Waldo Lake Shadow Bay Day Use Area Boat Ramp

The Shadow Bay Day Use Area Boat Ramp on Waldo Lake is a fun and easy place to go diving on the lake.  This is a big, clear body of water that has excellent visibility although at this particular site there isn’t that much to see.  We like diving here with SCUBA friends to take photos of one another goofing around underwater.  It is also neat to watch sailboats pass overhead on the surface from 50 feet down.

Waldo Lake
Photo by Coulee at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Waldo Lake is a fun place to go diving because of the great visibility and easy diving conditions.

Site Highlights:

The main thing we like about this dive site is the visibility.  Aside from Clear Lake, there aren’t that many places in Oregon where you can go diving so easily and get such great viz.  We like taking photos of each other underwater here and we also enjoy watching the hulls of sailboats glide past from the bottom.

Nearest Town:

Oakridge, Oregon is down the highway by a half hour or so from Waldo Lake.

GPS Coordinates:

43.691354, -122.042806

Special Directions to Site:

Look for signs to Waldo Lake on Highway 58.  National Forest Road 5897 is the road you want.  Follow the road for a few miles until you reach National Forest Road 5896.  There should be a Shadow Bay sign at the left turn.  Follow signs for the boat ramp.

Parking:

Parking usually isn’t a problem at the boat ramp area.  On really busy summer days, you may have to park over in the campground day use area.

 

shadow bay
Imagery ©2017 Google, Map data ©2017 Google. Shadow Bay starts shallow but gets very deep when you exit the little bay by the boat ramp.

Site Orientation:

The little bay next to the boat ramp is shallow.  Depending on your inclination, you can start diving here or you can surface swim out to the deeper water.  The larger part of the dive site can get very deep.  We went as deep as 70 feet here before.  It is important to use a compass and have good navigation skills because it is easy to get disoriented in the deeper water where there are no underwater landmarks.

Entrances and Exits:

We usually walk right in at the boat ramp but you can also enter from the shore along the lake if you don’t mind a little bit of a scramble to get in.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a fresh water dive.

Shore/Boat:

While we usually dive this site as a shore dive, you can also dive the entire lake as a boat dive.  Recently the Forest Service has begun allowing electric motors on the lake after many years of banning all engines.  Even with electric motors being allowed, most people still use sailboats here.

Normal Conditions:

Conditions here are usually good.  There isn’t any current to speak of.  Just watch for boat traffic when you surface.  We suggest taking along a dive flag so that boats can spot and avoid you.  We recommend the dive flag that we use on our Gear We Use page.

Normal Visibility:

Visibility is usually at least 40 feet and sometimes in excess of 100 feet.

Normal Temperature:

In the summer, water temperature around the boat ramp can be 65F.  At greater depths, expect water temperatures around 40-45F.

Best Time of Year:

This site is only accessible in the summer and fall.  Snow in the winter and spring blocks the road.

Max Depth:

We have not gone past 70 feet here although it appears you can easily go below the maximum recreational SCUBA diving depth limit on the western side of the Shadow Bay dive site.

Suggested Special Training:

This lake is an altitude dive.  Shadow Bay is at 5400 feet above sea level making it one of the higher lakes that you can dive in Oregon.  Be sure to know what you’re doing with your altitude tables and be sure your computer compensates for altitude before diving here.

Aside from the altitude diver training requirement, this dive site is very accessible to just-certified open water divers.

Difficulty of Dive:

This dive is very easy aside from needing to remember about altitude considerations.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

Depending on where you park and where you enter, you will walk between 50 and 500 feet.

Surface Swim Length:

You don’t strictly need to surface swim here although swimming out of the little bay where the boat ramp is will conserve air for the deeper areas further to the west.  You might want to surface swim about 300 feet.

Special Site Notes:

Remember that this is an altitude dive.  The bottom on the western side of the site slowly drops deeper and deeper.  Watch your gauges and your depth.  It is very easy to be lured deeper than you intended to go because there aren’t any visual cues.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

Closest Local Dive Shops to Get Air Fills and SCUBA Gear:

The closest dive shops are in Eugene and Bend.  This site is in the middle of nowhere and you need to be self sufficient to dive here.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

There aren’t any restaurants nearby.  Bring your own food!

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

There are many National Forest campgrounds and many opportunities for primitive camping in the area.

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

Please write in the comments below your experiences with this dive site!

