As heat wave cooks Oregon, these swimming pools, splash pads and rivers within 1 hour’s drive of Portland offer some relief

Portland hot weather

Jamison Square in Northwest Portland features a water feature and trees for shade. (File photo / Stephanie Yao Long)LC- The Oregonian


Monday begins a string of days with high temperatures near 100 degrees in the Portland area.

One tried-and-true way to stay cool – and actually enjoy being outdoors in the oppressive heat – is to head to one of the area’s local water features, natural or human-made. All of the swimming pools and splash pads listed below are within the city limits of Portland or its suburbs. All of the natural swimming holes are within an hour’s drive of downtown Portland. If you head to a lake or river, be sure to wear a life jacket.

This isn’t an all-inclusive list. But it highlights some of the best the area has to offer.

Daytime highs are currently forecast to reach the upper 90s most of this week, possibly peaking at 102 on Tuesday, though there is the possibility that atmospheric smoke from California wildfires could cool things off a bit. If you can’t make it out, seek refuge in cool spaces. Multnomah County, Washington County and Clackamas County are inviting the public to air conditioned libraries. Many are open into the evening, and a few in Multnomah County will be open overnight.

Splash pads

Portland, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Oregon City, Happy Valley and the Tualatin Park & Recreation District covering the Beaverton area all have splash pads or fountains, some more impressive than others. Among some noteworthy mentions:

Director Park, downtown Portland: This central downtown location might put some visitors off, but a voluminous pool basin and water jets do make it something special.

Merfest at Director Park

People hang out in the fountain at the Oregon Northwest Merfest at Director Park in Portland on Saturday July 20, 2019. Noble Guyon

Peninsula Park, North Portland: Not big or fancy, but this splash pad has good bones and shade from mature fir trees nearby. That’s a bonus for parents who are supervising youngsters but seek a break from the relentless sun.

Jamison Square, Portland’s Pearl District: It’s not too strong a statement to say that this is a must-visit for every child, starting in their toddler years. Water cascades down stone tiers to slowly fill a sizable pool at the bottom. Then the water mysteriously stops and recedes, only to start up again.

Salmon Street Springs, Waterfront Park in downtown Portland: Running through this Portland fountain is like running through a series of fire hoses. It tends to attract an older kid and adult crowd. A classic Portland experience.

Waterfront Park

Cooling off in the fountain. (File photo / Mark Graves / The Oregonian)Mark Graves/The Oregonian

Murase Park and Town Center Park, Wilsonville: Located about half a mile away from each other, these parks offer channels of water, mini waterfalls cascading from rock and jets shooting into the air. They water features are noteworthy for any sized city, but especially one of just 24,000 residents.

Spray pads in West Linn: The city offers small but inviting water features in five parks. Together, they might just be worth a day tour.

Conestoga splash pad, Beaverton: Lots of quirky water-shooting features should keep the kids entertained, plus, because it’s located at the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center, there’s two swimming pools inside. The fee is $5 per child who resides within the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District and $7 for those who don’t. Adults are free, if they’re just there to supervise their children at the splash pad.

City Park, Beaverton: Thick columns of water shoot up from the ground, making for a spectacular fountain. A gem, situated in a pleasant plaza setting next to the city’s main library.

Two children stand in a fountain

Children play in the fountain at Beaverton's City Park. (File photo / Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian)LC- The Oregonian

Swimming pools

Portland, Hillsboro and the Tualatin Park & Recreation District offer many choices. Open swim times vary by location.

North Clackamas Aquatic Park, near Milwaukie: The big wave pool and two large slides offer fun in this massive indoor complex. Given the heat wave, the aquatic park recommends signing up for swim times online in advance. Rates are $8 to $12 for anyone 3 and older.

Wings and Waves Waterpark, McMinnville: This is Oregon’s biggest indoor water park, made locally famous for the thrilling slides that shoot from sides of a gutted airplane. There’s a huge wave pool, too. Cost starts at about $30 online, a bit more in person.

Portland Parks & Recreation: The city offers seven outdoor pools and four indoor ones. A long, curving slide and the lazy river at the Wilson pool makes it a standout among the city’s outdoor pools. The slides and lazy rivers at Mt. Scott and East Portland pools – as well as the slide at the Southwest pool -- are highlights among the indoor pools. Costs range from $3.75 to $6 for ages 3 and up.

Wilson Pool

The lazy river. (Courtesy of Portland Parks and Recreation, Portland, OR)

Shute Park Aquatic & Recreation Center, Hillsboro: The center has two indoor pools, one set at 84 degrees and the other 88 degrees. It also has a lovely outdoor summertime pool for those wishing to get some sun. Admission is $5 to $8.

Swimming holes

These rivers make the list, but only with stern words of caution: Wear a life jacket, even if you’re an experienced swimmer. Murky water, currents, sudden underwater drop-offs and shockingly cold water temperatures as low as 60 degrees are all good reasons. So is Oregon’s long history of annual summer drownings. A few popular swim spots have loaner stations with life jackets of all sizes, adult and youth.

Willamette River: Although urban river swimming may not be your thing, some residents delight in it. The city of Portland is emphasizing safer spots to swim, right here in town. They include Poet’s Beach, in the shadow of the Marquam Bridge. The only park where the city advises against swimming is Kelley Point Park, where the Willamette meets the Columbia, because of the dangerous and sometimes deadly swimming conditions.

Wilson River, west of Portland along Oregon 6: If you head west from Portland toward Tillamook on Oregon 6, you’ll see small parking pullouts leading to the clear, refreshing waters. Take care in parking. Some paths to the river are steep.

Sandy River float, east of Portland: You’ll need a car shuttle to do this. This seven-plus-hour float trip starts at Oxbow Regional Park and meanders popular take-out points that include Dabney State Recreation Area, Glenn Otto Community Park and the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site. But most people decide to cut that float time to three hours or less by starting at Dabney or Glenn Otto. Both Oxbow and Dabney charge $5 day use or parking fees. There are many peaceful parts of these floats, but expect crowds near the parks.

Portland heat wave

People cool off in the Sandy River during a record-setting heat wave on June 26, 2021.Dave Killen/The Oregonian

Clackamas River float, southeast of Portland: Again, a car shuttle is a necessity. Floaters can choose to start at Milo McIver State Park and make their way to Barton Park, which typically takes four to five hours. Traveling further to Carver Park takes another three to four hours. Parking fees at the park range from $5 to $8. Expect crowds on this quintessential Oregon float.

Washougal River and Dougan Falls, southwest Washington: There are many parking pullouts that lead to beautiful swim spots as drivers head north along Washougal River Road, starting at about Milepost 3. Keep driving all the way to Dougan Falls, a stunning and extremely popular stretch of the river. A Washington Discovery Pass, which costs $10 to $11.50 per day, is required.

Moulton Falls, southwest Washington: Moulton Falls Regional Park draws big crowds for good reason – the East Fork Lewis River’s emerald green waters and rocky outcroppings. Jumping from the bridge is forbidden.

-- Aimee Green;; @o_aimee