With the passing of Labor Day and the onset of Indian Summer, now is the perfect time to enjoy the waters without the bustle of summer crowds.  If you are not interested in splashing indoors at the Krok Center or at a gym or at the “Y”- but are instead a wild old soul who yearns for the sun and fresh air against your skin, nothing but outdoor waterways will do.

The following is only a partial list of options to get you started.   We start near in to Salem and extends outwards.

Hurry before winter comes.


Cascades Gateway City Park

Mill Creek

2100 Turner Rd. SE, Salem

About 3 miles from downtown Salem


For a dip in a stream near town, Mill Creek can’t be beat.  Neither of the lakes at this city park are particularly inviting (and no swimming is allowed in one) but the creek itself, surrounded by valley foliage and trees, seems miles from civilization and, in the right spots, passes at just the right speed.


Directions: though Walter Wirth Lake is technically swimmable, we advise you to bypass it entirely.  Instead cross the 1-lane bridge to your left into the day use area.  Take the wide footpath that roughly follows Mill Creek towards the west.  Take one of several smaller paths, off the left, to private pebbled beaches along the creek.


Willamette Mission Park Willamette River

10991 Wheatland Rd. NE, Salem

About 12 miles north of downtown Salem

$5 Day use

If you’re inclined to try a dip in the Willamette but don’t like the crowds of West Salem, drive 8 miles north of town to this location.  If you visit in autumn, feel free to pick the ripe filberts off the orchard floor of the abandoned orchards.  The Willamette here is wide and calm, with a wide rock beach.


Directions: Pull off I-5 at exit 263 and cross the freeway to the south, following Brooklake Road about two miles until it dead ends in Wheatland Rd NE.  Turn right on Wheatland and follow it for 2 ½ miles.  Turn left into the park.

At the filbert Grove Day-Use area, follow the trail sign marked “Willamette River” and then, from the paved walkway, follow the arrow that points down the dirt path to the river. 


Santiam River Southbound Rest Area

Santiam River

About 15 miles south of downtown Salem


If you’ve admired this beautiful river when glancing west on the I-5 bridge going south, you will be pleased to know that you can swim here.  It’s a bit of a walk on a very rocky pathway, but you will almost always have the place to yourself.


Directions: Travel south on I-5 about 12 miles, and exit at the Rest Area just past signpost 243.  Drive through car lot, on paved road to bridge.  Park on right and head right, or west (crossing pile of concrete pieces) three blocks along stony path that runs a short distance from river.  Cross on smaller path through trees and brush to river after about a third mile.


Silver Falls Park

Silver Falls Creek

20024 Silver Falls Hwy, Sublimity, OR

About 30 miles east of downtown Salem

$5 Parking fee



The most child-friendly of all the options listed here, this calm creek water is clear and refreshing, and is bordered by a sloped lawn for comfortable sitting or picnicking.


Directions: After entering the park, exit the highway at the South Falls Day Use Area and park in the large lot.  A large lawn and stretch of calm, wide shallow stream to your south provides excellent splashing, floating and paddling, especially for children.


Three Pools Day Use Area

Little North Santiam River

Willamette National Forest

About 45 miles from downtown Salem

$5 day use fee

We could write a whole article on the swimming holes of the Little North Santiam alone; there are many, and swimming is available at most campgrounds and picnic spots along it.  But if you only go once, do visit the Three Pools for their emerald color, clear water and fantastic rock formations.  Inviting and invigorating, an Oregon treasure!


Directions: Follow Hwy 22 east to Mehema.  Turn left on North Fork Road and proceed for 16.6 miles to the intersection of Forest Road 2209 and Forest Road 2207  Turn right on Forest Road 2207 and continue 0.8 miles to Three Pools Day Use Area.

Caution: None of the above location offers lifeguard duty, so enter the water at your own risk and always observe children carefully.  Bring along a buddy and a flotation device.  Due to rocks, glass and debris, Salem Weekly always recommends the use of shoes when swimming in the outdoors.