Swim in Portland's Public Outdoor Pools

We went to every single outdoor public pool and jumped in. So can you!

publiccommunityswim_Grant Pool_Treva Erickson Grant Pool (Treva Erickson)

When I was a kid, I spent the whole summer in my swimsuit, going from pool to lawn to pool to lake to pool, usually on my bike. While I'm glad I've grown up enough now to remove damp lycra before bed, I still love the feeling of jumping into cool water on a hot day (because I am a human). Amazingly, this is something that we all can actually do in Portland, even if, like me, you can't afford to join a country club or even a fancy athletic center or pay admission to a hotel once a day. 

That's because the City of Portland maintains a bunch of outdoor pools. Sure these are probably mainly meant to keep kids occupied all summer via swim lessons and as lifeguards, while their parents stare at screens in office buildings, but childless adults can enjoy these pools too! Mostly they cost a measly $4.25 for adults and if you want to swim at least 10 times this summer, you can buy a 10-visit pass that works at most pools (see exceptions) for $38.25 for residents, a 20-visit pass for $72.25 or a season pass for $85, which will go down to a $68 on July 1.

To rank these pools, I jumped into every single one of them and swam at least 50 yards, all over the space of three days. Here's how they rank up:

1. Sellwood Outdoor Pool

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Sellwood Pool is the most whimsical building the City of Portland controls. Its buildings look like a Bavarian village out of a fairytale and the pool itself is oval-shaped with a shallow end that starts at zero feet deep, making lap swimming an imperfect process. But who wants to lap swim here, in this adorable oasis? Of all the pools I jumped into while researching this story, this was the coolest temperature-wise and while the pH seemed good in all of the pools, this one somehow felt the best on my skin. The employees were friendly, the kids were happy and there were plenty of places to hang out in the shade. Also, there was a snow cone cart right outside the front gate, which I personally think is the marker of a great summer pool. 

Outdoor oval-shaped pool heated to 84 degrees. Water depth ranges from zero depth entry to 7 feet. Also has a drop slide, and spray features.

7951 SE 7th, 823-3679. Mon - Fri 7:30am to 8:50pm Sat 1:00 to 5:00pm Sun 11:30am to 5:00pm. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/61026. $4.25 for adults.

2. Creston Outdoor Pool

Creston is a sweet little pool off Southeast Powell Boulevard that looks like it could figure into a Beverly Cleary book. It's tucked into Creston Park, at the bottom of a gully. In fact the hardest part of this pool is getting to it—there is plenty of parking but you're going to have to walk through a good bit of park to get to the pool. The pool itself is just what you want in a community pool: serviceable locker rooms, efficient and friendly staff and grassy patches of lawn with umbrellas. This is a pool where you could hang out all day, or at least as long as the lifeguards let you.

Outdoor 25-yard shallow pool and 25-yard deep pool heated to 84 degrees. Water depths range from 2 feet to 8 feet. Also has a drop slide and a kiddie slide. 

4454 SE Powell Blvd., 823-3672. Mon-Fri 8:00 am - 8:45 pm Sat-Sun 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/61022. $4.25 for adults.

3. Wilson Outdoor Pool

Behind Wilson High, up in the forested hills of Portland, through a parking lot, next to a beautiful new track and a good bit of construction, sits the pool where the future kings and queens of the city take in morning swim team practice. This pool is really two pools: a lap pool/deep pool with a diving board and a kids' pool with water features, a lazy river and a real-deal water slide. The locker rooms are cavernous, though the showers leave a lot to be desired. And you pay for the privilege of getting wet here, a whole dollar and a quarter more than the rest of the city pools ($5.50 and they do not accept the pool pass that you can buy at other locations). If you have kids or want the swankiest possible pool experience, this place is worth the trek. For lap swim in the morning, though, only one lane was open (so much swim team!) and by the end of my swim I was circle swimming with two other people. Not horrible, but definitely not worth the extra cost for entry and gas to get me up that hill. 

6-lane lap pool with diving board and family leisure pool with 170 foot long current channel with vortex, frog tot slide, zero-depth water play structure and 114 foot long water slide.

1151 SW Vermont, 823-3680. Mon - Fri 8:00 am to 8:20 pm Sat & Sun 12:00 to 6:00 pm. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/61027. $5.50 for adults.

