The 10 Best Beaches, Rivers, and Pools Around Portland

Cool off with these watery ways to make the most of the Northwest summer—and feel great doing it.

Edited by Zach Dundas July 13, 2015 Published in the Health Annual: Summer 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

1. A Fantasy Island (+ Fantasy Menu)

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Lummi Island

Image: Shutterstock

WHERE: Like the neighboring (and more famous) San Juans, Washington’s Lummi Island feels rooted in the Northwest like old growth, yet somehow from another universe, rising like a humpback whale just off the coast from Bellingham.

WHY: The world-renowned Willows Inn serves an operatic tasting menu helmed by chef Blaine Wetzel, who returned to his native Washington after several years working at Noma, Denmark’s world-famous temple of modernism. Dinner begins at the bar, where shigoku oysters appear nestled in a bowl of rocks—fresh, cold, briny, and perfect. Once diners sit, chefs deliver a fanciful progression of plates, from “snacks” to entrées, some listed in the leather-bound menu, others impromptu surprises. To work off the feast, Lummi features 863 acres of protected forest, farmland, wetlands, and undeveloped shoreline, including three nature preserves. Grab a bike at the inn and trace the island’s shore on a winding, seven-mile loop studded with dazzling vistas, serene beaches, and patches of fresh berries. 5.5 hours from Portland

2. A Luxe River Retreat

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WHERE: Crackling fire. Check. River sneaking by outside. Check. History whispering down every hallway. Check. Camp Sherman has served Oregonians as an escape from summer heat for decades, and the woodsy area’s most refined option is House on the Metolius, just a few miles up the road from Camp Sherman proper.

WHY: A main house and a handful of cabins began as a private retreat for the family dynasty behind Jantzen Mills. Juniper and pine flank the main house, their scent mingling with that of a wood fire sizzling and popping in the Main Lodge’s massive living room. In a clearing below, the Metolius meanders along, beckoning fly fishers, painters, and wanderers. 3 hours from Portland


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Tillamook County Water Trail

3. A Coastal Kayaking Odyssey

WHERE: The Tillamook County Water Trail system encompasses more than 1,800 square miles of water between the Coast Range and sea, from Nehalem Bay south to Nestucca Bay. In all, some 250 square miles of navigable water offer virtually every kind of paddling opportunity imaginable, from Class IV white-water stretches on creeks and rivers to lazy drifts across glassy bays.

WHY: Floats all but guarantee wildlife encounters: river otters, American dippers, nesting bald eagles, and even reclusive Roosevelt elk. No boat? Sign on with Kayak Tillamook for extensive and varied tours. 80 minutes from Portland

4. A Classic Woodsy Hot Spring

WHERE: Some call it Cougar. Officially, it’s Terwilliger. Either way, the forest-shaded cascade of thermal pools in the Willamette National Forest epitomizes easygoing Cascadian adventure.

WHY: DIY volunteer labor created the necklace of soaking pools, where clothing is optional but a chilled-out vibe seems pretty much mandatory. A short hike through ferns, mosses, and towering trees imparts the illusion of a rugged, lumberjacky expedition—but you’re really just a quarter mile off the road. 3 hours from Portland

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5. A Short (Stunning) Waterfall Hike

WHERE: Tired of boring trails that stick to terra firma? The only trail to the Gorge’s Oneonta Falls is the river, so hike up those shorts and hike on in. Scramble over a logjam (watch out—it’s slippery) and skirt along a slot in the canyon’s mossy walls, then wade through chest-high water for a quick, wonderful chill/thrill. The short out-and-back begins under the Oneonta bridge, and, fair warning, gets pretty crowded on weekends.

WHY: Unlike any other hike in the Gorge, this one offers not only scenic splendor, but the childlike demand that you must get wet. 39 minutes from Portland

6. An Ingenious Urban Beach

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Image: Michael Novak

WHERE: Wait—drive east to the beach? Yes. When you stroll down into the sand-fringed cove of Hood River Waterfront Park (perhaps after a restorative pint of Belgian-style ale at Pfriem, about 50 yards away), it all makes sense. The well-designed pocket park transformed industrial riverfront into an urbane Columbia River access point and basking perch in 2009.

WHY: The sand. The sun. The sheltered, semicircular swimming hole. Meanwhile, kids can get wild at the surrounding park’s rock-climbing installation and state-of-the-art playground, while a modernist microdistrict—brewery, café, restaurant—beckons adults. (Wellness takes many forms.) If the Gorge’s famed winds aren’t blowing, the park makes a great stand-up paddleboard launch; otherwise, seek out Big Wind’s rentals and lessons at the Hook, just west, or the Event Site, just to the east. 65 minutes from Portland

7. A One-Day White-Water Epic

WHERE: You’re going to Maupin, of course, the dusty ranching town that becomes Oregon’s unofficial white-water capital once the snow begins to melt. Your mission: an energizing day on the Deschutes.

WHY: The “Ultimate Day Float,” conducted by River Trails Deschutes, is designed for the intrepid (but time-pressed) floater. “It’s not just a splash-and-giggle thing,” says RTD co-owner JoAnn Ellis. “It’s eight or 10 hours on the river.” The jaunt from the Trout Creek launch (reached via shuttle from the company’s Maupin HQ) blasts through the Class IV Whitehorse rapids, as well as a gauntlet of Class IIs and IIIs. Time permitting, a lunchtime hike aims for the Deschutes canyon’s stunning rim. 2 hours from Portland

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8. A Rookie Surfing Adventure

WHERE: Short Sands and other places near Seaside make prime spots for beginners to hit the water with Oregon Surf Adventures, a surf school that offers lessons (and surf yoga!) from some of the state’s most experienced instructors.

WHY: “All my instructors were born and raised on the coast,” says OSA owner Lauren Ahlgren. “We really live and breathe what we teach”—which, for beginners, involves basics like pop-ups, catching waves, and general surf etiquette. “Once you put those fundamentals together it becomes easier and easier,” says Ahlgren. 90 minutes from Portland 

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9. A Plug-&-Play Sailing Jaunt

WHERE: Does your trudge through backed-up bridge traffic often leave you longing for the picturesque sailboats floating in the river, so tantalizingly close, yet so far? Explore the waters for yourself during a sailing lesson on one of Scovare Expeditions’ hardy craft with a certified instructor.

WHY: It’s a 90-minute basic sailing lesson hugging the shores of Ross Island. You’ll practice steering, hoisting sail, tacking, jibbing, and gazing into the distance with Homeric gravity while dropping the phrase “wine-dark sea.” Kids are also welcome to get nautical (with proper supervision, of course), and sailors under 10 pay half price. 0 minutes from Portland!

10. A Totally Awesome Urban Pool

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WHERE: Portland Parks & Rec runs six indoor pools, but—with all due respect to gargantuas like the Mt Scott Aquatic Center, which is basically a publicly owned waterslide park—you really want to be outside, right? So hit one of PPR’s seven seasonal outdoor pools scattered across the city.

WHY: Every summer, our outdoor public pools become sun-splashed social and athletic free-for-alls. You can just imagine neighborhood gems like Northeast’s Grant Pool and the 105-year-old Sellwood Pool as chic Continental lidos. But really, they’re just tons of rambunctious American summer fun: everyone into the pool! All over Portland

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