Framed by moss-flecked sandstone blocks and fronting a picturesque forest waterfall, the Tenino Quarry Pool looks like a lush resort escape. That is, until the gates open and families from all over the Northwest spill into the scene, arranging towels on the grassy shore, taking a cooling dip, or plunging from the diving board into the famously deep, silky water.
The pool is actually a natural lake, according to Tenino mayor Wayne Fournier (Tenino is just south of Olympia, about a 90-minute drive from Seattle). There are even fish, he says, but they’re usually well below swimming level and rarely noticeable. Formed at the site of a working sandstone quarry established in the late 1800s, the pool is a “priceless piece of local history,” says Fournier. After the quarry ceased operations in the 1920s, the 100-foot well filled with springwater, creating a deep natural reservoir perfect for a summer dip. In the mid-1940s, the city converted the site to a public pool.
To accommodate guests of all ages, the pool has two sides, separated by a fence: A shallow, chlorinated, crystal-clear wading pool for tots on one side (three feet deep), and a big-kid-only “deep” side that isn’t chlorinated or chemically treated. Swimmers must pass a swimming test in order to swim on the deep side — no exceptions — and a handful of lifeguards on are on duty at all times to put safety-minded parents (raising my hand) at ease.
Visitors are welcome to bring in outside food, and can come and go during operating hours — so families can swim for a bit, leave for lunch and shopping in Tenino, then return later. Toys, floaties, and other playthings are welcome. The number of poolgoers can swell to 700 per day on hot days, says Fournier, but there’s plenty of space for visitors to spread out and enjoy this man-made natural wonder.
Best on a hot day
Any cons? The biggest is the chill factor: The water is historically cold, with a typical temperature of 50–54 degrees on the deep side. Swimmers expecting a “pool” may be put off by its inky blackness — attributed to the quarry’s depth, not the water’s actual clarity. Also, the pool is only open seasonally (through Aug. 28 this year) and a few days a week (Thursdays through Sundays). Go soon!
As far as age recommendation: The deep side is for strong swimmers only and best for ages 10 and up, depending on swimming skill. The wading pool is appropriate for all ages.
Come early to snag a shady spot in the wooden shelter that faces the water on the wading pool side; there are no chairs onsite, so bring your camping chairs or stadium seats for comfy lounging.
Bonus: Depot museum and historic schoolhouse
The Tenino Depot Museum (next to the quarry pool), free and open weekends from noon–4 p.m., is a former working train depot full of local history, including an authentic period washing machine, clothing and accessories from the 30s and 40s, and a press used to make wooden currency during the Great Depression.
The Ticknor Schoolhouse, also open weekends, is an authentic schoolhouse filled with period furnishings, available for tours.
If you go ...
Days/hours open: The Tenino quarry pool is open Thursday through Sunday, noon–6 p.m., through Aug. 28, 2017
Cost: $2 per day for Tenino residents; $4 per day for non-residents (cash only)
Location: Tenino City Park, Park Ave. E., Tenino, WA 98589
Events: The Tenino Quarry House, adjacent to the Quarry Pool, is available to rent for parties and events; rates start at $85 for a half-day.
Fuel up: The Sandstone Café is a local favorite for breakfast and lunch at 273 Sussex Ave. W., Tenino, WA 98589
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated for 2017.