Sure, a swimming pool is nice, but there’s nothing quite like taking a dip in a naturally flowing river, at the base of a beautiful water fall, or in a peaceful lake. Find a place to cool off, or just enjoy the relaxation of being in nature next to one of these California swimming holes.
Before we get started, a few things to keep in mind!
- Cliff jumping is dangerous, do so at your own risk. There may be rocks and other debris in the water that you can not see from above.
- Do not drink the water. It can contain bacteria.
- If water is stagnant, it’s best to stay out of it.
- Swim at your own risk.
- Wear a life jacket in deep water.
- Leave No Trace – Please don’t leave trash and other debris at these beautiful spots. Don’t damage the natural surroundings.
Southern California Swimming Holes
Santa Lucia Wilderness near Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo County
You’ll have to go on a bit of an adventure for this one, and you’ll need a high clearance vehicle. You’ll cross Lopez Creek 8 times on the last mile and a half of the road to the trailhead. When you’re hiking the five and a half mile out and back trail, you’ll have to cross the creek by foot a few more times. Once you get to the falls, you’ll be rewarded with lush surroundings and a pool deep enough for a dip.
San Diego County in Cleveland National Forest
Cedar Creek Falls is a towering 80-foot waterfall with a nice deep pool. But getting here is not easy. There are two access points, via the San Diego River Gorge Trail or the Saddleback Trail, and both are six-plus miles out and back, with strenuous uphill sections. There is also no shade cover along the trails, so it can get very hot. In addition to the adventure pass required for parking, you’ll also need to request a permit to access the Cedar Creek Falls area that can be purchased through recreation.gov.
Angeles National Forest near Mount Wilson via the Burkhart Trail
The Cooper Canyon Falls is more of a splashing hole than a swimming hole. But it’s a beautiful spot that’s worth a trip for waterfall enthusiasts, especially when there has been rain. The hike is a moderately challenging 5 miles round trip, or you can do a 6+ mile loop. An adventure pass is required for parking at the Burkhart Trailhead, and there is a campground if you’d like to reserve a spot and spend the night.
San Bernardino National Forest outside the city of Apple Valley/Hesperia
Access to Deep Creek Hot Springs is via a trailhead off of Bowen Ranch Road. The hike is approximately 4 miles round trip, and an adventure pass is required for parking. The hike to the springs is downhill, so the return hike is mostly uphill. There is plenty of room to enjoy the hot springs here, but it does get crowded. Keep in mind, the area is clothing-optional, so you may encounter a few nudists. You can also keep going along the trail past the main hot springs area to Warm Springs for additional swimming holes.
Currently Closed due to fire damage, road improvements and trail conditions
Angeles National Forest, access via the Chantry Flats Picnic Area
The hike to Hermit Falls is about 3 miles round trip. This is a popular swimming hole, and people are often cliff jumping here. If you’d like to check out another water fall after your time at the swimming hole, you can turn your trip into a longer hike (about 5 miles total instead of 3) and loop to Sturtevant Falls where you’ll find an additional pool for splashing around.
Malibu Creek State Park, Agoura Hills
Getting to the Malibu Creek Rock Pools is a 2 mile out and back hike. There are large boulders here as well as some small beach areas. The trail here is well maintained and is a fairly easy hike. Because of the accessible location, it does get crowded here, but it’s worth a trip if you’re looking for an adventure. There is a fee to park at this State Park managed location.
Currently closed due to road damage and landslides
Santa Barbara, access via Paradise Road
Red Rock Pools is accessible via a short hike on the Red Rock Trail. It does get crowded at this location, but you can continue along the trail to find additional swimming holes. If you’re brave, there are a few cliff jumping opportunities at this location. There is a fee to park here.
San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena via the Gabrielino Trail
Switzer Falls is in the Angeles National Forest and requires about 4 miles round trip to hike out and back. This is another popular spot so you’re sure to encounter a crowd unless you go at off-peak times. The base of the falls isn’t always swimmable, but it’s definitely worth wading in or splashing around and can get waist deep or better during rainy seasons. There are also several creek crossings to get there when the water level is high.
Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County
The swimming holes at Three Sisters Falls are accessed by a four and a half mile round trip hike (you’ll be going uphill on the way out). This is a popular spot that does get crowded, but if you’re an experienced hiker, this is a great spot to visit to take a dip and view the natural water falls of Boulder Creek. Keep in mind, when the flow of the waterfalls subside during summer months, the water does become stagnant here and is not good for swimming. An adventure pass is required for parking at this location.
Lakes & More Swimming Holes In Southern California
- Big Bear Lake
- Castaic Lake | Lagoon swimming during summer months only
- Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park – San Dimas | Open June through September
- Lake Arrowhead
- Lake Elsinore, Elm Grove Beach – Riverside County
- Lake Gregory Regional Park – Crestline
- Perris Lake, Lake Perris State Recreation Area
- Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area – Irwindale
- Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area – Cleghorn Day Use Area & Swim Beach,
- Aztec Falls (Closed) – This is a popular spot, but due to over crowding, the forest service has closed access to this location.
Northern California Swimming Holes
Yuba County via Spenceville Road near Grass Valley
Beale Falls Swimming Hole is a large and lovely pool at the base of a pretty good sized three-tiered falls. You’ll tackle a five+ mile loop trail to enjoy this one, and there isn’t much shade, but the swimming hole is a great spot to cool off. There are a few shallow spots if you would rather wade as the water is cold!
Santa Cruz Mountains on the San Lorenzo River near Henry Cowell Redwoods
Take the Rincon Fire Road through the shady redwood forest to this swimming hole in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There’s plenty of water to swim or wade, some sandy beach areas to relax by the river, and rocks to lounge on.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Whiskeytown, CA
It’s only a half mile, easy hike on a paved path to get to Crystal Creek Falls. Here you’ll find a shallow natural pool for wading and swimming, boulders for lounging, and shade for getting out of the sun. If you want to explore more falls in Whiskeytown, you can also hike to Boulder Creek Falls and Whiskeytown Falls.
Donner Memorial State Park, Donner Pass Road, Truckee, CA
You can find great places to take a dip at Donner Lake. Try China Cove and East Beach for the best access, as these are designated swimming spots. Bonus that they have all the amenities here including restrooms and picnic area, and is easily accessed from the parking area.
South Fork of the Yuba River via Nevada City and Forest Rte. 18
This is one of the most picture perfect natural pools in California with bright blue-green water with granite outcroppings. From the trail head, it is only about a half mile hike to the swimming hole. The only thing to keep in mind is that when the water level is high, it can be particularly dangerous. It’s best to wait for the water level to drop and currents are not as strong in late summer and early fall. However, there are several smaller and shallower pools among the rocky creek bed that you can enjoy.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton, CA
Garden of Eden is a popular spot for taking a dip. This spot can get crowded during warm weather. To get there, you’ll have to hike in, but it’s only about 3 miles round trip.
8500 CA-9 Ben Lomond, CA 95005
At the back of this county park is a stretch of the San Lorenzo River with a small waterfall and water that runs about waist deep on the average adult. This is a great swimming hole with easy water access for the kids to enjoy a day splashing around.
South Yuba River State Park, Bridgeport Visitors Center Area, Penn Valley, CA
You’ll find lots of large boulders and a lovely emerald pool for swimming in the South Yuba River, especially near the Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Follow the steep concrete stairs down to the main swimming hole. This is a popular spot and can get crowded during warmer weather.
Lake Tahoe has a number of beaches that can be accessed for swimming. Here are a few to try:
- 64 Acres Beach
- Bliss Beach
- Boca Campgrounds
- Emerald Bay
- Hidden Beach
- Meeks Bay Beach
- Moon Dunes Beach
- North Tahoe Beach
- Sand Harbor
- Sandy Creek Campground
- Secline Beach
- Secret Cove
- Secret Harbor Beach
McCloud River Trail in Shasta-Trinity National Forest access via Fowlers Campground
This stretch of McCloud River has three waterfalls and a nice cold swimming hole to take a dip. The best swimming spot is at the base of Lower Falls. There are underwater boulders here so jumping in is not advised.
