Everyone wants to keep their favorite swimming hole a secret. But when temperatures soar in the Sacramento Valley and the stifling heat becomes unbearable, sometimes there’s no other option but to pack a small picnic and head to the many rivers, tributaries, lakes and ponds throughout the region.
There are plenty of swimming spots for everyone. But be forewarned, locals might be protective of these locations.
Timothy Joyce, author of the book Swimming Holes of California, says some people have asked him not to publish certain spots. Others might intentionally give wrong information on online forums just to make sure their swimming hole remains crowd-free.
Still, Joyce says hiking, swimming and getting back to nature is one summer activity everyone should be able to enjoy. His book features more than 50 swimming holes across California.
“Swimming and water touches everything we do, it’s part of who we are, part of nature,” says Joyce.
There’s another advantage to a day spent at a swimming hole, unlike other family-friendly activities like a water park or community pool — it’s low-cost and often free. (State Parks charge for parking. And if you overstay the sunset “closing time”, there can be hefty tickets and fines.)
“With swimming holes, you put on your hiking boots and swimming trunks and you can go,” Joyce says.
Joyce’s compilation of swimming holes started as a blog because he was interested in exploring new hiking trails. But during his summer hikes, he became increasingly interested in treks with a destination and water for cooling off.
He found these trails largely through word-of-mouth. And he started blogging about them.
To call Joyce an expert on the topic of swimming holes is an understatement. Of the more than 50 spots featured in his book, Joyce has been to all of them at least two or three times.
For the novice, Joyce offers these tips before trekking to a swimming hole.
Pick the type of swimming hole. Before heading to a location, ask yourself, what kind of place you’re looking for. Do you prefer a long or short hike in? Do you mind going to a place that’s extremely popular or would you rather go to a remote area? Do you want cliff jumping? Or would you rather wade in shallow water? Are you looking for a place with a waterfall? Are you comfortable with a “clothing optional” scene?
Research is key. Because some swimming holes are in remote areas, make sure you research directions before heading out. Having GPS coordinates is helpful. But not all cell services work in remote areas. Write down the directions on a piece of paper in case you lose signal or power..
Pick footwear for both the hike and the swim. Some hikes traverse rocky and steep canyon terrain. You may need to ford the river. Sturdy-soled shoes that can get wet are best..
Match your gear to your adventure. Carrying a large cooler or barbeque grill down a long steep trail might not be so bad, but think about what you’ll be lugging on the hike out.
Lather on the sunscreen/sunblock. Bring plenty of water The amount of shade at swimming holes can vary. Make your own shade with a wide-brimmed hat or beach umbrella. Don’t drink the water in the swimming hole. Many remote locations have no drinking water source. Bring plenty of potable water.
Safety first. Cliff jumping can be dangerous. Make sure that the water is deep enough for diving. Conditions at a swimming hole can change over time. Some years, the water current may be slow, other years, it can get strong. Joyce suggests this test: throw in a stick into the water and gauge how fast it floats down the river. Small children should wear life vests.
Pick up after yourself. Don’t leave trash behind and glass bottles are not allowed. Many swimming holes have no trash cans near the water. You’ll need to pack all your diapers, garbage and empties to the parking lot, or all the way home. Make sure you leave the area the way you found it.
Here are five popular locations that you could give a try:
Hoyt’s Crossing is a beautiful destination on the South Fork of the Yuba River with clear water surrounded by large granite rocks. There are plenty of sandy beaches, but parking is limited so get there early. DIRECTIONS
Edward’s Crossing is another swimming hole located on the South Yuba River. It’s a beautiful area with rocks and beaches with shade. Most people swim near the bridge, but to get away from the crowds hike downstream for about a half mile to a waterfall where Spring Creek drops into the river. Parking can get extremely crazy on hot summer days. Heed the “No Parking” signs or you may be towed. DIRECTIONS
This swimming hole is part of Auburn State Recreation Area. Popular beaches under the Foresthill Bridge are more crowded because the shallow waters are ideal for kids. But hike downstream or park at one of the trailheads before crossing the Highway 49 bridge (coming from Interstate 80) and there are less-populated beaches and rocky areas. Downstream swimming spots are clothing optional in practice, even though signs say clothing is required. DIRECTIONS
This is not so much a swimming hole, but a campground with easy access to the American River. There’s a $10 parking fee for day use, but the shallow water is friendly for young children. For those looking to get into deeper waters, head upstream, past the campgrounds. There, you’ll find some cliff jumping rocks and gentle rapids. DIRECTIONS
Located in El Dorado County, this swimming hole is also great for families. The large looming rocks create natural pools. There are signs throughout the area marking private properties, so don’t trespass. Parking can be difficult so it’s best to come early to get a spot and be careful not to park in private property. DIRECTIONS
Share your tips and list your favorite swimming spots in the comments section below.