Smith Reservoir – Dam Boat Ramp

The dam boat ramp at Smith Reservoir is an easy entrance and gives quick access to the deep cold waters of Smith Reservoir.  However, the water intake structure for the Eugene Water and Electric Board is nearby and divers should use caution to not go near it.  The water is deep and cold enough here to make a regulator free flow as well due to ice buildup.

Underwater at Smith Reservoir.
Diving at the dam boat ramp at Smith Reservoir allows you to go deep in a hurry where low light and cold water make the diving a little more challenging. Huge old stumps from when there used to be an old growth forest here are a highlight.

Site Highlights

The reasons for people diving at the dam boat ramp on Smith Reservoir are mainly because the entrance is easy, you can go deep quickly, and there are big old stumps underwater to check out.  This is a typical Oregon Cascades lake or reservoir dive site with very cold water at depth, low viz if you stir up the bottom, and isolation from other humans.

Nearest Town:

There are no nearby towns.  Eugene, Bend, and Salem are equally far away.  There is a lodge at Clear Lake with a few basic services.

GPS Coordinates:

44.309534, -122.043461

Special Directions to Site:

Parking:

There is ample parking around the boat ramp but be sure to leave the ramp itself and the boat trailer parking clear for people with boats.  The last time we were here, we did not have to pay to park although this may change in the future.

smith reservoir dam boat ramp dive site
Imagery ©2017 Google, Map data ©2017 Google.
The farther west you go, the deeper it gets until you exceed maximum recreational dive limits. The water intake structure south of this dive site is to be avoided.

Site Orientation:

This site is more or less aligned to the cardinal directions.  The shore runs roughly north-south.  Head east to find your exit.  Head west to find very deep water.  Be careful of going too far south.  You want to avoid the water intake structure so you don’t end up sucked to an untimely death in the hydro electric project.

Entrances and Exits:

The best part of this site is how easy the entrance and exit is.  Just walk down the boat ramp and into the water!  Easy!  Do be mindful though of boater traffic and the occasional angler.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a freshwater dive unless someone dumps a LOT of salt in the lake.

Shore/Boat:

This is a shore dive although you could practice your boat diving skills here.

Normal Conditions:

This site is usually pretty calm.  It’s a good idea to have a dive flag since you’re near an active (although seldom used) boat ramp.  We recommend a dive flag on our Gear We Use page that we have used all over Oregon and are very happy to have in our inventory.

It can get really dark at depth at this dive site, especially if the sun is not directly overhead.  A good dive light is a good idea.

Normal Visibility:

15-20 feet of viz is the norm here although during spring snow melt or heavy rainstorms, the viz can be much lower.  The bottom can be stirred up and lead to greatly reduced viz so practice good neutral buoyancy skills.

Normal Temperature:

At the surface it can easily hit 60F in the summer but at depth, the water can be 38F all year long and even colder when the snow is melting.  We had a regulator free flow at the other dive site at Smith Reservoir a few years ago because the water was so cold.

Best Time of Year:

Summer and early fall are the best times to go diving here.  In the winter and spring, snow makes this site usually inaccessible or miserably cold to dive.

Max Depth:

We have gone down to 100 feet here where we had a regulator free flow due to ice buildup.  You can go MUCH deeper if you want to or if you aren’t careful about watching your gauges.

Suggested Special Training:

This is an altitude dive site so you should have altitude diver training.  Open water divers can successfully dive here as long as you have altitude training.

Difficulty of Dive:

The entrance and exit are easy and most of the diving is easy.  However, because you can easily go way too deep if you aren’t paying attention, we rate this as an intermediate dive site.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

The most we have ever had to walk is 100 feet at this dive site.  If you can’t walk very far to an entrance, you could setup your gear right at the water’s edge and have someone move your car back up the boat ramp to the parking area.

Surface Swim Length:

No surface swim is needed here.

Special Site Notes:

This is an altitude dive site.  Beware of the water intake structure close to the dam.  The dam boat ramp is far enough away from the intake structure that you would have to either be very inattentive or actively try to get near it to be in danger but there is a danger that you could get sucked into it.

The water at depth is very cold and can cause your regulator to free flow due to ice formation.  We had it happen to us once at the other dive site on Smith Reservoir.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

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

There are no close shops to Smith Reservoir’s dam boat ramp.  The closest shops are in Salem, Eugene, and Bend.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

There is limited food service at the lodge at Clear Lake.

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

There is camping at Trail Bridge Reservoir’s campground and plenty of primitive camping in the forests.  If you have a boat, there is a campground accessible only by boat or hiking at the north end of the lake.  At Clear Lake there is a lodge that rents cabins.

What Other People Have to Say About This Site:

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

Smith Reservoir – Upper Car Turnaround

The upper car turnaround at Smith Reservoir is a good place to go if you want underwater terrain that is a little less steep than near the dam on Smith Reservoir.  At this site you will see big algae mats near the surface and big stumps all over the place underwater.  It’s common to see trout cruising by here, too.

