Swimming Areas

WILLAMETTE RIVER SWIMMING AREAS 

It’s a fact - the Willamette River is approved for summer swimming, except in the now very rare instances when Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) conditions are present. Oregon DEQ states that when CSO conditions are not present, the Willamette River in Portland is safe for swimming and other recreational uses.

Please be careful when swimming in the Willamette River. Swim with a friend, know the area, beware of boats and debris, and wear river shoes for safety in getting in and out. Early in the summer, water temperature can be cold.

Before you jump in

Although they may look calm, rivers are active, living bodies of water and are in constant states of change. Check out conditions before you enter the water. Swim at your own risk – lifeguards are not present. Before swimming, please remember:  

  • Water levels go up and down 
  • Currents change depending on the tide, river level and wind
  • Branches, debris, and rocks move on and under the surface 
  • Boats and jet skis can be hazardous and hard to see 
  • Water temperatures change seasonally, with colder water likely from late September to early June
  • Banks can be uneven, rocky, slippery, and have submerged dropoffs 
  • Sewage overflows are extremely rare but still possible. Environmental Services issues alerts on its homepage when they occur. 
  • Harmful Algae Blooms can occur when we have a warmer and dryer Winter or Spring – Willamette River Harmful Algae Bloom FAQ’s
  • The lower Willamette River is part of a designated Superfund clean-up site (between the Broadway Bridge and Sauvie Island). Two of its sites should not be entered for swimming: the Willamette Cove and Gasco sites. Oregon Health Authority has found that the river is safe for swimming. The principal risk of the Superfund is consumption of resident fish. 
       

Portland Parks & Recreation recommends that people DO NOT swim in certain areas, including Kelley Point Park; off or near docks that are designated for boating and watercraft tie-up; sensitive habitat areas (look for signs); and in some Superfund-designated areas – see map. 

Please review our Willamette River Swimming Safety page before going out to swim.  

For information on Willamette River water quality click here.
For information on Willamette River water temperature click here.

Willamette River Tide Charts Click Here.

 

NORTH

Cathedral Park

Located on North Edison St. and Pittsburg Ave. under east end of St. Johns Bridge.

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Kelley Point

Due to the frequency of drownings that have occurred at Kelley Point Park, Portland Parks and Rec does not recommend swimming at this location.

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Sauvie Island

Located 10 miles northwest of Portland, it’s the largest island in the Columbia River.

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NORTHEAST

Kevin Duckworth Memorial Dock

Located on the East bank of the Willamette River between Steel and Burnside bridges.

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Broughton Beach

Located at 4536 NE Marine Drive on south bank of Columbia River near PDX airport.

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SOUTHEAST

Station 21 Fire House Dock

Located at 05 SE Madison, adjacent to Audrey McCall Beach.

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Sellwood Park

Located on the East bank of river at SE 7th and Miller St. just north of Sellwood Bridge.

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Elk Rock Island

Located at SE 19th and Sparrow St. in Milwaukie. Limited parking on neighborhood streets.

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Audrey McCall Beach & Dock

Located on East bank of river just south of Hawthorne Bridge.

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SOUTHWEST

Poet’s Beach

West bank of river under Marquam Bridge.

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Tom McCall Bowl Beach

Located on West bank of river just south of Hawthorne Bridge near Riverplace Marina.

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NORTH SWIMMING SPOTS

Cathedral Park

Location: North Edison St. and Pittsburg Ave. under east end of St. Johns Bridge. 

Access: Transit (Bus 75), bike, or walk to this beautiful grass park and small beach. Limited parking. 

Lowdown: One of the most scenic spots on the river, Cathedral Park sits beneath the awe-inspiring St. Johns Bridge which towers 400 feet above. There are great views of Linnton and the West Hills of Forest Park. Wonderful sunset viewing!  

The park includes swimming and fishing areas, boat dock and ramp, restrooms, picnic tables, and grass amphitheater. It has a small sand/gravel beach, right across from a bridge support. Cathedral Park is part of the Portland Harbor Superfund area which extends from the Broadway Bridge to Sauvie Island. According to Oregon Health Authority, swimming is safe from a human health perspective. This area is thought to be a campsite for a group from the Lewis & Clark expedition who explored up the Willamette River in 1806. A time capsule was hidden here in 1980 and will be opened in 2030. Stand by. 

