Swimming Holes of Southern Oregon

Swimming Holes of Southern Oregon

by Jeanine Moy, Northwest Nature Shop Naturalist

Southwest Oregon hosts amazing places to go swimming.

Our backyard public-lands boast alpine lakes, wild rivers, and tumbling waterfalls on Cascade volcanic rocks and steep Siskiyou drainages. This region is marked by aquatic refuges for people and wildlife alike. Before you go, make sure to get a good map. We are always glad to provide further information and guidebooks if you stop by the Shop! For constantly updated water quality alerts, check the Rogue Riverkeeper Swim Guide. 

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument summer swim getaway Ashland

Tall trees, lazy afternoons, and beautiful flowers and shrubs in the Monument. Take a dip at Howard Prairie, Hyatt Lake Reservoir, or Little Hyatt Reservoir (pictured).

Hyatt and Howard Prairie Reservoirs: 

Situated within the boundary of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, these two sister-reservoirs are a recreation haven for boating, bird watching, swimming, and just laying by the “beach.” Grab your natural sunscreen, pack a bag, bring a picnic, bring your bug ID materials…(you get the idea) and spend an afternoon at these high elevation (approx. 5,000 ft.) gems. Camping is available at various campsites.

Middle Fork of the Applegate: 

Shaded by live oaks and evergreens, deep emerald swimming holes upstream of Applegate Reservoir Dam are easy to access. If you want to “double-dip” activities for the day, hike the Middle Fork Applegate trail via Forest Service Road 1035.

McKee Bridge, Applegate: 

Located on the Applegate River, just downstream of the historic bridge is a small but sweet and deep pool. It also a small cliff on the opposite bank for those inclined to take a long plunge. The water is flowing from the Red Butte Wilderness on the Siskiyou Crest makes for a cold, refreshing dip any time of the year.

Rogue River: 

Take a quick day trip to one of our region’s most iconic and historically rich places, the Rogue River. Easily accessed spots include the Rogue-Elk Park just north of Shady Cove, and various pull-outs along the Galice Road west (downstream) of Merlin. For a real wilderness treat, hike the Rogue River trail or drive to the Rogue River Lodge. From there, visit some spectacular swimming holes along the Mule Creek tributary to the Rogue.

Illinois River:

Along Illinois River Road, short trails lead down to sandy beaches and deep green pools with great jumping (and lounging) rocks. It is wild in character and coveted by paddlers. The mighty Illinois River is also home to rare plant species, and threatened by misuse from visitors. Due to road hazards, excessive littering, and other inappropriate offenses, the Forest Service has recently banned alcohol use here. Do the right thing, and leave it cleaner than when you arrived.

Adventure at North Fork Smith River Swimming Holes

Beautiful rare plants, hot peridotite rock for lounging, and cool turquoise waters are a wilderness treat along the banks of the forks of the Smith River.

Smith River:

The Smith River is a most special and endangered place. It is the only undammed river of its size flowing through California. For a quick stop, access turquoise swimming holes along the Middle Fork of the Smith along scenic Hwy 199 on the way to the Redwood Coast. To get away from the main roads, check out the remote North Fork Smith and the iconic California Cobra Lily on its banks.

Clear Creek:

A rare treat for those willing to hike to earn a cold plunge. Wilderness Falls in the high Siskiyou Wilderness is sweet backcountry swimming hole, staying cold all-year-round. Fairly popular among backpackers from the Doe Flat or Young’s Valley trailheads, you will have to earn these spots by hiking a few miles.


Happy summer swimming!


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