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!