HAP's role: With numerous volunteers, we have had several cleanups at this beach and have removed many elephants worth of concrete, rock and debris from the waters and beach area. 

Safety: Beach suitable for beginner to intermediate swimmers and children with close supervision. Minimal current, as fishing dock helps break wake from boats, with gradual slope that goes down to 10-15 ft. deep around 50 feet from shore. Because of the depth of water at the adjacent dock, the dock is only recommended for advanced swimmers. 

kelley point park

Due to the frequency of drownings that have occurred at Kelley Point Park, Portland Parks and Recreation does not recommend swimming at this location. Please use extreme caution if you do choose to swim in this area and beware of currents, debris, and ship trac. There are many alternatives in the Portland area that are better for swimming.

 

npGreenway is working on a trail to connect Kelley Point Park to Cathedral Park which will provide bicycle and walk access to Kelley Point and Cathedral Park.

Sauvie Island

Location: 10 miles northwest of Portland, it’s the largest island in the Columbia River.

Access: Take Hwy. 30 north from Portland and cross Sauvie Island Bridge east.

Lowdown: The size of Manhattan, Sauvie Island has several beach areas and a world of outdoor fun to offer. The main swimming beaches are described below. All are nice but can get crowded on sunny days.

NOTE: you’ll need a parking permit, which you can get at the Country Store or Cracker Barrel just after crossing the Sauvie Island Bridge. Don’t forget to get one! Once you cross the bridge, it’s still about 9 miles to get to the beaches on the north/east side of the island. Beaches are generally open from dawn to 10:00pm and closed to overnight use and camping.

Read on for Sauvie Island Beaches

walton beach

The most popular beach on Sauvie Island, Walton Beach is located at the north end of Reeder Road. The beach is sandy and serene, with lovely shallow water, gentle waves, and easy entry into the river (though it does drop off in places).

Be aware there are no lifeguards on duty. Watch children closely. Personal floatation devices are recommended. Besides swimming, it’s a great area for building sand castles, flying kites, and watching for eagles and wildlife. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers monitor water quality at this beach from June to September.

collins beach (clothing optional)

You’ll find Collins Beach further north up Reeder Road from Walton Beach. Collins is over a mile long and begins a quarter mile after Reeder Road becomes gravel. This is a clothing-optional nude beach. You can always keep your suit on if you prefer that to your “birthday suit”. It’s not as crowded as Walton and has more trees and shady areas – to relax or picnic, and avoid “sensitive sunburns”. There are no lifeguards at any Sauvie Island swimming area, so be careful and swim with a friend. The Columbia River can be chilly even in the summer, and there can be sudden drop offs. Right across the river is the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Great for bird-watching while you frolic in the water and on land.

willow bar beach

The beach at Willow Park is located off milepost 7 on Reeder Road. It offers a relaxing, natural setting, and a sandy beach that is almost 2 miles long with easy access into the water.

With so much sandy beachfront and a wonderful view of the Columbia River, this is one of the best beaches in the Portland area. There’s little shade but it doesn’t get quite as crowded as other Sauvie Island beaches – partly due to the semi hidden parking lot at the end of a dirt road off Reeder Road. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers monitor water quality at this beach from May-September.

NORTHEAST SWIMMING SPOTS

KEVIN DUCKWORTH MEMORIAL DOCK

Location: East bank of Willamette River between Steel and Burnside bridges. 

Access: Short walk or bike ride from Rose Quarter Transit Center. Access from the floating section of Eastbank Esplanade. Ten bike racks were installed in 2022 in partnership with Human Access Project and Portland Bureau of Transportation. 

Lowdown: The Kevin Duckworth Dock is named in honor of beloved Portland Trail Blazer Kevin Duckworth. The Duckworth Dock has a long 300-foot deck which can accommodate many swimmers and sun bathers. “Duckworth” was designated as a swimming dock in 2021 and is managed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Duckworth features eight swim ladders and 10 bike parking spaces on the Eastbank Esplanade outside the entrance to the dock. The “U Shape” area between the dock and the Esplanade is a swim zone that is protected from boaters. The Duckworth Dock is the best place for viewing the sunset in downtown Portland on the Willamette River. If you catch the sunset at just the right time you can view a “double sunset” as the sun reflects off buildings downtown.

