Bus to the Beach — Best Swimming Spots via Transit

Jun 27, 2019

The Willamette River has a bit of a reputation for being, well, not the cleanest. And in years past, it deserved it — the sewer system used to overflow on average 50 times a year (yikes). So in 2011, the city spent a whole bunch of money on the Big Pipe Project to fix it.

These days, the Willamette is totally clean and safe to swim in (here are the water quality reports from the City of Portland to prove it). And now that the summer season is officially upon us, it’s time to break out those beautiful bikini bodies of all shapes, sizes and colors and get splashing. Avoid the parking fees and sandy car seats and let us bring you to your local swimming hole*. 


1. Poet’s Beach

Poet’s Beach 📷 Misty Earisman

Duck underneath the Marquam Bridge on the Willamette’s west side and follow a path paved with poems to this urban treasure. Poet’s Beach hasn’t “officially” opened for 2019 yet, but that shouldn’t stop you from relaxing on these sandy shores and wading into the shallow waters.

When it opened in 2017, Poet’s beach had lifeguards. That’s no longer the case, so swim at your own risk and keep a close eye on the kiddos.

2. Sellwood Riverfront Park

Take a long stroll along the sand at this well-loved neighborhood hangout. Sellwood Riverfront Park has a nature trail, nice views of the city, tables for picnicking and an abundance of dogs on its almost eight acres. They host concerts throughout the summer, so it’s a great place to mingle with your community and enjoy a stellar sunset. 

3. High Rocks Park

📷 Courtesy of OregonDiscovery.com

This spot in Gladstone used to be notoriously dangerous, but thankfully there are now lifeguards on duty between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s one of the most popular swimming spots around, with perfect sunbathing rocks that rise up to ledges for cliff jumping, plus an impressive pedestrian bridge arching over it all.

4. Audrey McCall Beach and Swimming Dock

Swimming dock 📷 Human Access project

Over the course of four years, the Human Access Project got 19 tons of concrete and debris removed from this site, revealing a truly beautiful urban swimming spot tucked in a natural cove. There’s a dock close by that people also use to swim and launch boats from.

5. George Rogers Park

Lake Oswego’s first community park sits on 26 acres and has sports fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, walking trails and, of course, riverfront access. Pack a cooler and throw yourself a BBQ, or find a secluded spot and impress your sweetheart with a romantic picnic. If you’re looking for a full day of fun with the fam, this is your spot.

6. Cathedral Park

Cathedral Park will make you fall in love with the St. John’s Bridge (assuming you haven’t already). The park sits right underneath the iconic structure, and has lots of room for activities as well as a small beach area to cool off in.

A time capsule was hidden here in 1980, so mark your calendars for the celebratory opening in 2030. Until then, the annual Jazz Festival is supposedly one of the best around.

7. Elk Rock Island

If it’s the middle of the summer, there’s no place better than Elk Rock Island. 14 acres of natural area provides habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. A great place for easy hiking,  picnics and spotting wildlife. 

Earlybirds beware: If you go too soon in the spring, the land bridge might be covered by water and you won’t be able to access the island.

8. Outdoor Public Pools

Portland Parks & Rec maintains seven outdoor public pools and almost all are now open for the season, except for Peninsula (which opens on July 8). Lifeguards are included, but this option will cost you a few $$. They also have summer swim lessons for your offspring.

9. Wintler Community Park

Where our Washington peeps at! Oregon doesn’t have a monopoly on transit-accessible swim spots, so Hop on over to this Vancouver beach.

There’s a walking path that meanders along the shore and brings you to Marine Park and Esther Short Park, where the Vancouver Farmers Market is held on weekends

Pro tip:By taking transit, you can avoid the $5 vehicle fee.

10. Mary S. Young Park

Talk about having space for activities! Walk, run, or relax on these 128 acres just north of West Linn. There are over 5 miles of trails for you to work up a sweat on before running straight into the river. Burnside Park and Maddax Woods are both close by too, and they also have trails and river access right in downtown West Linn.

11. Glen Otto Community Park

Bus line 80 will drop you off right at the entrance to this popular park on the Sandy River. There’s plenty to explore here, with a half-mile long beach as well as a caretaker’s home, meeting hall, and a children’s playground. The beach is well-staffed with lifeguards, so it’s super safe for your whole fam damily.


PLEASE be safe in our waters.  Use the buddy system, don’t swim out too far, and it’s a good idea to wear shoes. Especially early in the summer, our waters can be dangerously cold.

Misty Earisman

Misty Earisman

Marketing Communications Coordinator

Can usually be found riding her bicycle, practicing yoga or watching cooking videos. Also really loves goats.

earismam@trimet.org | All posts

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