4. Grant Outdoor Pool

This is the pool where I swim most frequently. It's tucked inside Grant Park. It isn't big but somehow the lanes are usually pretty open in the afternoon and there's never a problem finding a locker. The water is clean, though sometimes a bit warm for my liking. Grant is not as great for sunbathing and just regular hanging out as some other places due to its high brick walls and minimal seating area. But the sun does manage to hit the water, which is really why you're there anyway. There are a lot of kids taking swimming lessons, so it can be a bit of a pain to grab a shower after your swim. Bonus: there's frequently a snow cone cart parked just outside the pool on week day afternoons.

Outdoor 25-yard shallow pool and 25-yard deep pool heated to 84 degrees. Water depths range from 2 to 8 feet. Also has a kiddie slide. 

2300 NE 33rd, 823-3674. Mon-Fri 6:00 am - 9:00 pm Sat-Sun 12:00 noon - 6:00 pm. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/61021. $4.25 for adults.

5. Peninsula Outdoor Pool

Of all the pools I visited, Peninsula Pool feels the most like a real city pool of yesteryear—it opens up onto Rosa Parks and its locker rooms are inside an old Spanish-style building. It seems like a place where you'd knock your teeth out on those hard, tall sides, painted white, that necessitate a ladder unless you are super strong. And then you'd keep swimming. There isn't much deck space here and mostly it's just parents crowding around the edges of the pool. The locker rooms are also another drawback, at least the women's, which is tiny. However, this pool is fun and friendly and the water is cool and clean. If you want to jump in but don't need to stick around all day, this is a good pool that is very bikeable for all you city kids.

Outdoor oval shaped 33-yard pool heated to 84 degrees. Water depths range from 2 feet to 8 feet.

700 N Rosa Parks Way, 823-3677. Mon - Fri 12:00 - 8:30 pm Sat 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/61025. $4.25 for adults.

6. Montavilla Outdoor Pool

Montavilla Pool is a scrappy, blue collar city pool with a lot to recommend it: the open sunny lane, an actual parking lot, the reclined lawn chairs for parents and sunbathers. This seems like a great pool for sunbathing: There aren't any huge walls blocking the deck, and there's a lot of deck. The water was clean and cool, with maybe an errant leaf or two floating around. I had my own lane and there were at least three or four available, each one definitely big enough for easy sharing or circle swimming. One weird drawback? No lockers. One great bonus? The Taco Time right down the street.

Outdoor 25-yard shallow pool and 25-yard deep pool heated to 84 degrees. Water depths range from 2 feet to 8 feet. Also has a drop slide and a kiddie slide.

8219 NE Glisan, 823-3675. Mon-Fri 8:00 am - 8:40 pm Sat 1:00 - 5:00 pm. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/61023. $4.25 for adults.

7. Pier Outdoor Pool

Oh, St. Johns. You have so much to offer! You're like a little escape, a small town within a big city. But sadly, your pool comes up short. The location is great; it's basically nestled among pines and the whole place smells woodsy and fresh. But there are no lockers in the locker room and even in June the pool is covered in leaves for no apparent reason. Also, though it was lap swim time according to the schedule and the lifeguards, there were no lanes set up. Instead, there was an aerobics class listening to what sounded like a wordless "Get Lucky" remix on repeat. That said, the locker room did have a bunch of changing rooms and there were plenty of recliner lawn chairs so it seemed like an okay place to hang out on a hot day. If this is your local pool, sure, go. Otherwise, find something closer.

Outdoor 25-yard shallow pool and 25-yard deep pool heated to 84 degrees. Water depths range from 2 feet to 8 feet. Also has a kiddie slide.

9341 N. St. Johns., 823-3678. Mon/Wed/Fri 11:30 am - 8:15 pm Tue/Thur 11:30 am - 8:00 pm Sat/Sun 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm. $4.25 for adults.

Bonus Pool: McMenamin's Soaking Pool

If you don't want to lap swim but want to feel some water on your body, and you also wouldn't mind a drink in your hand while doing it, the chlorinated saltwater soaking pool at McMenamin's Kennedy School is a year-round option. You don't have to be staying at the hotel to enjoy the pool, which is never too crowded due to capacity restrictions that are seriously enforced. Special secret bonus of the bonus pool? If you live in the neighborhood, they let you in for free.

5736 NE 33rd Ave., 249-3983. General public over age 18: Daily 10 am–8 pm. Closed Tuesdays. http://www.mcmenamins.com/166-kennedy-school-soaking-pool. $5.

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