HAP’s role: HAP privately fundraised to hire landscape architecture firm MIG to re-envision this dock as a non-motorized swim dock. Pulling examples of other similar facilities around the world, HAP made a strong case for swimming use. As a result, the City of Portland has committed to making the Duckworth Dock a world-class urban swimming site – open to fishing and non-motorized boating. MIG’s work has received national attention including a design award from ASLA Oregon and a feature in Landscape Architecture magazine.

Safety: Because of the very deep river depth at this location, it is only recommended for advanced swimmers.  

 

 

Broughton Beach

Location: 4536 NE Marine Drive on south bank of Columbia River near PDX airport.

Access: Bike or drive to large parking lot on Marine Drive, just east of the Sextant Bar along the Columbia River.  Broughton beach can be accessed by bike from the Marine drive Trail (40 Mile Loop Trail)

Lowdown: Across from Portland International Airport, Broughton Beach provides a clean, safe place to access the Columbia River. You can swim, sunbathe, picnic, and walk this wide beach for over a mile (wear river shoes when swimming or walking the beach). There’s not much current and it’s a gradual entry into the river. A bike path extends along the beach for miles and on clear days you get a terrific view of Mt. Hood.

With jets flying overhead, it’s not exactly a quiet place, but it has more beach area than any other site around. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers monitor habitat and conditions at this site from June-September. Ample parking is available at a cost of $5 per vehicle per day. There is only one entrance to the parking lot. Look for the M. James Gleason Memorial Boat Ramp sign.

Safety: The Columbia River here is relatively calm with not much current. Easy for all ages to enter the river and play, with great visibility all along the river. But don’t get too far out. Watch for boats and debris.

SOUTHEAST SWIMMING SPOTS

Station 21 Fire House Dock

Location: 05 SE Madison, adjacent to Audrey McCall Beach.

Access: Bike or walk along Eastbank Esplanade to Fire Station ramp down to dock. Free street parking available on SE Madison and adjacent streets. A paid lot is next to the Esplanade near the Fire Station.

Lowdown: Home to HAP’s River Hugger Swim Team, Portland’s ocial open water team, the dock has two ladders which makes it easy get in and out of the water.

HAP’s role: HAP advocated to have a storage cabinet installed on the dock for swimmers to safely store gear and valuables. Also, HAP proposed and paid for ladders that are now in use on the dock.

Safety: Because of the depth of water at this location it is only recommended for advanced swimmers.

SELLWOOD RIVERFRONT PARK

Location: East bank of river at SE 7th and Miller St. just north of Sellwood Bridge. 

Access: Bike access via Springwater Corridor Trail. For cars, there is a large parking lot.

Lowdown: Located near Oaks Amusement Park, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, and the Sellwood Bridge, this is a large family park with many amenities including a long beach area and a dock, which is in deeper water. It’s a great place for views of the city and the west hills and is easy to reach by bike via paved paths that lead downtown or east to Springwater Corridor. The dock blocks waves so the shallow water near the beach is pleasant – nice for kids (and dogs) to play in and adults to relax in. This is a popular spot for dogs. Please always pick up after your pets. 

Safety: Beach suitable for beginner to intermediate swimmers and children with close supervision. Minimal current, with gradual slope that goes down to 10-15 ft. deep around 50 feet from shore. Because of the depth of water at the adjacent dock, the dock is only recommended for advanced swimmers.

 

Elk Rock Island Park

Location: SE 19th and Sparrow St. in Milwaukie. Limited parking on neighborhood streets.

Access: Island accessible by foot in summer only, through Spring Park just south of downtown Milwaukie. Take the dirt path downhill and cross over to the island.

Lowdown: Elk Rock Island is one of the hidden swimming and hiking areas near Portland. Even many locals are unaware of this river refuge. It has some excellent swimming holes. Most are accessed via the rocky shore, although there are two small sand beaches.

Formed by a volcano that erupted 40 million years ago, this small island is acclaimed for its river access, trails, and wildlife including eagles and blue herons. It’s a beautiful spot with outstanding views, located where the river narrows.

Safety: Go with someone. Don’t swim alone – you may be hard to see. Be careful and watch for boats and jet skis. This has some of the deepest spots in the Willamette River. The shore drops off fast in spots.

