What’s to Love: I was looking for the perfect swimming hole on our way back from a bouldering adventure in Washington. Our plan was to check-out Dougan Creek Falls, which looks visually stunning and lots of fun. However, on our way to the falls, another access point (about 1 mile short of the falls) caught my eye while rounding a curve.
After noticing this beautiful spot, we parked at a pullout along the Washougal River (literally 30 seconds down a steep bank), and I could hardly believe my eyes! This spot (see distance from Portland below) on the Washougal is one of the nicest river access points I’ve ever seen in my life. Perfect for the whole family!
There were a few other people, but they were far downstream enjoying their own peaceful section of the river. It seems like so many river access points are just overrun with people yelling, smoking, dogs running wild, and leaving trash behind. Again, perhaps we got lucky, but this was a super clean spot that was peaceful and quiet. Can’t wait to go back soon!
Caveats: BE CAREFUL when entering the water! The rock formations feel like they’re coated with thick butter. I’m not exaggerating. Even with plenty of warnings to the rest of the family, everyone bit the dust, and it did not feel good. The upside for my crash – it quickly put me right under the cold water without having to think about it.
Website: Dougan Creek Falls Recreation Area
Recommended Ages: A great spot for the whole family. Definitely want to keep an eye on your kids – there is a current in the larger pools and waterfalls that could potentially be dangerous. If you stay safe, your kids are going to love all the mini waterfalls, swimming holes, rock-hopping, and just hanging by the river.
Parental Stress Factor: It depends on the age of your kids and how comfortable they are around water. Probably because I’ve never been a strong swimmer and my kids are young, I’m always a bit stressed out when our family is around water. I find myself constantly playing out every possible scenario in my head, which definitely stresses me out a bit.
Physical Difficulty: To access the same spot we did, you will have to climb down a steep 10 foot section. It’s a fairly obvious trail with tree roots to grab both on the way down and up. Certainly toddlers and kids with physical limitations will need assistance accessing the river.
Family Fun Factor: Great trip!!! I would definitely go again and perhaps next time, combine the trip with some camping at the Dougan Creek Campground.
Pet Friendly: We brought our dog, and she had a great time playing in the water. Many of the larger pools have huge undercut rock (again, as slippery as butter), which makes it very difficult for dogs to get out of the water. Keep an eye on your pet. Be sensitive to other users and their pets. The only downer for us was my wife stepping in some dog poop by the pullout parking. That was unfortunate…please pick up your pet’s mess!
Weather Considerations: Accessible year round, but you’ll want to be careful when the water is higher. Because the swimming is so nice, I think you’ll want to save this trip for a hot summer day, especially if it’s been hot several days in a row.
Insider Info: So many incredible things to do on the Washington side of the Gorge! If you want to make a day of it, check out Beacon Rock State Park where you can hike to the top of the huge monolith. Or, start your day out 90 miles at Horsethief Butte State Park with some hiking and climbing. Maryhill Museum, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, Sorosis Park, and an excellent bike path can all be accessed out of The Dalles. For more information, read my article on “Visiting The Dalles.”
Water shoes are a good idea. Most likely, they will not help with the slippery rocks, but they will help soften the stones underfoot.
Family Tips: Bring some nets to catch water bugs and small fish. There are so many small pools created by the rocks, and these little pools have all kinds of aquatic life just waiting to be discovered. Make sure your kids handle the little critters respectfully and put them back where they belong.
Not a good spot for a jogging stroller or carrier. To get kids down to the river, you’re going to have to be creative! Bring a picnic with plenty of water! There is shade, if you want to get out of the sun.
Also, there were some biting flies, which I haven’t really seen too much of in Oregon or Washington. A yellowish fly bit me good on the arm, and it’s still itching days later. By no means did this put a damper on our visit, and I think I’m the only one in our family who even saw the flies.