Lake Billy Chinook – The Cove Palisades State Park – Crooked River Boat Ramp

The Crooked River Boat Ramp at Lake Billy Chinook is a good place to go get wet in Central Oregon.  You can either do this as a shore dive or a boat dive depending on if you bring a pontoon or motorboat with you.  The site varies from a fairly shallow and sandy bottom to deep, steep, and rocky.  There is a fair amount of boat traffic in the summer around the boat ramp but there are plenty of other places to enter and exit the water nearby for shore diving.  We have had a good time searching for objects lost by boaters at the boat ramp.  More often than not, it seems that there is a boater with something that just fell overboard who is very happy to see a couple SCUBA divers in the parking lot.

Lake Billy Chinook and Mt. Jefferson
Copyright 2009 Sarah McDevitt. Lake Billy Chinook has a lot of potential for SCUBA diving if you have a boat. The Crooked River Boat Ramp is a good place to put your boat in or to shore dive.

Site Highlights:

The draw for us to dive around the Crooked River Boat Ramp is the underwater topography.  While the swimming area and directly around it are relatively shallow and sandy, going to either the north or south you will encounter steep underwater cliffs that are fun to explore.  Taking a boat farther out into the lake opens up many potential dive sites that we haven’t been able to explore yet.

Nearest Town:

Culver and Metolius, Oregon are the two closest small towns.  Redmond and Bend are further south and have more services.

GPS Coordinates:

44.554023, -121.262217

Special Directions to Site:

From US 97, follow signs for Lake Billy Chinook and The Cove Palisades State Park.  You’ll end up on SW Jordan Road as you descend into the canyon.  Right after the switchback at the bottom, the marina is on the right and clearly signed as the Crooked River Boat Ramp.

Parking:

Parking is plentiful although it fills up on weekends in the summer.  Be sure to park in the lot that is appropriate for your vehicle.  Don’t take up a boat trailer spot with your car.  The last time we were here, we paid to park but that may have changed.

Imagery ©2017 Google, Map data ©2017 Google. The Crooked River Boat Ramp has a lot of good entrances and exits, and varied terrain that keeps this dive site interesting.

 

Site Orientation:

The site runs roughly north-south.  The further to the west you go, the deeper it gets.  We haven’t gone beyond 75 feet deep at this site although the depth finder on our boat indicated that out in the old river channel, you can surpass the maximum recreational SCUBA diver depth limit.

Around the boat ramp and swimming area, the bottom is mostly flat and sandy.  This is a shallower area that is appropriate for practicing your SCUBA skills.  To the north and south, the water gets deeper and the terrain gets more rugged and rocky.  We have found big boulders underwater that must have plunged down centuries ago from the basalt cap rocks on the mesas high above.

Be sure to steer clear of the boat ramp and docks when boaters are present unless you’re helping a boater retrieve lost gear.

Entrances and Exits:

There is an entrance and an exit for everyone here.  Most of the entrances are easy walk-ins.  A few you have to do some big steps down to the water.  At the boat ramp, someone with limited ability can walk right into the water.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a fresh water dive.

Shore/Boat:

The Crooked River Boat Ramp can be dived as a shore dive or a boat dive depending on what you want to do.  If you’re doing a boat dive, we suggest you head further north along the lake and check out some of the cliffs up in that direction.  The entire lake is diveable although you need to check with local regulations to see if SCUBA divers are allowed everywhere.

Normal Conditions:

You sometimes can get a little wake from boaters coming into the marina too fast.  Otherwise, there can be a little current to the west of this dive site if the Crooked River is running high during the spring snow melt.  Beyond that, this is a pretty benign dive site compared to diving on the Oregon coast.

Normal Visibility:

The last time we went diving here, we easily had 50 feet of visibility although during the end of the summer when water quality can be very poor, the viz can go much lower.

Normal Temperature:

We have seen water temperatures as cold as 38F at depth and as warm as 60F in the shallows here.

Best Time of Year:

In the summer, the lake is packed with boats which makes it a little more tricky to dive around the Crooked River Boat Ramp.  However, the air and water are warmer and all of the concessions along the lake are open.

In the winter, we have heard that the gate to this site sometimes is closed although we have not had that problem ourselves.

This site is diveable all year round.  Choose your favorite time of year to go to Central Oregon and head to Lake Billy Chinook!

Max Depth:

We haven’t gone past 75 feet at this site although you should be able to touch 130 feet without too much effort to the west of the site.

Suggested Special Training:

Open water divers can dive this site after taking an altitude specialty class.  The lake elevation is usually around 1900 feet above sea level making this an altitude dive.

Difficulty of Dive:

This is an easy dive site that can be enjoyed by everyone assuming that you have altitude diver training.  Entrances and exits are very easy.  There is even handicapped parking right next to the boat ramp.  If you want a little more challenge, go either north or south along the canyon walls to find underwater cliffs and deep water.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

Depending on where you park, it can be between a 50 foot and a 500 foot walk to the entrance.

