Swimming Holes

Columbia River Swim Spots and Beaches Under 90 Minutes from Portland

From Jones Beach to Broughton Beach to Rooster Rock, the Columbia River is big enough for everyone to find a beach and take a dip.

By Margaret Seiler, Katherine Chew Hamilton, and Julia Silverman

The Pacific is cold, the Sandy River is mobbed, Portland pools have long lines, and your secret mountain swimming hole is either not so secret anymore or still inaccessible after recent years' fires. The giant Columbia River is here for you, even though I-84 and train tracks can complicate access, and industrial neighbors, container ships, and barges aren't always the backdrop you're looking for. But you can find water lapping on sand or stones at many spots along the river's run, from where it meets the Pacific through the Columbia River Gorge and farther inland (upriver shoutouts to the protected cove at Earl Snell Memorial Park in Arlington and Sacajawea State Park in Washington's Tri-Cities). Here are some spots within an hour and a half of Portland, organized by river mile. (River mile 0 is where the Columbia meets the Pacific Ocean at Cape Disappointment; the Willamette joins up near river mile 101.)

In some places, currents, debris, and nearby industrial activity or boat launches make swimming or even wading unwise. Always obey posted signs, and use the river at your own risk.

Jones Beach

River mile: 46
Closest town: Clatskanie, Oregon
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Wave to the cows, horses, and deer on your way to this windswept expanse of sand popular with fishers. Bring a picnic blanket—the few picnic tables here look like they might have come from the set of The Road Warrior, as does the askew sign letting visitors know ATVs are not allowed. —Margaret Seiler

A string of sand beneath a short, steep hill, with logs and water

Looking west at Jones Beach, near Clatskanie

Dibblee Beach

River mile: 65
Closest town: Rainier, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Most of the signs at this Columbia County park aren't about water safety or park etiquette—instead, they threaten huge fines if someone neglected to pay the day use fee to park. (OK, we get it!) That dubious welcome aside, this lengthy stretch of sand just west of downtown Rainier is popular with fishers. —MS 

dirt road, sand, river, container ships in background

Along the road at Dibblee Beach

Prescott Beach

River mile: 71
Closest town: Prescott, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour
The Columbia County park day use fee is required here, too, but you won't find all the menacing signs about it like at Dibblee. You will find scattered benches, picnic tables, and fire rings/grills. There's a designated fishing area, and you'll want to bring a designated driver so you can stop at the storied Goble Tavern on your way home. —MS  

A sloping river beach with yellow and green plants growing and several people holding fishing rods

Fishing at Prescott Beach

Trestle Beach

River mile: 83
Closest town: Columbia City, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 45 minutes
Not the most peaceful spot thanks to the Knife River facility dropping sand and other materials onto barges right in front of the beach, but still a sandy strand lined with trees and popular with dog owners and fishers. The gate to the parking area is locked promptly at the posted time (generally 5 p.m., but it changes to 7 p.m. in the summer), so don't get stuck. —MS   

industrial conveyor dumping what looks like sand onto a barge in the river, with a sandy beach in view

The view near the parking area trail to Trestle Beach


Tiny Columbia City is home to the even tinier Pixie Park.

Pixie Park

River mile: 84
Closest town: Columbia City, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown:
 45 minutes
You might think this park, on property owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (they also run the nearby Caples House Museum), was so named because it's just so darn adorable, but it was actually named after a boat known as the Pixie—MS 

Sauvie Island

River mile: 94
Closest town: Portland, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 35 minutes
Sauvie Island is technically home to five beaches—Reeder, North Unit, Walton, Collins, and Warrior Point. One of the more popular of the five, Walton is a solid all-around family beach, and on hot days it can be hard to get a parking spot nearby (and don’t forget to pick up a parking pass, required in all wildlife areas on Sauvie Island). The beach offers soft sand, temperate water (though with lots of seaweed floating around), and a picturesque view straight across to Washington. If you can handle a little (or a lot of) nudity, though, there's also the clothing-optional Collins Beach, which boasts clearer water and fewer crowds. —Katherine Chew Hamilton 

Kelley Point

River mile: 102
Closest town: Portland, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 20 minutes
Kelley Point is on our list as a beautiful place to ride your bike, sit on a log, have a picnic, and watch the ships go by, as the City of Portland technically prohibits park users from swimming or entering the water here due to “unsafe and unpredictable conditions.” Several people have drowned at the park, including two people within one week in 2016, because of the high currents where the Willamette and Columbia meet. Given the number of trash barges we’ve seen floating along, staying out of the water sounds OK to us. —KCH