Smith Reservoir
Looking toward the dam on Smith Reservoir from the upper car turn-around dive site. This lake does get boat traffic occasionally so a dive flag is a good idea.

Site Highlights

The main highlight on this site is the big underwater stumps.  Old growth trees were cut down to make way for Smith Reservoir.  The stumps are big and plentiful as you go down the underwater slope.  This is also a good place to practice your diving skills at a little more forgiving of a site than somewhere like Clear Lake.  The walk from where you can park your car down to the water is somewhat challenging and can give good practice for doing more demanding entrances on the Oregon coast.

Nearest Town:

There aren’t any towns out here.  The nearest humans will probably be at the lodge at Clear Lake.  Otherwise Bend, Eugene, and Salem are all about the same distances away.  You need to be self sufficient at Smith Reservoir.

GPS Coordinates:

44.314719, -122.043345

Special Directions to Site:

Watch for the signs for NF-730, Tamolitch Trailhead, Smith Reservoir, and Trail Bridge Campground along the McKenzie River Highway.  The turn comes up fast so give yourself plenty of time to slow down and make the turn.  Once you cross the bridge, go left and drive past the big water turbine power generator.  There is a payphone here that worked the last time we checked.  There is no cell service here otherwise.

You will drive past the top end of Trail Bridge Reservoir (there are several dive sites at Trail Bridge Reservoir) and then head up a canyon before climbing up the face of Smith Reservoir Dam.  Keep driving along the east shore of the lake until you get to the dead-end and turn around.  This is the dive site parking area.

Parking:

The turn around at the end of the road has some areas that you can park at.  Be sure to not block the turn around so that other people can turn their vehicles around here.  The last time we were here, there were no signs or other indications of having to pay to park but this could change.

smith reservoir
Imagery ©2017 Google, Map data ©2017 Google.
The turn around area at the end of the road above the dam at Smith Reservoir is big enough to turn a trailer around.

 

Site Orientation:

The site is laid out on the compass points.  North heads to the shallow headwaters of Smith Reservoir while south heads toward the Smith Reservoir Dam.  West sends you to deep water and east sends you to shore and your car.

Entrances and Exits:

There are several decent entrances and exits along the shore.  You do have to take some big steps to get into the water which can be exacerbated by water level in the reservoir.

Salt/Fresh:

This is a fresh water dive.

Shore/Boat:

This is a shore dive although you could throw a boat in this lake and practice your boat diving skills.

Normal Conditions:

We have never encountered any waves or current here.  Occasionally someone puts in a kayak, canoe, or motorboat so be sure to fly a dive flag.  We have a highly recommended dive flag on our Gear We Use page.  Water can be pretty cold though during spring snow melt.

Normal Visibility:

We have found visibility to be between 5 and 20 feet depending on the time of year and how much runoff is coming into Smith Reservoir.  The bottom can get stirred up so be sure to practice good neutral buoyancy skills.

Normal Temperature:

Normally you’ll find water in the 45-55F range depending on where in the water column you are.  In the spring, it can be much colder due to snow melt.

Best Time of Year:

Summer and fall are ideal conditions.  Once the snow starts to fall, this dive site is inaccessible.

Max Depth:

You can either stay shallow or go deeper here.  We have been down to 60 feet at this site on Smith Reservoir but you can go significantly deeper if you head west and south.  Watch your max depth and remember that this is an altitude dive.

Suggested Special Training:

Open water divers can successfully dive here.  However, this is an altitude dive site and you should have altitude diver training before you go diving here.

Difficulty of Dive:

The diving itself is easy.  Getting down to the dive site from the parking lot is more challenging.  We rate this as a beginner skill level dive site but be aware that it is a bit challenging to walk down to the water.  The other dive site at Smith Reservoir might be a better option if you don’t want a strenuous walk.

Distance of Walk to Entrance:

250 feet unless the water is really low.

Surface Swim Length:

No surface swim needed.

bubbles
The water can be very clear in the right conditions at Smith Reservoir although usually the viz is around 15-20 feet.

Special Site Notes:

Remember that this is an altitude dive and you should have special training to dive at altitude.  Stay well clear of the water intake structure near the Smith Reservoir dam.  A flashlight (we have several we use and recommend on our Gear We Use page) is a good idea if you’re going deeper than about 30 feet.

We had a regulator build up ice at depth at this site and free flow on us once.  Because of the cold water and the depth you can achieve at the west and south parts of this dive site, there is the very real potential for a regulator free flow.

[Underwater Map of Dive Site Coming Soon!]

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

There are no close dive shops up at Smith Reservoir.  You need to be self sufficient.  There are shops in Bend, Salem, and Eugene.

Nearby Restaurants We Like:

The closest food of any kind is at the lodge at Clear Lake.

Nearby Places to Camp and Diver-Friendly Hotels:

The lodge at clear lake has some cabins for rent.  Otherwise there is a campground at Trail Bridge Reservoir just down the hill from Smith Reservoir or there is plenty of 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!