It happens every summer — Saturday rolls around, thermometers top 80 degrees, and the urge to hit the lake, river or pool becomes overwhelming. But between parking woes and rowdy teenagers, algae blooms and just plain old traffic and long drives, the prospect of catching some rays while the kids safely and happily splash around is often more fantasy than reality. To help you beat the odds this year, here’s a collection of some of our favorite adventure spots most likely to deliver on your vision of summer-bliss success.
This 77-acre site on the east fork of the Lewis River, just northwest of Battle Ground, Wash., is known for its park, boat launch and fishing hole, but the slow currents and shallow spots make it an ideal spot for small kids. Bring along a BBQ picnic and enjoy watching the fish and river rocks through the crystal-clear water.
Looking for a spot right in town? This unfussy little strip of sand is right next to Portland International Airport, along the Columbia River. The air-traffic noise can be loud, but the currents are light and water shallow for quite a distance, allowing little ones to splash around to their hearts’ content. (Just don’t forget to bring swim shoes, as surfaces can get rocky.) Note that there is a parking fee of $5 per car.
Tugboats, shipping freighters and kayaks share the water with beavers and cormorants at this tree-covered, 104-acre site at the convergence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Sandy beaches and nature trails are the main draw, but young kids (and adults!) won’t want to miss a rare view of local tugboats and massive international cargo ships up close and at work. Note: there is no swimming or entering the water at Kelley Point Park.
For many families, it’s just not summer without a trip to the Sandy River, and Oxbow is hard to beat for its proximity and access. Inner-tube floating and boating are especially popular here, along with the requisite swimming and fishing. There’s even a playground for kids and plenty of campsites for those wanting to make a weekend of it, all within less than an hour from the city. Do note that this area can get relatively rowdy and crowded on the weekend, but is generally quite mellow during the week. Most people hang out at the boat launch, but the helpful park rangers can suggest pocket sites along the river if you’re looking to get away from the crowds. Parking fee of $5 per car.
This short, low-impact hike through old-growth trees along the Salmon River is not only a beautiful summer trek on its own, but features idyllic swimming holes just off the trail and some seasonal stream crossings perfect for poking around in. Try to find an area that is sheltered from the trail, and bring a floatie along — just keep a close eye on smaller kids because there’s a decent current, and be prepared for super-chilly water, even on summer’s hottest days.
Only 3 miles from downtown Vancouver and 20 minutes from Portland, Vancouver Lake features 2.5 miles of sandy, shell-studded beach with a clear-day view of Mt. St. Helens, plus sand volleyball courts, a sizable pier and boat launch, and a small playground. The shoreline is shallow enough for even the littlest kids to walk out a ways, and the water is quite warm — perfect for days that are sunny yet mild. $3 parking fee. Check latest recommendations on safety due to toxic algae.
A long-running tradition in Vernonia, Dewey Pool isn’t a pool at all but rather a section of Rock Creek dammed in the summer to create a picturesque, old-timey swimming hole. With plenty of shade and picnic areas and even a separate area for smaller swimmers, it’s well worth the drive for a dose of small-town charm.
Klineline is beloved for its family-friendly fishing for trout, bass, crappie and catfish, as well as a nearby chlorinated splash pad for kids whose patience may give up before the fish catch on. Note the $3 parking fee in summertime.
It’s hard to believe an idyllic, 25-acre nature park surrounding duckweed-covered ponds and a slough exists between industrial Columbia Boulevard and the airport, but here it is. Not only is it a nature lover’s dream, full of tadpoles, nutria, kingfishers and herons, but with mild currents and nature viewing opportunities aplenty, it makes for a perfect kayak and canoe spot for little ones. (No swimming here, though — boating and hiking only.)
As of June 18, Big Surf! is not open; check their website for the latest updates. This indoor water park features multiple slides, a wave pool, a snack bar and a 29-foot rock-climbing wall. It may not be outdoors for those super-hot days, but with enough amenities to blow most other pools in the city out of the … well, you know, your kids (and, by extension, you) probably won’t mind. Entry fees start at $6.50.
Though it’s technically for Kennedy School hotel guests, this warm, lushly landscaped courtyard oasis is open to the public for a small fee. Kids are allowed between 11 am and 6 pm, but as a clerk chided a line of parents on one recent visit, “The soaking pool is supposed to be a relaxing experience; we’ve had some complaints about children, so no splashing.” This costs $5 per person, but is free for immediate neighborhood residents. COVID update: Reservations required during COVID-19.
“Going to the coast” means different things to different people, whether it’s video poker at Chinook Winds or shopping for tchotchkes in Seaside, but for families, it’s hard to beat the quaint, small town charm of Manzanita. An old-fashioned main street of shops and restaurants leads to a flat, scenic beach perfect for even very young kids to look for driftwood or make sand castles, and its 1 hour 45 minute proximity to Portland makes for a totally doable day trip. It can be windy, though, so be sure to bring jackets, even if it’s 90 degrees in the valley.
This 4,200-acre property just west of Astoria offers a little something for everyone. An active fort in both the Civil War and World War II, the park features a military museum and walking tours, a real shipwreck, and wide expanses of sandy beach perfect for kite-flying. There are also a variety of camping facilities, as well as a lake with two swimming areas for adventurous souls looking to get farther into the water than open surf will allow.
This outdoor option at Wilson High School in Hillsdale is divided into two sections: a lap pool for adults, and a kids’ area with water slides, a lazy river, a diving board and a shaded, super-shallow area for the very youngest swimmers. It boasts far more entertainment than the average municipal pool, although it can get very crowded, so attending later in the afternoon on a weekday is recommended. (And on super-hot days, the unshaded walk to and from the parking lot is no picnic. Consider buying a popsicle from the teenagers running the concessions stand before departing to distract your kids.) COVID update: PP&R outdoor pools will have lap swim, swim lessons, and play swims by reservation only. Check the website for prices.
About 4 miles east of Daybreak, also on the Lewis River, this is Clark County’s oldest park and includes 154 acres of trails, playground equipment, picnic areas and, of course, multiple swimming holes and designated splashing areas. Some can be deep, however, so exercise particular caution with non-swimmers. $3 parking fee.
Popular year round for its large playground, toy-filled sandbox and grassy picnic areas with pretty views, George Rogers is also a spectacular summer pick for its sandy beach right on the Willamette. It’s just a short walk from the lower parking lot, making it both kayak-accessible and ideal for classic blanket-and-umbrella picnic action.