Surface Swim Length:

If you enter in the swimming area, you’ll want to kick out 100 feet or so in order to find some deeper water.  Otherwise the other entrances don’t require much of a surface swim.

Special Site Notes:

Steer clear of the boat ramp if boaters are actively putting in or taking out boats.  We suggest flying a dive flag to let boaters know where you are.  We have one we use all the time when we go diving in Oregon that we highly recommend.  Check out our Gear We Use page for details.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

Closest Local Dive Shops to Get Air Fills and SCUBA Gear:

There is a full service SCUBA shop in Bend.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

There are a few restaurants in Culver and more up north on US 97 in Madras.  If you have a favorite, please let us know!

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

There are several state and federal-run campgrounds nearby.  There is also a private resort just down the road with cabins.  If you know of any hotels in the area that are SCUBA diver friendly, please let us know!

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

Please write in the comments below your experiences with this dive site!

Trail Bridge Reservoir – Campground Bay

The campground at Trail Bridge Reservoir is a great place to stay for a day or two while you dive the lakes and reservoirs of the Central Cascades.  The bay directly in front of the campground is an easy and simple dive where you can hone your dive skills, play around in the grass and algae beds, and hunt for golf balls that other campers have chipped into the lake.  The water can be quite warm by Oregon Cascade standards in the summer when the bay heats up in the sun.

Practicing skills underwater at Trail Bridge Reservoir.

Site Highlights:

This Trail Bridge Reservoir site doesn’t have too many interesting things to look at underwater but it is pretty fun to hunt for golf balls.  This is a good site to practice skills, try out new gear, or burn the last air in your tanks after doing dives at other sites in the area.  There are also plenty of tree stumps to check out.

Nearest Town:

This dive site is in the middle of nowhere.  The closest larger town is Eugene/Springfield.  The little town of Rainbow is down the McKenzie River Highway but is not close.  You need to be self sufficient at this Oregon dive site.

GPS Coordinates:

44.278416 N, -122.048862 W

 

Special Directions to Site:

Most people will drive up the McKenzie River Highway (State Highway 126) from Eugene, Oregon to reach this dive site.  The left turn onto the National Forest road can be a little tricky if there is much traffic.  Signal and brake early for the turn.

Once you’re on the forest road, follow signs for the Trail Bridge Campground.

Imagery ©2017 Google, Map data ©2017 Google. Parking and camping are plentiful at this dive site.

Parking:

 

There is ample parking all along this dive site.  In the summer, many of the places to park are filled with weekend campers.  The boat ramp area to the west of the dive site usually has space to park and assemble dive gear if nowhere else does.  While the parking has been free for day use when we have gone SCUBA diving at this site, that may change in the future.  Be sure to check at the information kiosk for up-to-date details.

Site Orientation:

The dive site is laid out around a large shallow bay.  If you go north, you will hit land and a close-by exit.  If you go south, you will end up in somewhat deeper water and run into the Trail Bridge Dam.  Don’t get too close to the dam’s water control system or you could end up getting sucked over, under, or through the dam which would put an early end to your SCUBA diving career.

Entrances and Exits:

There are plentiful entrances and exits all the way around the west, north, and east sides of this dive site.  You can usually park your car right next to one of the entrances.  Some of the entrances and exits do have a big step down to the water but many are gentle slopes into the water.  The boat ramp provides access for divers with limited mobility.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a fresh water dive.

Shore/Boat:

This is a shore dive although you could launch a boat into the lake and practice boat diving if you wanted.

Normal Conditions:

The water level in Trail Bridge Reservoir can change rapidly depending on what the Eugene Water and Power Board is doing with the hydroelectric projects along the McKenzie River.  Over the course of an afternoon, we have seen the water level change by seven feet.

Normal Visibility:

Visibility is usually about 20 feet in this part of the reservoir.  The bottom has a lot of silt on it that can be easily stirred up leading to near zero visibility.  It can take a while for the silt to settle back down on the bottom.

Normal Temperature:

We have seen the shallower portions of the bay reach 55F in the summer while in the spring, the deeper portions can be 40F.  Usually the lake seems to be around 45F.

One of the ubiquitous beer cans that you can find on the bottom of this dive site. If you want a good project for your scout troop, collecting all of the aluminum cans and taking them to be recycled would be a great way to spend a weekend.

Best Time of Year:

We prefer diving Trail Bridge Reservoir in the fall although the spring and summer are also good times to go SCUBA diving here.

Max Depth:

If you go way out toward the dam, you can sometimes find 50 feet of water.  Usually though you will be between 15 and 30 feet deep.