Calaveras County near Vallecito with access via Parrots Ferry Road
A short and easy two mile hike takes you to a dreamlike swimming hole in a limestone cavern at the end of the Natural Bridges Trail. The trail and the creek are lovely on their own, but the cave is definitely a bonus! Bring your tubes, floaties, or paddleboards and enjoy lounging around in the cave. It’s the perfect spot for cooling of in the shade when the temps are warm.
North Fork Campground near Emigrant Gap in Tahoe National Forest
The North Fork Falls swimming hole is along a section of the North Fork of the American River. The trailhead can be accessed at the North Fork Campground between campsites 9 and 10. It’s just a short hike to and from the swimming hole, but you’ll want to wear normal hiking shoes or tennis shoes as it is semi-rugged terrain. The swimming hole is nice and large with rocks all around and the water is cold! But it’s worth a trip if you’re looking for a fun adventure.
North Sacramento Valley, Middle Yuba River, South of Camptonville
The Oregon Creek Day Use Area has several spots along the Middle Yuba River with shady spots, sandy beaches, and boulder for lounging around in the sun.
Shasta Trinity National Forest near Round Mountain
This is a great spot that only requires a short hike just over a half mile out and back. Potem Falls is nearly 70 feet tall and plunges into a nice large pool. There are lots of rocky areas around the pool, but there are some beach areas that allow access to get into the water for a swim.
Richardson Grove State Park, Garberville, CA
If you would like to take a dip under the magnificent redwoods in the South Fork of the Eel River, this is the spot for you. Swimming only here, no jumping or diving. The best spots for swimming are at Swim Beach and the seasonal swimming hole. Swim Beach is located near the Dawn Redwood Group Campground, and the seasonal swimming hole is just a short walk north from there. Both spots are easily accessible from the parking areas.
The Russian River offers a number of swimming holes and beaches to enjoy. Be aware that some of these spots are clothing optional! Here are a few spots for taking a dip.
- Cloverdale River Park
- Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach
- Johnson’s Beach, Guerneville
- Mom’s Beach, Forestville
- Monte Rio Community Beach, Mote Rio
- Riverfront Regional Park, Healdsburg
- Steelhead Beach Regional Park, Forestville
- Sunset Beach River Park
- Willow Creek Beach
393 Violetti Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95409
Open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, this 3-acre swimming lagoon is perfect for families looking for a day in the water. They even have an inflatable waterpark, trails to explore, and picnic areas.
Standish Hickey State Recreation Area, Leggett, CA Mendocino County
Standish Hickey State Recreation Area has a large swimming hole on the South Fork of the Eel River with a perfect sandy beach for relaxing. In addition to the main pool, you can find smaller, shallower pools along the river as well. The main pool is easily accessible from the Redwood Campground day use area.
Yankee Jim’s Swimming Hole
Yankee Jim’s Road, Colfax, CA
Set near Yankee Jim’s Bridge, there is a perfect swimming hole in Indian Creek, a branch off the North Fork of the American River. There is plenty of room to spread out or lounge on the boulders, and the water is crystal clear in some spots, beautiful blue-green in others. To get to the swimming hole, you’ll have to take a 3-mile out and back hiking trail. The trail head is at Yankee Jim’s Bridge.
Lakes & More Swimming Holes In Northern California
- Bass Lake at Phillip Burton Wilderness – Point Reyes National Seashore
- Bass Lake – Near Oakhurst
- Carlon Falls – Groveland
- Cleo’s Bath – Pinecrest
- Golden Quartz – South Fork Yuba River
- Gull Lake
- June Lake
- Lake Almanor – Plumas County
- Lake Anza – Tilden Regional Park
- Lake Sonoma Recreation Area – Geyserville
- Lake Tahoe
- Rainbow Pools – Tuolumne River
- Shasta Lake
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Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.