EASTBANK CRESCENT & DOCK (AUDREY MCCALL BEACH)

Location: East side of the Willamette River, just south of Hawthorne Bridge along the Eastbank Esplanade.  

Access: Bike or walk along east esplanade to the Audrey McCall Beach cove. Ample free street parking on SE Madison and nearby streets. A paid lot is adjacent to the Eastbank Esplanade at the Station 21 Fire House. Bike parking is available at the top of the riverbank on the north side of the Hawthorne Bridge. TriMet Hawthorne Bus 14 has a stop on the Hawthorne Bridge for an easy walk to the beach. 

Lowdown: Audrey McCall Beach is a cove with a semi-rocky beach that has easy gradual access into the river. This beach features great views of downtown and is a good spot for sunset viewing. The Central Eastside District is within walking distance with many shops, cafes and restaurants. OMSI is adjacent to Audrey McCall Beach. 

You can also enter the water from the Holman Dock (slated to be replaced in 2023) where kayakers, canoes, and standup paddleboards often launch. Note, the water depth from the dock is 20+ feet deep and is only suitable for advanced level swimmers who feel very comfortable in the water.  

Please be respectful of the Dragon Boaters if you swim and hang out on the dock. Don’t use their anchored boats as storage for your personal belongings (or trash) and stay out of the way of any crew teams carrying their boats. Let’s all be courteous as we share this space. 

HAP’s role: Over several years of work, HAP removed over 200 tons of concrete, cables, and debris from the area, slowly but surely revealing a nice beach. HAP successfully advocated for $300,000 of funding for a plan to create a public beach at the site. Audrey McCall Beach (named for the wife of Governor Tom McCall) officially opened July 5, 2019. HAP is actively working with a number of stakeholders to improve access to Audrey McCall Beach and add sand - stay tuned!

Safety: Beach suitable for intermediate swimmers and children with close supervision. Minimal current, with gradual slope that goes down to 10-15 ft. deep around 50 feet from shore. Because of the depth of water at the adjacent dock, the dock is only recommended for advanced swimmers. 

 

SOUTHWEST SWIMMING SPOTS


POETʼS BEACH

Location: West bank under Marquam Bridge off the westside Esplanade Path. 

Access: Via esplanade, bike or walk to path under bridge leading down to beach. Limited street parking off SW River Parkway, but lots of garage parking close by. 

Lowdown: This little gem of a beach has smooth sand and easy entry into the water. You can swim right under the Marquam Bridge. It’s a nice place to relax and easy to reach. RiverPlace and South Waterfront neighborhoods are within walking distance of many shops, cafes and restaurants. Poet’s Beach got its name from the short children’s poems engraved into large rocks that lead to the beach entrance. You can also find some Chinook Wawa words, translated into English, that were contributed by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. As you approach the beach, slow down and get inspired by the engraved poems. Bring a pen and paper and write some poetry of your own! 

HAP’s role: Several years ago, HAP identified this site as a good place for humans to access the river, with a nice little beach. This is the put-in for The Big Float. With volunteers, HAP cut through riprack (an ongoing effort) to create a path to reach the sandy shore – then successfully advocated for the site to become Portland’s first ocial public beach. HAP pulled all permits and privately fundraised to have children’s poetry and Chinook wawa words engraved into stones lining the path.

Safety: Suitable for all ability levels. Very little current with depth at this location generally 5-8 ft. at most.  The river is very silty here so your feet may sink in the sandy bottom as you wade out. 

 

TOM MCCALL BOWL BEACH

Location: West bank of river just south of Hawthorne Bridge. 

Access: Take transit, bike, or walk to grass bowl fronting the river. Smart Park at SW 1st and Jefferson is an easy place to park. 

Lowdown: This is where Waterfront Blues Festival and The Big Float beach party is held. It has a rocky bank with sand and gravel shoreline and an easy grade into the river. Tom McCall Bowl Beach is adjacent to downtown and the Better Naito Bike lane. It is within walking distance of all of downtown’s many shops, cafes and restaurants. This is a popular spot for dogs, many of which play fetch in the river. Please do always pick up after your pets.

HAP’s role: For years, HAP has held cleanup events here where volunteers gather to “unrock the beach”.

Safety: This beach has a fair amount of sharper angular rock below the water surface which can sometimes be hard to see. It is very important to always wear river shoes at all river sites but particularly at this beach.