Suggested Special Training:

This lake is at 2,000 feet above sea level.  That means that you need altitude diver training to dive the lake safely.  The site otherwise can be enjoyed by anyone from a fresh open water diver to experienced divers with thousands of logged dives.

Difficulty of Dive:

This dive site is very easy and accessible.  The only difficulty is that it is an altitude dive and you need the training to dive at altitude.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

Depending on how far away you have to park from the shore, between 10 and 100 feet of walking might be needed.  If you surface at the wrong place (this is a great place to practice navigation skills), you might have to walk farther.

Surface Swim Length:

You will want to swim 50 to 100 feet away from shore to start your dive in deeper water although if you want, you can start diving as soon as the water is waist deep.

Special Site Notes:

The water level at Trail Bridge Reservoir can change suddenly, dramatically, and without warning.  On one dive, we started the dive with the lake full and came out after the dive with the water level dropped by five feet!

Motorboats do use this lake.  It might be a good idea to have a diver down flag.  We have our favorite diver down flag listed on the Gear We Use page.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

Closest Local Dive Shops to Get Air Fills and SCUBA Gear:

There are no nearby SCUBA shops at Trail Bridge Reservoir.  The closest shops are in Eugene and Springfield over an hour away.  You need to be self sufficient at this site.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

There is a limited hot food service at the resort at Clear Lake up the McKenzie River Highway.  Otherwise there are a couple restaurants in Marion Forks and Rainbow.  Each little town is more than a half hour away from the dive site.

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

The cabins at the resort at Clear Lake have been used by divers in the past.  Be sure to ask what to do with your dive gear and then follow what the resort staff tell you to do.  We want to be able to keep using these cabins!

All around the dive site is public camping.  Usually you can find a good site to setup your tent or park your travel trailer.  If all of the good sites are full, there is more camping at Clear Lake and Smith Reservoir.  You can also do primitive camping in the National Forest although you should check with the local ranger office for any fire restrictions or camping restrictions due to logging activity.

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

Please write in the comments below your experiences with this dive site!

Trail Bridge Reservoir – Day Use Area Sunken Creek

The day use area at Trail Bridge Reservoir near the old creek that comes down from Smith Reservoir is a fun place to practice your buoyancy skills in a forgiving environment.  While most of the dive site is sand, there are a few submerged logs, and there is plentiful green algae common to the lakes along the McKenzie River.  This is a fun spot to SCUBA dive with friends and take photos of one another.  Entrance is easy from the parking area and the boat ramp.

Practicing some neutral buoyancy skills at the south end of this dive site at Trail Bridge Reservoir.

Site Highlights:

This SCUBA diving site doesn’t have much to look at like some of the nearby dive sites do, but what it lacks in interesting underwater features, it makes up for by providing a fun and forgiving place to practice neutral buoyancy skills that divers learn in peak performance buoyancy classes.  If there is enough water flowing down from Smith Reservoir through the old creek, this can also be a little bit of a drift dive although usually the water flow is slow enough that there isn’t much current.

Nearest Town:

There aren’t any towns close to this dive site.  Eugene is over an hour away down the McKenzie River Highway.  Rainbow is the closest small town that has gas and a convenience store.

GPS Coordinates:

44.278722 N, -122.050289 W

Special Directions to Site:

Most people will come from Eugene up the McKenzie River Highway (State Highway 126).  The left turn onto the forest access road (National Forest Road 730) is a bit tricky.  Be sure to put your blinker on early and slow down with plenty of time.

Parking:

There is plentiful parking at this site.  Don’t block boat trailer parking.  Check at the information kiosk to verify that day use parking is still free.  The last time we went diving at this site, it was.

Imagery ©2017 Google, Map data ©2017 Google.
This dive site at Trail Bridge Reservoir is a good place to practice your neutral buoyancy skills.

Site Orientation:

The creek is roughly on a north-south orientation.  You can’t get lost in the creek because the channel is narrow and the current goes to the south.  Once you pass the boat ramp heading south, the channel continues on into deeper water.

Entrances and Exits:

There are several entrances and exits that are an easy walk to get into the water.  The boat ramp is the easiest entry but the others are very easy, too.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a fresh water dive.

Shore/Boat:

This is a shore dive.

Normal Conditions:

The water level in Trail Bridge Reservoir can change quite a bit throughout the day.  We’ve seen swings of up to 7 feet from morning to afternoon.  Water levels depend on what the Eugene Water and Electricity Board is doing with the hydro projects up and down the river.

