With stunning turquoise and topaz blue water, a hike to the Tamolitch Blue Pool needs to be on your Oregon bucket list! We’re sharing everything you need to know about visiting this natural wonder.
The Tamolitch Falls Blue Pool hike has become one of our favorite trails in the McKenzie River Valley here in Central Oregon. A fairly easy and well maintained trail along the river leads you to a magical pool full of crystal clear blue water that looks like a gemstone set in the middle of the mossy, old-growth forest.
Read on to learn more about this area and everything you need to know about visiting the famous Blue Pool and seasonal Tamolitch Falls yourself!
Things to Know Before Hiking to Oregon’s Blue Pool
1. The Tamolitch Blue Pool is formed by an underground lava tube
About 1,600 years ago, a lava flow from an eruption of the Belknap Crater buried a three mile segment of the McKenzie River. The river now flows underground through a lava tube from Carmen Reservoir to the north, to where it re-emerges at the Blue Pool, seeping up through the lava rock.
2. The color and clarity of the pool is due to its temperature
The magic of Tamolitch Pool is its vivid, crystal clear turquoise blue color. It’s completely mesmerizing and we guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like it! The water is so clear, in fact, that it acts like an optical illusion: when you stare down into it from the trail, it looks like the pool is only a few feet deep–when in reality it’s over 30 feet at its deepest point!
The primary reason the water is so clear & blue is that it is SO cold–a frigid 37ºF–that nothing can survive in the pool, so there no fish or microorganisms in the water here.
Additionally, porous lava rock acts as a filter as the river flows through it and seeps back up to the surface. This removes a lot of the debris from upriver, leaving the water pristine.
Good to know: The color of the Blue Pool is most vivid when it’s sunny out; grey skies will mute the brilliant blue a bit. If possible, pick a sunny day for your hike!
3. There are two trailheads to get to the pool (and the hikes are totally different)
There are two trailheads that will lead you to the Blue Pool: the Tamolitch Trailhead, south of the pool and near the Trail Bridge Reservoir, and the trailhead to the north which begins at Carmen Reservoir. Though the destination is the same, the two trails are very different!
The Tamolitch Trailhead (sometimes labeled “McKenzie River Trailhead at Tamolitch”) is the most popular starting point, and the one we recommend. On this trail, you follow along the McKenzie River through an old growth forest and get to enjoy the views and sound of the river the whole time. It’s also the shorter of the two hikes at 4.25 miles round trip.
Your other option is the trailhead from the Carmen Reservoir, which technically follows the McKenzie River–but it’s the part that has been buried underground by the lava flow! While you still hike through a lush forest, it’s not quite as scenic without the views of the river. Additionally, this version of the hike is about 6.8 miles long and has quite a bit more elevation change.
4. The hike to Tamolitch Blue Pool is accessible year-round
The trail to the Blue Pool is open year round–though the most popular time to visit is during the summer (June through August). Spring brings fewer crowds but rain and muddy trails. Fall is our personal favorite time to hike here because the changing leaves are stunning against the blue water! The trail is also doable during the winter, provided you have the appropriate winter hiking gear and layers.
5. You’ll want to get there early (or go on a weekday)
Weekends (especially in the summer) are when the hike to the Blue Pool is busiest, and it can be super difficult to find parking. If you are visiting on the weekend, get there early!
Unless you’re one of the first handful of people to arrive, you’ll have to park along the road which can add some bonus distance to your hike.
If you’re later than that, it can be near impossible to get a spot right when you arrive and you’ll be stuck jockeying with other cars to get a spot as people leave.
If you’re able to visit on a weekday in the morning, you’ll be rewarded with fewer people and an easier go at snagging a parking spot.
6. Tamolitch Falls does not run year round
There are seasonal waterfalls at the Blue Pool, which is why the area is sometimes called “Tamolitch Falls” depending on which map you look at. The falls are dry for most of the year, but during the spring (especially during high runoff years) you might be able to catch them as the McKenzie’s higher water levels will flood over the lava bed, creating the falls on the north side of the basin.
Regardless of whether Tamolitch Falls are running when you visit, the Blue Pool is still stunning, as it’s always fed by the river running through the lava bed below.
7. You can swim at the Blue Pool–but diving in can be dangerous
Yes, you can swim in the Blue Pool, but there are some important safety considerations to be made.
First, the pool is cold — nearly freezing in fact, at 37 degrees! At that temperature, it’s possible to become hypothermic in just 10 minutes. So, if you do plan on swimming, think of it as a quick dip rather than a leisurely lake day. Know your swimming ability and don’t stray too far in from the water’s edge.
Second, the trail down to the water is sketchy at best. It’s not even an official trail, just a social trail that is very steep. It’s not suitable for everyone, and you definitely want to have decent hiking shoes (and maybe hiking poles) if you want to attempt it.
Finally, since the pool is surrounded by rocky ledges up to 60 feet high, it might look like a great place for cliff jumping–but it is discouraged and in fact, pretty dangerous. People have died jumping into the pool, and many more have required rescues (which are not fast or easy!).
There are submerged rocks that you can hit, and the temperature of the water adds to the danger as well–your natural reaction to being submerged in water this cold is to gasp, meaning you can inadvertently inhale a lung-full of water and drown.
