Updated 8/16/2018

With the thermometer shooting upward it’s time for Salem Weekly’s yearly swimming guide.

Few things say “summertime” like a dip in a current of fresh-flowing water, with the exhiliration of cool water on warm skin.

Unlike previous Salem Weekly water guides, this one is dedicated to those who aren’t interested in an indoor experience like that at the reliable Kroc Center pool, pleasant though that is. This year we’re focused on wild water flowing under open sky.

Summer living doesn’t get more refreshing than that.


The Natural World

Pool in Dallas City Park


Dallas City Park, Dallas

Only nineteen minutes from downtown Salem is the large, green rambling park used by scores of locals for anything from picnics to church services to PokemonGO. Conveniently, Rickreal Creek flows right through it with a number of popular shallow pools

Dallas City park is officially on SW Academy St; you’ll probably get there taking OR 22 west out of town, a road that becomes OR 223 and finally W Ellendale in Dallas. Turn L on SW Levens St., then right onto Branvold Dr.

Falls City falls and pools


Bathers enjoy pool at Falls City falls

Falls City

Google estimates it will take you 28 minutes to reach this hidden and dramatic falls on the Little Luckiamute River. Reach it by taking Hwy 22 west from Salem, then south on 223 through Dallas. When you get to tiny Falls City, pass the fire station, turn left over the bridge and you’ll quickly see a turn out. The area is publically owned and open 24/7, say Falls City staff, but the falls and surrounding areas have few fences and many high cliffs. No facilities of any kind. Not for children, not for the ungainly, not for the faint of heart. But, unforgettable.


The Willamette River, Salem

The Willamette River is right at the doorstep of downtown Salem, with the best spots for floating and playing accessed by the beaches on the west side, through Wallace Marine Park.

You’ll easily find them east of the main parking area, and north of the boat launch. The river can be deep and swift, so swimmers should use caution. First-timers should expect rocky beaches and bring of towels and blankets for sitting comfort and swimming shoes for ease of walking.



One fine location is the west side of the river, on beaches near the Wheatland Ferry (Wheatland Rd. NW) about 12 miles north of downtown Salem. Here, long stretches of river are shallow enough for youngsters to wade.  Among farmlands, along the leafy river, the river can be charming here.



Santiam River Southbound Rest Area

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.

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 Creek

About 30 miles east of downtown Salem is a calm, wide but not-too shallow stretch of creek water bordered by large lawns for picnicking, refreshment stands, a café and restrooms. The area requires a day use fee but is family friendly and beautiful.

Get there by driving east out of Silverton. Put 20024 Silver Falls Hwy, Sublimity in your GPS. After entering the park, exit at the South Falls Day Use Area and park in the large lot.


Little North Santiam river

Three Pools Day Use Area, Willamette National Forest, Little North Santiam

About 45 miles from downtown Salem are a world famous series of emerald pools and unique rocks. An Oregon treasure, the area can be crowded and littered on weekends, so try during the week or deeper into September.

If you want to try a stretch of river that’s less crowded and don’t want to hike over treacherous ground to secret beaches, approach the Little North Santiam through Shady Grove campground. It’s a primitive area (no water, no flush restrooms) and there is a fee for overnight guests but the pools are lovely.

Follow Hwy 22 east from Salem 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.



Water Rules

It is critical that anyone attempting to enjoy wild waters to use caution. Sadly, people have died at nearly every location on this list.

If you’re headed for outdoor summer water in the wild, common sense is a requirement. Keep in mind:
• Especially near unpredictable, unfamiliar waterways, children must be supervised closely
• Check before you go, especially to the east, for wildfire and smoke updates
• Use the buddy system; never swim alone
• Use aquatic shoes
• Stay on land when tired or overheated
• Learn to swim, and make sure those you love learn to swim
• Don’t leave litter and don’t wear lotions or bug repellant into wild waters; they harm water life
• Jumping from cliffs can be dangerous because of shallow water and submerged objects
• Rocks along the water’s edge may be slippery when wet or dry
• If you choose to cross a stream by going through it, study the area first. Avoid deep and/or swift water
• When crossing on a natural bridge of rocks or logs, consider where you will land if you fall
• If you fall into fast-moving water, do not try to stand up. The force of the water will push you over and hold you under. Most drowning results from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge, between boulders or snagged in tree limbs or other debris. Lay on your back with your feet pointing downstream and toes pointing up toward the surface. Always look downstream and be prepared to fend off rocks with your feet.