Normal Visibility:

Visibility is usually 10-20 feet at this SCUBA dive site.  For Oregon, that’s pretty good.  In the spring, runoff from the area drained by the creek can decrease visibility, especially if logging is occurring upstream.

The silt on the bottom is pretty easy to stir up.  This makes for a good place to practice your buoyancy skills.

Normal Temperature:

We have seen water temperatures in the upper reaches of the creek down to 35F when the snow is melting and down near the boat ramp up to 55F during the summer.  Usually the water is about 45F.

A collection of tree limbs in the sunken creek. There are a few fallen trees that stick out into the creek as well.

Best Time of Year:

We prefer this dive site either in the spring or fall when there is enough runoff to make a little current in the creek.  The site is inaccessible in the winter due to snow.  In the summer, it can be busy by the boat ramp but is still diveable.

Max Depth:

At the extreme southern end of this dive site, you can sometimes hit 40 feet.  In the creek, you are around 10-15 feet.

Suggested Special Training:

This is an altitude dive because Trail Bridge Reservoir is at 2,000 feet above sea level.  Make sure you have altitude diver training.  Otherwise, this site can be enjoyed by just-certified open water divers up to very seasoned divers with hundreds of dives under their weight belts.

Difficulty of Dive:

The dive is very easy although those who have not practiced their buoyancy skills much will find the shallow depth to be a good challenge.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

Depending on where you park, 20 feet up to 200 feet.  The walk is easy, level, and mostly graveled.

Surface Swim Length:

There is no surface swimming here unless you want to.

Special Site Notes:

The water level in Trail Bridge Reservoir can change rapidly and without warning.  We have seen swings of up to 7 feet in a day.  The dam beyond the southern boundary of this dive site should be avoided.  You don’t want to get sucked into the machinery and end up as finely diced SCUBA diver fish food.

Motorboats do use the lake and are launched from the boat ramp at the east side of this dive site.  A good diver flag on a reel will help you to stay safe.  We have one that we highly recommend on our Gear We Use page.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

Closest Local Dive Shops to Get Air Fills and SCUBA Gear:

There are no close dive shops here.  The shops in Springfield and Eugene are the closest.  You must be self-sufficient to dive this site.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

There is limited hot food service at the resort up the road at Clear Lake.  Otherwise there are restaurants in Marion Forks and Rainbow, each over 30 minutes away.

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

The cabins at the resort at Clear Lake are an option.  Be sure to ask the staff what you should do with your dive gear and don’t go against their wishes.  We want SCUBA divers to still be welcomed at the cabins!

There is ample camping around Trail Bridge Reservoir.  There are additional improved campgrounds at Clear Lake up the road and up the National Forest road at Smith Reservoir.  You can also do primitive camping in the National Forest but be sure to check at the local ranger station about any seasonal restrictions or fire danger closures.

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

Please write in the comments below your experiences with this dive site!

Trail Bridge Reservoir – Submerged River

The submerged riverbed of the McKenzie River in Trail Bridge Reservoir is a fun dive outside of Eugene, Oregon.  Depending on how much water is being discharged from the Smith Reservoir hydroelectric project through the powerhouse above this dive site, the site can be dived as a drift dive.  In lower water flow times, it is easy to swim underwater up one riverbank and down the other.  There are old stumps, logging cables, other logging detritus, and trout to be seen.  Visibility is usually 20+ feet but sometimes is better depending on the time of year and how much water is flowing through the reservoir.

A group of SCUBA divers getting ready for training dives as part of an Altitude Diver specialty course at Trail Bridge Reservoir.

Site Highlights:

The main highlight of this SCUBA diving site is the submerged riverbed of the McKenzie River.  On the east bank, Sweetwater Creek pours into the reservoir from a culvert in a small waterfall that is fun to swim under.  In the riverbed, we have found old choker cables from logging operations, many beer cans, and golf balls.  Sometimes you can spot the odd trout swimming by in the gentle current.  If you’re up for the challenging surface swim, you can swim far up the old riverbed toward the hydroelectric turbines at the very head end of Trail Bridge Reservoir where water from Smith Reservoir comes down the penstocks.  From there, you can do a leisurely drift dive back to your car.

Nearest Town:

This Oregon dive site is in the middle of nowhere.  Eugene and Springfield are the two closest big towns.  The little berg of Rainbow is down the McKenzie River Highway and has a few services.

GPS Coordinates:

44.279335 N, -122.045625 W

Special Directions to Site:

Most people coming to Trail Bridge Reservoir will come up the McKenzie River Highway (State Highway 126) from Eugene, Oregon.  The turn onto National Forest Road 730 can be tricky if there is a lot of traffic.  Slow down in advance and put your turn signal on early.

