Eternal springs

Flowing from Oregon's meadows and forests, cold springs are a cool surprise
Karl Samson

Most springs are mere trickles of water seeping out of the ground, but a handful in the Oregon Cascades command respect not just for their size but for their unequaled beauty.

Perhaps most unexpected is the color of the water: Imagine advertisements for Caribbean resorts - except here, you'll find water that color in the middle of a vast meadow, surrounded by an old lava flow, or deep in an old-growth forest. It takes just the right combination of crystal clear water and a white-sand bottom to produce such an unforgettable shade of turquoise, but to onlookers like us, it seems magic.

Some of the cold springs listed below are just a short stroll from parking areas; others are at the end of moderately strenuous hikes. Visit any of them and you'll find yourself hoping that springs are eternal.

NEAR PORTLAND

Little Crater Lake. Set amid meadow grasses and shady groves of evergreens, this spring is neither a crater nor a lake, and as springs in Oregon go, it isn't exactly little. It is, however, an astonishing shade of blue. It's also ice-cold and 45 feet deep. You'll find the spring only a few hundred yards from the trailhead campground, but you can extend your hike by continuing past the spring to the Pacific Crest Trail. From Portland drive east on U.S. 26 through Government Camp; continue 9 miles past the junction with State 35, turn right on Forest Road 58 (signed for Timothy Lake), and follow signs to Little Crater Lake; (503) 622-7674.

NEAR EUGENE

Great Spring. This beautiful spring, which empties into Clear Lake and is one of the sources of the McKenzie River, more than lives up to its name. Reached by an easy 1.2-mile trail through lava flows and old-growth forest, it's an unexpected jewel of cerulean waters. You can scramble down the embankment to the water's edge to see for yourself just how cold this water is. (You can also make this a 5-mile hike by following the trail all the way around Clear Lake.) If you are adept at paddling against a current, it's possible to paddle up from Clear Lake to the spring. From Eugene drive 70 miles east on State 126; turn right at sign for Coldwater Cove Campground and continue to day-use parking area; (541) 822-3381.

Tamolitch Pool. Downstream from Great Spring, the McKenzie River disappears beneath a lava flow. The river reemerges from underground 3 miles down the valley, at the base of a lava cliff that was once a waterfall. The pool that forms here is the largest and by far the most impressive of any of these springs. Though the entire 2-mile trail parallels the noisy river, the pool itself is eerily silent. There's no easy way down to the water, but just staring at it is somehow soothing. From Eugene drive 65 miles east on State 126; turn left at sign for Trail Bridge Reservoir; cross bridge, turn right, continue less than 1/2 mile to parking area at sharp left curve, and follow the trail north; (541) 822-3381.

NEAR SALEM

Head of the Metolius. Near the rustic community of Camp Sherman, these are perhaps the best known of Oregon's major springs-for good reason. Crystal clear water comes welling up from the ground in such volume that within just a few yards, the Metolius is a full-fledged river. Anglers can try fly-fishing for some of this river's trout. From Salem drive 100 miles east on State 22, then east on State 20; turn left onto Forest Road 14 toward Camp Sherman and follow signs to the springs; (541) 549-7700.

NEAR KLAMATH FALLS

Spring Creek/Collier Memorial State Park. This serpentine stream of breathtaking aquamarine water meanders through forests and meadows and is best appreciated from the Oux Kanee Overlook on the forest service road leading to the springs. You can paddle up this spring-fed creek from Collier Memorial State Park and marvel at springwater bubbling up through fine white sand. (Paddlers will notice the round, gelatinous "mare's eggs" algae; Spring Creek is one of the few spots on Earth where it grows.) From Klamath Falls drive 30 miles north on U.S. 97 to Collier Memorial State Park; for Oux Kanee Overlook, continue 3 miles north, turn left on Forest Road 9732, and follow signs; (541) 783-2471.

Wood River Springs/Jackson F. Kimball State Recreation Site. At the source of the Wood River, this flow gushes out of a wooded hillside. Within 100 yards of the springs, the waters form a shallow, wide stream that does a good job of imitating the Caribbean. It's just a short walk from the parking area to the springs. There are picnic tables here, and primitive camping is allowed (bring your own water). From Klamath Falls drive 23 miles north on U.S. 97 and continue toward Crater Lake National Park on State 62; 3 miles past Fort Klamath, watch for signs to the recreation site; (541) 783-2471.