Need to chill? California’s coastline and beaches typically get all the attention, but consider an old-fashioned swimming hole to cool off on a hot summer day. Be mindful of fast-moving water and make sure to pack out all of your trash.
Southern Californians don’t have to travel far to visit a picture-perfect swimming hole: the Punch Bowls — a series of pools with a natural water slide — are north of Santa Paula and east of Ojai in Los Padres National Forest.
The trail begins near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. This popular swimming spot is between Big Cone and Cross campgrounds and is an eight-mile round-trip hike.
Farther west in the Los Padres National Forest, hikers will find several large swimming holes along Red Rock Trailhead in the Santa Barbara area.
Red Rock Pools, the most popular, is about a half-mile from the trailhead and can be crowded on the weekends. The more secluded pools are farther up the Santa Ynez River.
Info: Daily parking is $10 per vehicle, bit.ly/redrockpools
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is famous for its towering waterfalls, but when conditions are right the park also offers places to cool off in snow-melt water.
A swimming hole at the Wawona Swinging Bridge can be fun for the family. The swinging bridge is off California 41 near Yosemite’s southern entrance, but Rainbow Pool can be found off California 120, about 10 miles outside the park’s westernmost entrance.
Rainbow Pool, which features a waterfall along the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, was originally a toll stop in the stagecoach days. It was later the site of a popular resort until it burned down in 1958.
Today, the Rainbow Pool day-use area is a picnic spot — managed by the Stanislaus National Forest — that caters to those visiting Yosemite.
Info: Rainbow Pool, bit.ly/stanislausrainbowpool
Vallecito, Calaveras County
Natural Bridges is a swimming hole in the Sierra foothills. This summertime hot spot near the Tuolumne-Calaveras county line rewards hikers with a swim in ice-cold Coyote Creek through a moss-covered cave.
The Natural Bridges parking area is between Columbia State Historic Park and the wineries of Murphys. The round-trip hike is about two miles but make sure to pack plenty of water because the return back to the car is all uphill.
Info: Natural Bridges, bit.ly/natrualbridges
Nevada County, Calif.
The South Yuba River, near Grass Valley and Nevada City, is known for its pristine swimming holes surrounded by smooth granite rocks.
Swimming spots include Oregon Creek, South Yuba River State Park, Edwards Crossing, Mountain Dog, North Canyon, Middle Yuba Bridge and Shangri-la.
Info: Nevada County swimming holes, bit.ly/nevadacountyswimming
Garberville, Humboldt County
Richardson Grove State Park, deep in the redwood forests of southern Humboldt County, offers a family-friendly swimming area on the South Fork of the Eel River.
Swim Beach, as it’s known, is adjacent to the river parking area. In July, a footbridge will be installed to allow access to a seasonal swimming hole.