Parking:

We usually park right next to the old riverbed of the McKenzie River.  Sometimes people are camped here but the area is large enough that you can find a spot to park your car, assemble your dive gear, and get into the water.  In the winter, the snow is deep enough that there is nowhere to park and this reservoir is effectively closed to diving.

Check at the information kiosk to see if you need a day use or camping permit.  The last time we went diving at Trail Bridge Reservoir, it was free, but this might change in the future.

Trail Bridge Reservoir is a good place to camp for a few days while you dive the lakes up and down the McKenzie River.

Site Orientation:

The dive site runs roughly north-northeast to south-southwest.  At the top end, you will run out of water deep enough to dive in as you approach the hydroturbines.  Don’t get too close to the turbines!  You will hear the noise from the machinery as you start to get close to them.

At the southern portion of the dive site, the river opens up into the main body of Trail Bridge Reservoir.  We don’t usually go much further than the point of land that sticks out into the reservoir.  There is not too much to see further out and the swim back can be tiring if there is very much current.

Entrances and Exits:

There are several good entrances and exits right by the parking area.  We usually walk up to the upper-most entrance to get in and come out at the lowest exit on the spit of land that sticks out into the main body of Trail Bridge Reservoir.

Most of the entrances and exits have a large step or two on somewhat tricky ground to get down to the water.  Depending on how much water is in the reservoir, there can be more steps that you have to deal with.  The southern-most entrance/exit is very gentle and only about 100 feet away from the parking area.  If you have trouble with big steps, this is the best entrance for you.

We have seen some SCUBA divers get in further north along the old river channel but the entrances are very difficult with steep rocky descents down to the water.  If you want to do one of the entrances further up the old riverbed, scout it out ahead of time to determine if it’s something that you want to tackle.

Be courteous of other people who might be camped at or enjoying an afternoon at the lake.  Don’t walk through where they are having fun without asking permission.

Visibility is often 20 feet or better in Trail Bridge Reservoir. There are lots of little nooks and crannies along the submerged riverbed to explore.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a freshwater dive.

Shore/Boat:

This is a shore dive.  You could take a small inflatable zodiac up the channel to do the whole drift dive.  There is an area to launch boats further to the west in the lake.

Normal Conditions:

There is normally a gentle current in the lower stretch of this dive site.  In the upper end, the current can be a little more swift.  Depending on what the Eugene Water and Electric Board is doing with its many dams along the river, the lake level can rapidly rise or fall.  This can lead to big changes in the current.  At the top end of the dive site, the hydroelectric turbines make a lot of noise underwater.  Don’t get too close to the turbines.  Below the bottom of the dive site, there are dam works that you should steer clear of.  You don’t want to get sucked over, under, or through Trail Bridge Dam.

Normal Visibility:

Visibility is usually around 20 feet in the old river channel.  Because of the current, any stirred up silt will quickly be pushed away.

Normal Temperature:

We have seen water temperatures ranging from 40F to 52F depending on the time of year and how much water is flowing through the reservoir.  Early in the spring during the spring snow melt, water temperatures can be colder.  Occasionally, we have encountered a thermocline in the top few feet of the water column near the Sweetwater Creek waterfall on the east side of the dive site.  Very rarely, we’ve encountered some chilly water in the very bottom of the river bed.

Best Time of Year:

We prefer diving this site in the summer and fall.  The site can be dived in the spring after the snow has melted from the parking area although the water is colder then.  In the winter, the site is inaccessible because of the snow.

Max Depth:

If you take a shovel and start digging, you can hit 40 feet.  Most of the site is in the 25-30 foot range.  The farther upriver you go, the shallower it gets.

Suggested Special Training:

Open water divers with several dives under their belts will find this site accessible to them.  However, this is an altitude dive and you should have an altitude diver specialty course certification.  The reservoir is at 2,000 feet above sea level.  A drift diver specialty course is also useful if you are planning to do a drift dive.

Difficulty of Dive:

The diving is easy in the lower portion of the dive site.  In the upper portion, the dive can get more strenuous because of the current.  We rate this an intermediate skill level dive site because of the altitude.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

Depending on which entrance you use, the walk is between 20 and 300 feet.  Some of the entrances have big steps on loose ground to get to the water while one of the entrances is a very mild walk into the water.

Surface Swim Length:

You can start diving right from the entrances or you can do a surface swim upriver to do a drift dive.  A surface swim of 1000 or more feet is possible here if you want to swim that far.

Special Site Notes:

The water level can change rapidly at this site due to what the Eugene Water and Electric Board is doing with the dams up and down the river.  We have observed people hitting golf balls into the reservoir aiming for SCUBA diver bubbles although usually it is friends of the divers doing the golfing.  This site is inaccessible in the winter.  Be mindful of not going too close to Trail Bridge Dam or of the hydroturbines upstream.