Leave No Trace: If you do choose to swim at the pool, we’d like to encourage you preserve the brilliant nature of the water here by wiping off any sunscreen or bug spray you’re wearing before getting in. Additionally, please don’t use any soap (even biodegradable soap!) in the pool.
8. The hike will only take you 2 hours–but there are tons of other things to do in the area!
Visiting the Tamolitch Blue Pool is a great day trip from Bend or Eugene, but you’ll only spend a few hours hiking in and hanging out at the pool. However, there are a ton of other things to explore in this part of the Willamette National Forest! Make a full day of it by checking out:
Sahalie & Koosah Falls: Tie these two waterfalls together for a short hike (less than a mile round trip). There’s a small parking lot at Sahalie Falls which makes it a good starting point.
Proxy Falls: During the summer when Hwy 242 is open, this is a great hike to do! It’s just over a mile and a half round trip and will take you to the base of a gorgeous waterfall cascading down moss covered rocks and logs.
Hot springs: If you’re driving in from Eugene, a stop at Terwilliger (Cougar) Hot Springs is well worth the detour! A short 1 mile (round trip) hike takes you to a series of natural hot spring pools. The springs are open sunrise to sunset and cost $7 per person to visit.
Clear Lake: Marking the beginning of the McKenzie River Trail and the headwaters of the McKenzie River, Clear Lake is a great spot to hang out for the afternoon. There is a 4.6 mile loop trail around the lake, or you can get out on the water by renting a boat from Clear Lake Resort (or bring your own paddleboard, canoe, or kayak!).
Obsidian Grill: This is our favorite spot to grab a coffee, cold drink, or bite to eat when traveling along Hwy 126. Check their events schedule if you’re visiting on a Thursday or Saturday during the summer–you might be able to catch some live music on their outdoor patio while you’re there!
Camping nearby: There are several campgrounds along the McKenzie River if you want to spend the night in the area:
- Olallie Campground (4.4 miles): Snag one of the sites on the lower loop if you can–these sites are right on the river!
- Coldwater Cove Campground (7.3 miles): This campground at Clear Lake gives you easy access to the water.
- Paradise Campground (10.4 miles): 64 sites among old growth forest right along the McKenzie River.
- McKenzie Bridge Campground (14.8 miles): 20 sites, all facing the water!
Tamolitch Blue Pool Hike Details
How to Get There
The Tamolitch Blue Pool trail is located on NF-730 off of Hwy 126, about 63 miles from Bend or 67 miles from Eugene. To get driving directions, look up Tamolitch Trail Head, Foster, OR on Google Maps.
From Hwy 126, cross the river at forest road 730 (a left turn if you’re coming from Eugene, or a right turn if coming from Bend). After crossing the bridge, turn right at the intersection and head up the road until you come to the parking area, which will be on the right.
Permits & Fees
There is a $5 parking day use fee, which you can buy online here or at the trailhead (bring exact cash).
Best Time to Visit
The trail to the Blue Pool can be accessed year round. The most popular time to visit is during the summer, but our favorite season for this hike is the fall!
Weekends are when the trail is busiest, making it hard find parking unless you get there early. If you’re able to, go on a weekday in the morning.
Yes, so long as they are kept on leash.
There are two pit toilets at the trailhead, but none along the trail or at the pool.
No, there is no potable water available at the trailhead.
No, there is no reliable service so plan ahead!
What to Bring
Be sure to bring the basic hiking essentials including:
- Sturdy hiking shoes: you will encounter plenty of uneven lava rock — definitely not the place to wear flip flops!
- A map: download on AllTrails Pro or Google maps for offline use (there’s no cell service in the area)
- Bug repellant: this area can get very buggy in the early summer
- Extra water: there’s no water at the trailhead, but there are a few spots during the first part of the hike where you can easily access the river and filter water if needed
- Plenty of hiking snacks!
Tamolitch Falls Blue Pool Hike
The hike itself is pretty straightforward to navigate and there are no junction points where you might take a wrong turn.
From the parking area, you’ll see the trailhead signs just to the left of the bathroom. Once you start up the trail, you’ll quickly find yourself meandering along a gentle path through the old-growth forest filled with Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, lush green ferns, and moss covered logs. If you’re hiking in the spring, keep an eye out for wildflowers like Trilliums which will dot the forest floor.
You’ll follow the McKenzie River upstream throughout the hike (it won’t be in view the whole time, but you’ll hear it rushing by through the valley!). There are a few spots where the trail crosses small offshoots of the river, which you will cross using photo-op worthy log bridges built out of downed trees from the area.
About halfway into the hike, you’ll start to encounter more volcanic rock on the trail–just take your time and watch your footing and you’ll be fine!
After two miles of hiking, you’ll reach the famous Blue Pool! Well, more accurately, you’ll reach a rocky rim that looks down into the Blue Pool. The cliffs that make up the rim are upwards of 50 feet above the water, so be very careful as you explore.
If you want to access the pool itself, you’ll have to travel around the rim until you find the “trail” that leads down to the banks. This is an unofficial, unmaintained, steep trail so be extra careful if you decide to hike down.
Once you’re done relaxing, taking photos, and and admiring the turquoise blue of the water, all you need need to do to return is to follow your footsteps back!
We hope this post is helpful in planning your own adventure to the Tamolitch Falls Blue Pool! You can find recent trail reports and an interactive map on AllTrails.
Be sure to check out this next post for more of the best hikes near Bend, Oregon!