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Tamolitch Pool Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Tamolitch Falls and the Blue Pool, McKenzie River (bobcat)
Footbridge on the McKenzie River Trail (bobcat)
Hiking through the lava, McKenzie River Trail (bobcat)
Looking down into the Blue Pool (bobcat)
Clifftop view up the McKenzie River (bobcat)
The route to Tamolitch Pool on the McKenzie National Recreation Trail (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Tamolitch Blue Pool TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Tamolitch Pool
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • High point: 2,405 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Mid-spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes

Contents

Hike Description

Sixteen hundred years ago, the Belknap Crater belched forth a lava flow that filled the McKenzie River valley for a stretch of several miles. The river then carved its way over and under the rock to plunge over a 50-foot waterfall into the startlingly limpid Tamolitch Pool, also known as the Blue Pool. In the drier months of the year, water simply percolated through the lava layers and issued forth into the pool, while the substantial rains of winter and spring resulted in the reappearance of Tamolitch Falls. This all changed in 1963, when the Carmen Reservoir was constructed on the McKenzie below Koosah Falls. A diversion tunnel takes much of the McKenzie’s flow through a mountain ridge to the Smith Reservoir on the Smith River, part of the Eugene Water and Electric Board’s Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project. These days Tamolitch Falls only flows at times of exceptional rainfall or snow melt, but Tamolitch Pool continues to be a very popular destination, especially on summer weekends.

Note that access to Tamolitch Pool is via the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail, which is also used by mountain bikers. Snow levels here vary from year to year, so the trail can sometimes be accessible in winter. A quieter but longer way to reach Tamolitch Pool is from the Carmen Reservoir Trailhead – 7 ½ miles round-trip – but this route, while negotiating lovely old-growth forest, is not accompanied by views of the McKenzie River, which flows under the lava in this section of its course.

From the parking area, hike up the forest road about 40 yards to the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail #3507. Head right into an old-growth forest of large Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western red-cedar. Vine maple and big-leaf maple burnish the understory in the fall. The trail drops to the level of the rushing McKenzie River, where you cross a creek that issues from a substantial spring. Hike through a ferny bottomland, and cross a curving footbridge over a creek that pours forth from an even bigger spring. Rise to gets views from a lava cliff across the river, where you’ll note the aftereffects of the 2016 Blue Top Fire.

The trail then begins to wind through moss and lichen-covered lava outcroppings. Watch out for mountain bikers in this area as the route is narrow. Pass through a vine maple and hazel thicket to arrive at the first of several high viewpoints over the surging river. Incense cedars become part of the forest mix. You’ll arrive at the cliffs above the Blue Pool, where the McKenzie pours through the underground channels into this cold and crystal clear oasis. The pool is actually 30 feet deep in the middle, but appears deceptively shallow. Bear in mind that water temperatures vary between 37 and 42 degrees, cold enough to induce sudden shock if you decide to take a dip. There have been several deaths and serious injuries here over the years.

The lip of the dry Tamolitch Falls can be reached by a quick scramble, and the shore of the pool can be accessed by a short path that descends from above the egress. In Chinook jargon, tamolitch means “bucket.”


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: McKenzie River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Jefferson - Mount Washington

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Restrooms, information kiosk, nearby campground
  • Share trail with mountain bikers

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Eugene, Oregon by Art Bernstein & Lynn Bernstein
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails & Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Hiking Oregon’s Central Cascades by Bruce Grubbs
  • Hiking Oregon’s Three Sisters Country by Bruce Grubbs
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • 50 Old-Growth Hikes in the Willamette National Forest by John & Diane Cissel
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Oregon’s Southern Cascades: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Nature Weekends by Jim Yuskavitch
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Mountain Biking Oregon: Northwest and Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Mountain Bike Bend by Katy Bryce
  • Kissing the Trail by John Zilly

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.