Remember that this is an altitude dive and you need to be trained on how to dive at altitude.

A good dive light will help you to see into the little nooks and crannies along the submerged riverbed.  We have several dive lights we recommend and use every time we dive in Oregon on our SCUBA Gear We Use page.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

Closest Local Dive Shops to Get Air Fills and SCUBA Gear:

You’re a long way from any dive shops.  Eugene is the closest town with a shop for air fills or gear repairs.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

Up at Clear Lake there is limited food service at the resort lodge.  Otherwise down toward the little town of Rainbow there are a few restaurants and convenience stores.

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

There is plentiful camping at Trail Bridge Reservoir right at the dive site.  Up at Smith Reservoir and at Clear Lake there are additional camping grounds.  Clear Lake has resort cabins that can be rented.  The National Forest generally allows primitive camping but check with the local ranger station for current restrictions due to logging or fire danger.

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

Please write in the comments below your experiences with this dive site!

Clear Lake – Pool North of Lodge Boat Ramp

The Clear Lake north pool is a quintessential Oregon dive site. SCUBA divers have enjoyed the 100+ feet of visibility, easy walk-in shore diving, quiet non-motorized lake. The highlights of the lake are a sunken and flooded forest still standing after hundreds of years and a series of underwater springs pushing out thousands of gallons of water of cold, clear water every minute. The McKenzie River starts at Clear Lake and flows all the way down to Eugene where it meets the Willamette. This is a great day trip dive from Portland or the Willamette Valley.

The north pool of Clear Lake as seen from the south shore near the lodge and cabins.

 

Site Highlights:

People come to dive clear lake for the amazing visibility.  100+ feet is common and at the right time of year (usually fall before the winter storms start), visibility can hit 200+ feet.  The north pool is shallower than the southern part of the lake, making it more friendly to divers who don’t want to prepare for frozen or free-flowing regulators.  There are a few sunken trees from the ghost forest at the bottom of Clear Lake but the main underwater attraction (aside from the viz!) is the big potholes in the bottom of the lake where huge springs come out underwater.  The spring water is usually very cold although during heavy snow melt conditions, the surface layer of water can be colder.  The small lodge at the southern end of this dive site usually has good hot chocolate and warm food available.

Nearest Town:

Clear Lake is in the middle of nowhere.  Eugene, Bend, and Salem, Oregon are the closest major towns.  Make sure that your gas tank is topped up and you have everything you need for a day of diving before you head to Clear Lake.

GPS Coordinates:

44.375479 N, -121.998950 W

Special Directions to Site:

Coming from Eugene, the McKenzie River Highway (State Highway 126) is the most direct route.  Coming from Portland, the North Santiam Highway (State Highway 20) is fastest.  At Santiam Junction, follow the signs for Eugene onto (briefly) US 20 West and then State Highway 126.  From Corvallis, US 20 East (South Santiam Highway) to State Highway 126 is the fastest.  From Bend, take US 20 East and follow signs for Eugene onto State Highway 126.

Follow signs for Clear Lake Resort and National Forest Road 775.  The road is one-way.  You must enter from the southern end of the road.  There are signs clearly visible from the highway pointing the way.  You will be turning to the east to get onto the access road.

Parking:

Day use parking is limited at the site.  As of writing this, day use parking is free.  However, parking is limited.  In the fall, winter, and spring, we have never had a problem finding parking on the weekends but in the summer, parking is a challenge even on weekdays.  Be sure to follow posted signs.  Some parking is restricted to overnight guests of the lodge.

Imagery © 2017 Google, Map data © 2017 Google.
Clear Lake North Pool Site Overview. Note that the access road to the lake is one-way. The northern end of the access road (lower right in above image) a one-way exit. The southern end of the road (1/8 mile further south, not shown) is the entrance.

 

Site Orientation:

The site is not too big to get lost in and with superb visibility, it’s easy to orient yourself underwater.  The boat dock is an easily recognizable landmark to show you where the southern boundary of the dive site is located.  If you go further south, you’ll end up in the much larger main pool of Clear Lake and will encounter the huge sunken forest.

Entrances and Exits:

The main entrance and exit that divers use on this side of Clear Lake is south of the lodge and docks.  There is a short walk down a path from the day use parking area to the entrance.  The entrance is easy and straight forward.  However, entering here will give you a long surface swim fighting the current to get past the docks.

