle boards and Kite boards which is a ton of fun and I would recommend anyone try it at least once I definitely would say try it on a day the wind isn’t too bad or else you may have some trouble coming back in with the current. For the adrenalin junkie try out the newest trend “fly boarding” which they have readily available with lessons and fly time for a pretty decent price right here in Hood River.

White River Falls 

White River Falls state park is a great place to cool off, especially because it is not often frequented by crowds. Each time we make the trip out to this waterfall it is a welcomed reprieve, there is a cool oasis you can swim in with a small beach and a few trees for shade. there is also a neat old pump house which provided power to many folks back in the day, now it is mostly a cool photo op spot for avid photographers trying to get a edgy vibe. There is a day use parking area, an overlook area to the falls and a short but steep trail down to the bottom, currently the falls are pretty raging but by mid summer they die down a bit and make it pretty accessible to swim in the lower falls pool. Arriving here in just under 2 hours from Portland this is a great destination to cool off on a hot summers day.



  1. Love all the scenery photos, just looking at them, is very enticing! I must go one day and experience all this beauty God created, before I get too Old.


  2. We are camping near The Blue Pool in August with my parents. Should be a fun trip – it looks beautiful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.