Looking for a refreshing dip to cool off the summers heat? From small to large, hidden to happening, lounging and adventurous, these top swimming holes in California can’t be beat!
1. Seven Falls, Santa Barbara
Typically known for it’s stunning coast line and elegant wineries, Santa Barbara is also a popular destination for National Park explorers. The hike to Seven Falls is rated as an easy 1.5 miles to the first swimming hole. This area is a great spot to soak up the rays and take a dip with beautiful views of the Plumas National Forest. To get down to the river, be prepared for a steep climb. Hikers say it takes about 20-40 minutes hiking down and 30-60 minutes back out, depending on gear. Best time to visit is late summer thru early fall.
Fun Fact: For naturalists, you’ll love the mix of oak, pine, manzanita, and other shrubs surrounding the park.
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2. The Gorge, Big Sur
Most outdoor enthusiasts have heard of Big Sur due to its breath taking coastal views and gorgeous camp sites. However, if you’re looking to get away from the busy Pacific Ocean, Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park offers a few secret spots to enjoy some fresh water swimming as well. The Gorge can be found inside the park at the far eastern end of the road along the river. From there, you’ll hike 10 minutes upstream along the Big Sur river, scramble over rocks, and wade through the cool pools. Once you arrive at The Gorge, you’ll be hypnotized by the scenery of the giant polished rocks that encompass the deep swimming hole. Enjoy this pool during the summer months for warmer water temperatures.
Trip Tip: If there are too many people in The Gorge, take a quick walk downstream to a smaller swimming hole that allows for a more private, intimate atmosphere.
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3. Skinny Dip, Yosemite
Despite its assuming name, bathing suits are required at Skinny Dip. Located near Yosemite, this stunning swimming hole is comprised of two waterfalls, steep smooth rocks, and beautiful deep pools perfect for jumpers. Less than a mile hike along the Mountains-to-Sea trail, this stunning spot should not be missed in your summertime explorations.
Tip: If Skinny Deep is overcrowded, walk downstream 200 yards to Arrowhead for a secluded sunbathing and wading setting.
4. The Potholes, Carson Pass
The perfect summer afternoon adventure begins at Silver Lake near the American River, an hour south of Lake Tahoe. Rated as an easy, twenty minute stroll from the road, these stunning granite slabs can be accessed via the Silver Lake West Campground or Highway 88. The extraordinary pools were formed by the water passing through the unique granite plateau, and in time created the breathtaking swimming hole tourists have enjoyed relaxing in for years.
Note: Don’t bring more than one kid that needs full attention. There are lots of things to worry about, e.g., deep running water, tall rocks, cliff bands. But if your kids are good swimmers, they’ll love it. Bring tevas or water shoes for better traction.
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5. Tish Tang, Prayer Rock, Willow Creek
Perfect for the entire family, Tish Tang or Tish Tang a Tang, has a wide, flat, and barren landscape complete with a mile long swimming hole, and the famous Prayer Rock, a 25-foot sandstone jutting from the water where Native Americans used to hold ceremonies. This easy-to-reach swimming hole is loved by all ages to soak in the sun and cool off from the warm summers heat.
Tip: Bring your snorkel and check out the deep hole under a madrone tree approximately 200 yards downstream from Prayer Rock.
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6. Alder Slabs, Sequoia National Park
In the mood for a thrill? Alder Slabs is home to one of the best natural water slides in Sequoia National Park. This best kept secret isn’t advertised in visitor guides or websites making it a hidden gem for locals and in-the-know tourists. Located north of Johnsondale, you’ll have a quick one mile hike which ends at a massive granite slab, cool water rushing over the surface, and a small pool waiting at the bottom to welcome the sliders after their adrenaline-filled ride. Visit during summer when the snow runoff levels are high to ensure enough water to push you down the slide.
Tip: Unlike most attractions in Giant Sequoia National Monument, this water slide can be found farther off the Western Divide Highway.
Alder Slabs, Sequoia National Park
7. Rock Pool, Malibu Creek State Park, CA
Just inland from the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean lies the Malibu Creek State Park, covered with endless trails, swimming holes, and old filming sites from the popular TV show M*A*S*H and Planet of the Apes. Rock Pool is an easy 3.5 mile round trip hike, perfect for children of all ages. Pack a lunch and grab your swimsuits to head out to a stunning oak-lined lane that has a well-maintained and flat trail. Typically, the water is quite cold so it’s best to save this hike for a hot summer day. If it is too chilly for you, soak in the views and enjoy watching the cliff jumpers and rock climbers.
Tip: To turn this into a more adventurous hike, start at the Malibu Creek trailhead for an 8 mile roundtrip excursion. Also, you’re welcome to camp at Rock Pool and are invited to attend the 7pm campfire program every Saturday during summer.
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8. Alder Slabs, Sequoia National Park
Mad River will instantly transport you to Hawaii with its beautiful, clear, turquoise swimming hole and warm water temperatures. Be sure to wear good climbing shoes as the hike down to the river is quite steep and rocky. Once you arrive at the rivers edge, you’ll have plenty of lounging options sheltered by boulders and coves. But the best feature of all, the rope swing! You must cross through chest-deep water to get to the swing, but it’s worth it!
Tip: Visit during the summer months to take full advantage of the warm water.
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This article was written by Deena Betcher.