Depending on the time of year, the people in the lodge can give you permission to enter and exit at the boat ramp.  Ask nicely and they probably will say yes.  In the summer when there is a lot of (non-motorized!) boat traffic, they probably will not let you enter or exit on the boat ramp.  There are a few other more difficult to find options to enter and exit to the west of the boat ramp along the north shore pool although you have to walk by the cabins to get there.  The people at the lodge generally frown on people cutting through the cabins to get access to the lake.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a fresh water dive.

Shore/Boat:

This is a shore dive.  You could use a non-motorized boat in the north pool but there isn’t much point.  It makes more sense to use a boat in the main pool.

Normal Conditions:

Conditions at Clear Lake are usually very good, aside from the cold water.  There is a current by the boat docks that will slowly push you down into the main pool.  The springs at the bottom of the lake push out enough water to make a gentle current near them.

Normal Visibility:

Visibility is usually 100+ feet and can sometimes be 200+ feet.  While there is sand and silt on the bottom, the current quickly takes it away and anything remaining quickly settles.  The photo below shows what it looks like when you crash into the bottom because you were paying more attention to your camera than your buoyancy.

The silt and sand on the bottom of Clear Lake can reduce visibility but not enough to cause a major problem. Maintaining good buoyancy is a good idea though!

Normal Temperature:

We have seen it as high as 40F at the surface after the water has been warmed by the sun and as low as 32F in the potholes were the springs are located.  We have gone diving at this site with several feet of snow on the ground and in the hot sun.  The water temperature is always COLD!  Be aware of how your dive gear performs in very cold water.  Some regulators can free flow or otherwise freeze due to the cold.  We had this happen to us once in the main pool of Clear Lake.

Best Time of Year:

Fall, winter, and spring are the best because there aren’t any crowds and you won’t overheat in your drysuit or wetsuit while you get geared up to go diving.

Max Depth:

In the bottom of the potholes where the springs are, you can hit 90 feet.  The rest of the bottom averages between 45 and 65 feet.  REMEMBER this is an altitude dive!  You need special training to dive at altitude!

Suggested Special Training:

If you want to venture into the potholes, you should have advanced open water or deep diver training.  You should have altitude diving training as well.  The dive site is at 3,000 feet above sea level.

Difficulty of Dive:

This is an intermediate level dive because of the potential for your regulator to freeze, the cold water, and the potential max depth.  Open water divers should only dive this site if they have sufficient dives under their weight belts and feel comfortable in alpine lakes.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

Depending on where you park and which entrance you choose, you may be walking 1000 feet on pavement with your gear or a mix of pavement and forest path.  While there are slopes, they are gentle.

Surface Swim Length:

If the boat ramp is not available for SCUBA divers, you may have to do a lengthy surface swim (1000 feet) fighting the current past the boat docks.  If you can use the boat ramp, you can start diving right away.

There are some sunken standing trees in the north pool at Clear Lake. These trees were alive when the lake was formed. They got flooded out, died, and have remained standing ever since.

Special Site Notes:

Non-motorized boat traffic is more common in the summer on Clear Lake although we have seen a boat on the lake even in the winter.  Many people fish at Clear Lake (including fly fishing) so watch out for lures and fishing line, and steer clear of areas people are fishing.

There is some current coming out of the springs and by the lodge docks.  You can swim against the current but be aware that you can get tired out from fighting the current for too long.

Be sure to ask at the lodge before you use the boat ramp as an entrance or exit.

We found flashlights to be useful to peer deep into the springs.  Check out our SCUBA Gear We Use page for the gear that we rely on for diving in Oregon.

Remember that this is an altitude dive and that with such cold water, your regulator can freeze.  We had the first stage on one of our regulators freeze and free-flow at depth at Clear Lake once which required us to abort the dive and take the regulator in for servicing.  You should be comfortable with ascending from depth with no air in case your regulator freezes and free flows!

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

Closest Local Dive Shops to Get Air Fills and SCUBA Gear:

There aren’t any close local dive shops to Clear Lake.  Bend, Eugene, and Salem are the closest towns with dive shops.  You need to be self-sufficient at this dive site.

The current coming out of the spring in the bottom of one of the potholes can make it difficult to maintain good neutral buoyancy.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

The lodge has some limited food options.  Otherwise, you have to drive a long ways to find a restaurant.

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

The lodge at Clear Lake rents cabins that some of our SCUBA friends have stayed at and gone diving from.  Be sure to ask when you reserve a cabin what the rules are on dive gear.

There are several public campgrounds around or near the lake run by the Willamette National Forest.  There are also many forest roads in the area where you may be able to camp for free.   Be sure to check local forest regulations before attempting to camp outside of a campground.

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

Please write in the comments below your experiences with this dive site!