Sports & Recreation: Five fine swimming holes

A quick guide to some local and nearby places to get yourself wet

Highway 49 crossing, South Yuba River State Park, Northern Sacramento Valley, California

Highway 49 crossing, South Yuba River State Park, Northern Sacramento Valley, California

Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Aron Bosworth

01. The Platonic ideal

Highway 49 Bridge, South Yuba River

The South Yuba is one of the great swimming-hole rivers in California, and locals know it’s hard to go wrong anywhere up there. The beauty of this spot is that it’s easy to get to. Access to the swimming hole is down a flight of steep concrete stairs next to the old Highway 49 bridge. This bridge is closed to cars but open to pedestrians, and it provides access to hiking trails across the river. The old bridge also offers great river canyon views. The main swimming area is at the bottom of the stairs, and it can become very busy on hot summer days and weekends. Quieter pools and secluded rocks are located both up and downstream.

02. Funky midtown fun

Sutter’s Landing

There is nothing romantic or classically beautiful about Sutter’s Landing Park, just north of C Street off 29th in Midtown. And yet, after you’ve set up camp under the shade of the lovely cottonwoods, waded down the riverbank, and launched yourself on a backstroke into the American River, you might feel a million miles away from the city that is visible just above your toes. This is one of the wildest urban rivers in the nation, with the egrets and osprey overhead to prove it. If you happen to have a skateboard in your trunk, you can shred the gnar at the covered skatepark before or after your dip, and if you’ve got a bike strapped to the back of your rig you can pedal to Weatherstone for lunch.

03. Johnny Cash Swam Here

Rainbow Bridge in Folsom

Cold water and hot rocks–it’s an acquired taste, and it’s a taste worth acquiring. Beneath the beautiful Rainbow Bridge leading to beautiful old-town Folsom, there’s a place to experience it in the extreme. Here’s the problem: Just a few miles upstream is the Folsom Dam, and this is water from the bottom of the reservoir on the other side of the dam. It’s some cold water. The swimming holes are smallish, gorgeous–and cold. Even on a 108-degree day—especially on a 108-degree day—it can be bracing to cast oneself into these pools. But dragging yourself out of the water and onto a hot slab of granite to bake in the sun—nothing feels better than that.

04. The Confluence

Auburn State Recreation Area

Seven hundred and thirty feet below the Forestall Bridge (the fourth-tallest bridge in the United States), and a bit downstream, is the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River. It’s a relatively flat area with several pools and little not-too-rocky beaches. This is the place to bring the kids. Upstream on the North Fork are some pretty little turquoise pools, including Clark’s Hole, which can be dangerous this time of year.

05. Cliff-divers Paradise

Bear Hole, Upper Bidwell Park, Chico

On Upper Park Road in Bidwell Park you will find a string of swimming holes as the road follows Big Chico Creek up toward its source. There are a couple swimming spots before you arrive at Bear Hole, but its worth pushingon to this one. There is parking and it’s a short walk to the pools, so it is busy on weekends. There are excellent rocks for diving, which is dangerous, don’t do it. ;-) Psst: Further up the road there are more remote and therefore less crowded swimming holes, and naked people.