A sunny day at Kelley Point Park

Wintler Community Park

River mile: 110
Closest town: Vancouver, Washington 
Travel time from downtown: 18 minutes
The eastern terminus of the five-mile Columbia River Renaissance Trail from downtown Vancouver, Wintler Community Park offers restrooms, picnic tables, a steep sandy beach, and a view of the action at PDX airport across the river. There's a parking fee required from Memorial Day through Labor Day. —MS 

Broughton Beach

River mile: 110
Closest town: Portland, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 18 minutes
By Salty's, the Sextant, and the airport, this Metro-managed beach always has something odd happening: an unexplained intact melon just sitting there, a man with a guitar sitting alone on the hood of his car playing a song you swear you heard in a dream. Oh, and there's a giant, windswept sandy beach with room for you, me, and everyone we know. Metro requires a day-use parking fee, and if you get hooked on the bike path that runs along Marine Drive you might want to invest in the annual pass. (The pass also works at Metro's Chinook Landing Marine Park, about nine miles east of Broughton, but that park is primarily a boat launch site and not really a beach. Chinook Landing has an archery range, too.) —MS 

Cottonwood Beach

River mile: 123
Closest town: Washougal, Washington
Travel time from downtown: 30 minutes
One of the Lewis-and-Clarkier spots on this list, Cottonwood Beach has plenty of interpretive signs about the Corps of Discovery's stop here and the Indigenous groups that long called the area home, along with several historical watercraft. Get there early on a summer day to claim one of the little private patches of sand down the hill from nicely distanced picnic tables. Multiple signs remind visitors there's no alcohol allowed (with an added sign proclaiming "NO TOLERANCE" in case it was unclear), so make a post-beach stop at the 54˚40" brewery taproom for a Fluffy Kittens hazy IPA and a Bavarian pretzel from Portland's Dos Hermanos. —MS 

One of the spots at Cottonwood Beach is lined with some grounded historical boats.

Rooster Rock State Park

River mile: 129
Closest town: Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 30 minutes
Far enough to feel like an escape from the city while easily fitting into a half-day trip, Right at the paid parking area, Rooster Rock is divided into family-friendly and clothing-optional areas. When temperatures rise, people cram onto a small sandy peninsula, Bluetooth speakers blast reggaeton, beer cans crack open, and you might catch people floating by on swan-shaped inflatables. The clothing-optional area brings its own party vibe in the summer. There are restrooms and picnic tables for enjoying a feast with a view of the water—beware that if you’re planning on bringing a cooler to the sandy beach, you’re in for a bit of a walk. The water has its fair share of floating debris (I’ve spotted apple cores and beer cans), but the beach’s picturesque scenery and carefree feeling make up for it. —KCH

Viento State Park

River mile: 161
Closest town: Oregon
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour
Dodge some of the Hood River crowds and score some shade by taking a dip a few miles west of town at Viento State Park, also popular with windsurfers (viento means wind, after all), where you can also camp—the tent sites up the hill are farther from the water but are a bit calmer than the ones you'll find between the railroad tracks and I-84. —MS

Hood River Waterfront Park

River mile: 169
Closest town: Hood River, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour, 10 minutes

This plush spot offers a roped-in section for swimming, a sandy crescent for sunbathing, a bird's-eye view on the kiteboarders and windsurfers weaving their way across the river, clean restrooms, and a notch-above-the-ordinary playground with a rock climbing wall. No need to pack a picnic, either—you can easily walk to any of several great lunch spots, including Pfriem Family Brewers, Solstice for wood-fired pizza and generous salads, and Ferment Brewing Company, which is proving to be a holy grail for kombucha acolytes. —Julia Silverman

If the beach gets boring, there's a climbing wall and playground just steps away at Hood River Waterfront Park.

Mayer State Park

River mile: 181
Closest town: Mosier, Oregon 
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour, 20 minutes

While this area is better known for the Gorge views offered uphill at the Rowena Crest Overlook, down at river level Mayer State Park offers a rocky beach and duck-packed coves to explore, plus a boat launch and lifejackets to borrow. A day-use fee (or an annual state parks pass) is required to park. —MS

The shoreline meanders at Mayer State Park, near The Dalles.

Doug’s Beach

River mile: 184
Closest town: Lyle, Washington
Travel time from downtown: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Just east of Lyle, Washington, Doug’s Beach State Park offers a shaded beach and picnic tables. You’ll need a Discover Pass to park here along WA-14 (the lot is well patrolled, so don't risk going without), and be very careful crossing the tracks. —MS 

a person splashing in the water in a wide, calm river

Splashing around at Doug’s Beach, on a rare day with no windsurfers

Image: Kelly Clarke