Website lists Washougal River as nation’s best skinny-dipping spot

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The Washougal River is the best place in the United States for “skinny-dipping,” or swimming in the nude, according to a popular dating website. recently updated its ranking of the 25 best nude beaches in the world. The Washougal River was named the No. 1 spot in the United States and checked in at No. 7 on the international list, behind spots in Croatia, Italy, Australia, Germany, Portugal and Greece.

“If you’re in Portland and want to escape the summer heat, the Washougal River is a great place to perch and picnic on the rocks while swimming amidst fast and flowing streams,” the article stated. “You can jump off the bridge to explore rocky outcrops and the river’s edge. It’s a great nature spot where you can surround yourself with epic mountain ranges. There are lots of swimming options available along this river. During the summer months, you will find many cars parked alongside the scenic Washougal River Road.”

But, before you go, keep in mind that the legality of skinny-dipping in the Washougal River depends on the situation, according to Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn. City of Washougal municipal code states that “every person who knowingly makes an indecent and public exposure of his or her person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

“As far as the municipal code goes, it’s pretty broad and open to interpretation,” Steinbronn said. “We would respond to any call where someone complained that someone was nude at Sandy Swimming Hole. Still, the decision to cite someone would have to be based on what the person was doing — if they were exposing themselves for sexual gratification or to shock or annoy people, that is one thing; if they were simply swimming, we’d probably have them cover up.”

Steinbronn added that the department hasn’t received any complaints about skinny-dipping since she came on board in 2019.

“I would suspect those (skinny-dipping) locations are upriver, out of city limits,” the police chief said.

Skamania County does not have any specific ordinances that prohibit public nudity, according to Garique Clifford, a sergeant with the county’s sheriff’s office.

“We use the state’s indecent exposure statute, which states, ‘A person is guilty of indecent exposure if he or she intentionally makes any open and obscene exposure of his or her person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm,’” Clifford said.

Naked Falls, located along the Washougal River about 20 miles northeast of Washougal, has long been a popular place to sunbathe in the nude during the summer.

“I suppose Naked Falls was named for people sunbathing naked in the area,” Clifford said. “Over the last 15 to 20 years in Skamania County, those calls are generally far and few between. Often by the time we get there, the violators are gone. The property surrounding Naked Falls is now privately owned, and visitors are required to pay a parking fee for day use. The river and road to and through Naked Falls is public. Naked Falls is rather popular nowadays, so the times of sunbathing nude in private are long gone.”

Steven Epling, a Vancouver resident who purchased 131 acres of Naked Falls property in 2017, said skinny-dipping and nude sunbathing are “not common” at the falls, but do happen on occasion.

“I’ve never gotten a complaint, but I’ve had lots of people ask me (about it), and I tell them that if they want to be ‘natural,’ do it discreetly away from the rest of the folks. I’m not going to (do anything about that). It doesn’t matter. But do not do that in front of people you don’t know,’” he said. “We don’t see it a whole lot, and I’m not down there policing it. Now, is there a couple times a summer that I ended up talking to somebody? Yeah. But generally, most people are thoughtful and considerate, and wouldn’t just get naked in front of a bunch of families.

“If you’re out there in front of other people, it’s not appropriate,” he said. “We don’t condone it, we don’t allow it. (If someone does that), I have to assume malicious intent, and I don’t want to have to do that. I just want people to respect each other up there. It needs to be a safe place for everybody, and it can’t be if there are folks who are treating it like Bagby Hot Springs or Rooster Rock. It’s not that.”

Epling said he is considering posting an “extra rule” at the falls about nude acts due to the article.

“I’m concerned that I’m going to have to have some awkward and uncomfortable conversations this summer,” he said. “I don’t want (Naked Falls to get a) reputation as a nudist colony. It’s not. It’s a family place. The most important thing to me is (providing) a sense of, ‘Anybody can shed the rest of the world behind them and refresh and recharge and unite under the banner of loving this place and enjoying the cool water and the beautiful scenery.’ This is a place where everybody can feel comfortable with each other, and that gets disrupted if somebody makes someone else feel uncomfortable because then they choose not to wear clothes.”