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 theground, but a handful in the Oregon Cascades command respect notjust for their size but for their unequaled beauty.

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

Some of the cold springs listed below are just a short strollfrom parking areas; others are at the end of moderately strenuoushikes. Visit any of them and you'll find yourself hoping thatsprings are eternal.


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


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

Tamolitch Pool. Downstream from Great Spring, the McKenzieRiver disappears beneath a lava flow. The river reemerges fromunderground 3 miles down the valley, at the base of a lava cliffthat was once a waterfall. The pool that forms here is the largestand by far the most impressive of any of these springs. Though theentire 2-mile trail parallels the noisy river, the pool itself iseerily silent. There's no easy way down to the water, but juststaring at it is somehow soothing. From Eugene drive 65 miles easton State 126; turn left at sign for Trail Bridge Reservoir; crossbridge, turn right, continue less than 1/2 mile to parking area atsharp left curve, and follow the trail north; (541) 822-3381.


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


Spring Creek/Collier Memorial State Park. This serpentinestream of breathtaking aquamarine water meanders through forestsand meadows and is best appreciated from the Oux Kanee Overlook onthe forest service road leading to the springs. You can paddle upthis spring-fed creek from Collier Memorial State Park and marvelat springwater bubbling up through fine white sand. (Paddlers willnotice the round, gelatinous "mare's eggs" algae; Spring Creek isone of the few spots on Earth where it grows.) From Klamath Fallsdrive 30 miles north on U.S. 97 to Collier Memorial State Park; forOux Kanee Overlook, continue 3 miles north, turn left on ForestRoad 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 woodedhillside. Within 100 yards of the springs, the waters form ashallow, wide stream that does a good job of imitating theCaribbean. It's just a short walk from the parking area to thesprings. There are picnic tables here, and primitive camping isallowed (bring your own water). From Klamath Falls drive 23 milesnorth on U.S. 97 and continue toward Crater Lake National Park onState 62; 3 miles past Fort Klamath, watch for signs to therecreation site; (541) 783-2471.

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