GROWING UP in the boonies of Idaho, summertime meant swimming our fool faces off all the time—before work, at lunch, and careening off boats after work. But moving to the city put a little damper on my backstroke action (and yours too, I suspect). But guys... we're just being silly—we're rolling deep in bodies of water fit for hootin' and hollerin'. So let's get to swimming and floating and aqua carousing! Here's a handy guide to getting your body wet in the coming months:
I hate to be the harbinger of the obvious, but the Willamette River cleans up real nice. Ever since the completion of the Big Pipe project, the river's like the shiny "after" picture in a toilet bowl-cleaner commercial. I've been in, and the swimmin's fine. Don't believe me? Check out the fourth annual Big Float on July 27, when thousands of Portlanders will take to the river for a huge flotilla and beach party.
One of the best places to take a post-work dip is right off the Eastside Esplanade by the Hawthorne Bridge. Show the commuters your finest cannonball from the dock. Or wade in from the grassy lawn and beach on the west side of the Hawthorne. There's also a swell beach and dock just northwest of the Steel Bridge. I bet your pooch pal would love to jump in with you at Sellwood Park. Or pack a picnic for swimming and basking at Elk Rock Island near Milwaukie. It's a great bike ride down the Springwater Corridor, then a little jaunt to Milwaukie on easy bike routes to SE 19th and Sparrow. Enter Spring Park by foot, follow the trail to cross the land bridge over to the island where there's a beach, great views, and the occasional river jet boat screaming by.
Check out the new and improved M. James Gleason Memorial Boat Ramp on Marine Drive. Last time I was on the nearby bike path, there was a raging beach party at the boat launch, complete with bonfire, volleyball, and oodles of sandy fun. It looked like a great spot to take a dip after a sweaty-betty bike ride. Bonus points: nearby bars that serve margaritas. The only bummer is that you have to pay for parking for the fancy new parking digs, so maybe pedal your bike on down.
And don't forget about the killer swimming to be had in Hood River, with its plethora of breweries and restaurants right on the beach at Hood River Waterfront Park. It's real easy to take a plunge in the Columbia, lay about on the beach, explore the riverside trail, and then take your sun-kissed face into Pfriem Family Brewers for sudsy libations.
If you've got the chutzpah and gas money to drive to the Washougal River (it only takes about an hour on Highway 14), make sure to hit up Dougan Falls. There's a nice wide waterfall that spills into a narrow, clear pool. Explore the falls or just float about, if that's your bag. An item of note: The water is hella chilly. Check out one of the many river pullouts on the drive to Dougan Falls on Washougal River Road, where maybe you can find a little slice of quiet.
WA-14 past Washougal to Salmon Falls Road heading north. After about three miles, take a right on Washougal River Road. Drive about six miles to end of pavement.
This park is at the meeting point of the Lewis River and Big Tree Creek, and it's about 40 minutes outside of Portland near Battle Ground, Washington. It's a beautiful, forested swimming hole with waterfalls, a high overhead bridge that crazy kids jump off, and chilly-ass water for the hot dog days of summer.
Take I-5 north to exit 11. East on WA-502 about six miles. Take a left on WA-503 north, follow for about 5.5 miles. Take a right on Rock Creek Road, which becomes NE Lucia Falls Road. You'll see signs for Moulton Falls Park.
I've always preferred a lake to a river—less chance of currents and weird eddies (and weird guys named Eddy). Buck Lake is a secret hidey-hole, a pristine clear-water sparkler about an hour outside of Estacada. There's a short hike to get to it, so pack light but bring your smartphone charged up for GPS directions on the drive. It's not too hard to find, and it's totally worth driving out to swim in its depths. While you're in the area, see if you can drop by the rustic Squaw Mountain Ranch (squawmt.com), the most congenial nudist camp you're likely to find. They have a freezing-cold swimming hole that they enjoy sharing, as long as you don't mind some bare-ass buns.
Buck Lake: From Estacada, continue on OR-224 about 25 miles to NF-57. Take a left. Go about seven miles, then take a left on NF-58, right on NF-5810. After five miles take a left on NF-210. Take the first left. Again, bring your smartphone.
A beautiful lake with stellar views of Mount Hood, this is a swimming destination. It's close to Buck Lake and big enough for all the crowds flocking in from hot, sticky Portland. Since it takes about two hours to get out here, it might be worth camping overnight at one of the amazing campsites—you know, to take full measure of the swimming possibilities.
Take Hwy 26 out past Government Camp. Right on Oregon Skyline Road. After four miles, take a right on Abbott Road. Continue onto NF-4280 for about three miles.
Tubing is an all-day activity, so plan accordingly. It's also a bit of a logistics bear. You don't necessarily need to drive two cars—one for the drop-off and one for the take-out—but if your floating posse is large enough for two vehicles, it can make your day of tubing much easier. (One-car alternative: I've had luck hitchhiking with non-serial-killing people back to the put-in site. Just be prepared to do a bit of begging.) Drop the first car at Carver Park in Oregon City. Drive down river to Barton Park for the put-in. There you can pump up your inner tubes and rafts, then take to the Clackamas River for a lazy river float with relatively few (and minor) rapids. We had some trouble taking alcohol on our last float—the river cops were checking coolers. (Hint: Alcohol fits in containers that don't say "booze" on the label.) After about four hours with stops for lunch and swimming, take out at Carver right before the bridge on the left side of the river.
Again, you'll probably want two cars for this close-in tubing excursion. Take-out is at Lewis and Clark State Park, and put-in is at Dabney State Park in Troutdale. This one takes about two hours, and it has a few rapids.
But why travel anywhere at all? Put in at Sellwood Park. It's luxuriously slow going on your tube, with chances to bask in the wildlife, river traffic, and views of Ross Island from a new vantage point. Float on down to the Hawthorne Bridge, and then grab a cocktail at Bunk Bar or Carmella's Wines. Take a cab or the bus back to your bike or car. Easy peasy!