Making a splash

To beat Chico’s heat, you really have to get wet

Photo By Sara Sipes

Part of the reason founding father John Bidwell planted so many trees in Chico was to help beat the heat.

Let’s face it, while Chico is a beautiful place to live, visit and all, it gets hot here in the summertime.

We mean really, really hot. Like 110-degrees-for-two-weeks-straight hot. As in hot-enough-to-make-you-sick hot. Yes, when it gets to July and August in Chico, you really won’t want to move faster than a fat, sweaty caterpillar on its way straight up a tree.

So while Chico may heat up enough to fry an egg on the asphalt (literally!), there are options other than staying home with the air conditioner on full blast. And since it’s more than likely that there won’t be enough electricity this summer to keep that cold air pumping, that’s not a reliable option, anyway.

So here’s what you have to do: You must swim. Or float. Or splash. Or plunk yourself down into one of sweltering Chico’s many swimming holes and pools and cool off.

This, really, is the only reliable way to beat Chico’s baking summers. Fortunately, there are dozens of swimming holes in the rivers and creeks that are all around Chico. One of the most popular—and crowded—swimming holes is Bidwell Park’s Sycamore Pool. It’s located in the One Mile Recreation Area, just off of Vallombrosa, and it’s a very convenient place to cool off. Parking is usually plentiful, and getting there couldn’t be easier.

Photo By Sara Sipes

The pool itself is really just the creek, glorified. It’s dammed to make it deep at one end, and it has cement sides and bottom, along with easy access steps down. Sycamore Pool is staffed with lifeguards in the summer months, and it’s a popular spot for sunbathers and families with small kids, since there’s a nice little shallow area for the little ones.

For the slightly more adventuresome, there are always the fabulous pools of Bidwell Park’s Upper Park. Big Chico Creek, which cuts down the center of the park and runs all the way through Chico State’s campus, is home to several popular swimming holes.

Probably the most visited of these is Bear Hole. Located off the twisting dirt road that leads to all of Upper Park’s swimming holes, Bear Hole offers deep rushing waters spotted with lots of volcanic rocks perfect for jumping. Be careful here, though, as Bear Hole has been the site of several drownings in recent years.

About five miles up the road is Salmon Hole, a picture-perfect swimming hole that takes some doing to find. There’s a marked parking area for this spot, but the walk down the canyon (and the rocky road leading to the parking area) are really only for the experienced hiker. You have to traverse some huge rocks on a steep downhill grade to get to Salmon Hole, but once you’re down it’s really worth the work.

The creek pools out into a perfect, wide circle, and the crystal clear water is at least 10 feet deep at the center. At certain times of the year, you’ll find salmon cruising this hole.

Brown’s Hole is the farthest swimming hole along Upper Park Road. Since it’s so remote, it’s where you’re most likely to encounter the occasional nude sunbather. It’s a beautiful spot, with deep water and natural beaches.

Sweaty summertime swimmers can also find cool relief in the waters of the Sacramento River (for the easiest access, take West Sacramento Avenue until you hit the river, then find a spot, pull over, and dive in).

Lake Oroville also offers swimmers a chance to get wet—along with fishing and boating opportunities. The lake’s afterbay, located just off of Highway 99 about 15 miles south of Chico and 10 miles north of Gridley, is also a good place to swim, but a better place to boat, water-ski or Jet Ski.