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Wild Swimming in & Around the McKenzie River Valley

A wooden platform leading out onto a tranquil lake, try wild swimming on your next weekend getaway in Oregon.

As temperatures start to rise and activities in the McKenzie River Valley start to reopen, we’re all dreaming about different ways to cool off. A trip to the swimming holes near Eugene is a great way to burn off the extra energy you, your kids, or your friends have built up being cooped up inside over the last few months. The quieter pools and swimming spots in and around the Horse Creek Lodge area are a great solution for those wanting to get out into nature but still comply with social distancing measures. Get together with friends and family for the first time in months and enjoy the great outdoors.

In the McKenzie River Valley, one thing we’re not short of is swimming holes. The river stems from the idyllic Clear Lake and from there spills out into various reservoirs and pools along its route to join up with the Willamette River. Although better known for its water sports and fishing rather than its swimming spots, mostly due to the temperature of the water, there’s no better way to cool off from a sweaty hike than a plunge into the invigorating pristine pools that we are so proud of.

One thing that puts some people off from swimming in our pristine waters is the crisp temperatures. These often deepwater reservoirs and lakes do not warm up as much as other shallower swimming spots, something that can be a disadvantage for many. But did you know there are many advantages to taking a cool plunge?

Coldwater swimming has numerous health benefits, first and foremost, it boosts your immune system. When you dunk yourself into colder waters, your body is forced to react to changing conditions which in turn, increases the number of white blood cells. Health is a priority for all of us at the moment and the opportunity to combine outdoor activities with building up your body’s natural defenses is a great way to ease anxieties. Speaking of anxiety, coldwater swimming is known to stimulate endorphins, the chemicals released from your brain that create a sense of well-being. Mother nature’s very own anti-anxiety remedy, we could all benefit from a dose of that in the current climate.

There are a few precautions you will need to take when embarking on a coldwater swimming adventure, for example, be sure to help your body to acclimate once you get in the water. The best way to do this is to keep swimming rather than floating in one place. It also helps to distract you from the initial shock! Once you drag yourself out of the water, try to warm up slowly. Avoid rushing back to your accommodation or campsite for a hot shower, but instead, wrap up in clothes or a towel. In the summer months, drying off in a patch of sun is the perfect way to recover.

So now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you, we want to share our favorite spots to take a dip around the McKenzie River Valley area and beyond.

Trail Bridge Reservoir

A mere 15-minute drive from our lodges and with its diverse range of trails, this swimming hole is the perfect destination for an afternoon hike followed by a refreshing dip. The shore, littered with small beaches, makes it easily accessible and a great place for young kids to splash around in the shallows. The surrounding scenery is hard to beat with line upon line of the area’s iconic Douglas fir trees contrasting against the blue-green lake.

Clear Lake

The Clear Lake hike is well known in the area, but what many don’t know is that the spot is also popular for freshwater diving. The trees rooted at the bottom of the lake make it a perfect place for underwater discovery. For the less daring of us, jumping in after completing the 4.6-mile loop trail is sure to make you feel invigorated and prepared to continue your day. The depth of the lake means it’s not ideal for children or weak swimmers.

Blue River Reservoir

This vast open stretch of water is a great option for those worried about social distancing. The pebbly beaches are a great place for a picnic as well as plenty of other activities for kids such as rope swings and cliff jumping for the teenagers. In summer, it’s a popular location for water sports and fishing too.

Cougar Reservoir

Slightly smaller than the neighboring Blue River Reservoir, Cougar also has various campgrounds that provide facilities and picnic areas. The bonus of this area is that after your cold water swim, you can take the chill off in the Terwilliger hot springs on the west side of the reservoir. These geothermal pools are an iconic sight in the valley and very well looked after. But remember not to switch too quickly between the two, allow your body to warm up slowly before entering the hot springs.

For those willing to venture further afield, we have two more options for great Oregon swimming spots.

Foster Reservoir

An hour and a quarter from Horse Creek Lodge and an hour from Eugene, this is an idyllic place to spend a summer’s day. The roped-off swimming beach at Lewis Creek Park makes this a great area of the lake for families and wild swimming novices. Sunnyside Country Park is another area that draws visitors, the boat jetty provides endless fun for kids jumping into the water.

Quartzville Creek

The furthest swimming hole from Horse Creek Lodge, but at just one hour and a half away, it’s worth venturing that bit further. As you drive along the Quartzville Recreation Corridor, you can stop by the different pools and choose your favorite. The ledges alongside the pristine blue waters make great platforms for launching off and provide easy entry and exit points. The great thing about Quartzville Creek is that you have a variety of Oregon’s best swimming holes in one location, you can even spend an hour at each if you feel like exploring. Or if the crowds at one of the pools put you off, move on to the next! One thing’s for sure, once you see the color of the water, it’s hard to resist taking the plunge.

If you like the sound of these swimming spots and want to make a weekend of it, consider renting one of our cabins or setting up camp in our campground. Now that the mountain bike trail shuttles are back up and running you can combine your swimming adventures with another activity. We are strictly following the government’s safety and sanitation measures, but if you still feel in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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