Beat the NorCal Heat: 7 Summer Swimming Holes

Finding ways to cope with the heat is just a part of life in NorCal, so stay cool this summer by taking a dip in one of these seven swimming holes.

Summer is upon us and as I write this in my air-conditioned office it is a smoldering 110 degrees outside. I am considering cooking a BBQ meal on the sidewalk. As any NorCal local will tell you, getting used to the summer heat is a rite of passage any true North Stater (NorCalian?). Like any uncomfortable situation, finding ways to cope with the heat is just a part of life. So, without further ado, say hello to some refreshing bodies of water…

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Hot? Head to our very own summer oasis – Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. While NorCal boasts a great diversity of natural swimming holes, nothing quite matches Whiskeytown Lake’s accessibility and variety. Drive around the park or explore the lake in a kayak or paddleboard, and you’ll find dozens of amazing places to jump in. If you’re lucky, you’ll discover some huge rope swings and cliff jumps. Don’t miss Oak Bottom Beach, East Beach, Brandy Creek Beach, and all the waterfall hikes. Beware; it may take many visits to see it all…

Brandy Creek:

Probably the most frequented swimming area at the park (and in NorCal), the small lagoon at Brandy Creek Beach remains packed throughout the summer. The long stretch of white sandy beach can accommodate a massive number of guests. SUP and kayak rentals are often available in the adjacent parking lot. Nearby, take a hike to Brandy Creek Falls. The Brandy Creek trail leading to the falls follows the creek the entire way, and therefore, stays relatively cool year round.

Read all about Whiskeytonw NRA here

Heart Lake

Views, views and more views – behold them at Heart Lake. The small (a tenth of the size of Castle Lake) watering hole provides possibly the best sightings of Mt. Shasta in Northern California. Located in the Trinity Divide, the 3-mile Heart Lake Trail heading to Heart Lake offers unbelievable views of Castle Crags, Porcupine Peak, Castle Lake and Mt. Shasta. Though sometimes rocky and difficult, the jaunt to Heart Lake is well worth it.

In the winter, the trail is groomed making it a perfect place to snowshoe, but Heart Lake actually warms up in the spring much faster than nearby waterways. As a result, this crystal clear lake makes for an amazing spring and summer swim spot. While Heart Lake is not necessarily the most patronized swimming hole in the North State, it’s an absolute must-see for residents. You’ve never seen Mt. Shasta like this before!

Read all about Heart Lake here

Potem Falls

Located near Montgomery Creek, CA off of Hwy 299, Potem Falls has, for good reason, become a popular weekend swim spot in recent years. The easy quarter-mile hike to the Potem Falls watering hole makes it an attractive option for families. If you desire some peace and quiet, take a mid-week trip to the falls when it’s often deserted. Potem Falls also makes for a romantic date spot. Approaching the narrow, but scenic Potem waterfall, you’ll encounter a large pool perfect for swimming and lounging around. In Latin, “potem” means “to drink”, and after seeing the translucent water of Potem Creek, you might be compelled to do so. However, we don’t recommend it.

When plunging into the Potem pool, be prepared for the frigid temperature of the water. You can certainly get used to the cold especially on a scolding hot day, but it can be overwhelming at first. Once you’ve swum around a bit, add some excitement to your visit by climbing on the surrounding rocks, and jumping in. Be absolutely sure you’ve got a safe landing.

Bidwell Park

What Chico lacks in terms of manageable summer temperatures, it makes up for with all the swimming hole options at centrally located Bidwell Park. Taking a summer trip to Chico and not jumping in somewhere at Bidwell Park would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. We’ve outlined some of our favorite Bidwell swimming spots:

1-Mile (Sycamore Pool)

Located in more accessible Lower Park, 1-Mile swimming area is a concrete-reinforced, man-made pool “cut” into the river. Sycamore Pool rests right near downtown Chico, and provides a great atmosphere for families. Imagine a local neighborhood pool except this one is located on a river. Surrounding grass, tables and concrete walkways contribute to a fantastic picnicking environment. Just pull up to adjacent parking areas, and in minutes you’ll be beating the heat.

Bear Hole

Bear Hole is all about convenience. Park and you’re practically in the water. The only drawback to the natural pool is that it tends to get incredibly crowded especially on weekends and holidays. Swimming there requires a very short, slightly steep hike. Once you’re near the water, you’ll see many large rocks that make for prime cannon-ball platforms. There’s a slightly stronger current at Bear Hole than at 1-Mile, but deeper sections are calmer and slow moving. Close by porta-potties and other amenities make spending a family day at Bear Hole a fun and easy feat.

Salmon Hole

Found in Upper Park, shaded Salmon Hole is a cult favorite among many Chico locals. Getting to the swimming spot necessitates a somewhat difficult, steep climb with no cement stairs or railings. Young children and those with injury problems may have trouble safely completing the hike to Salmon Hole. Due to an older group of visitors, you’re likely to see college students hanging out on the pebble beach at Salmon Hole drinking beer. The views from the Bidwell swimming locale, Salmon Hole’s relative dearth of visitors (during weekdays at least) and its huge swimming area have contributed to its cult status.

Read about 3 Bidwell Park Swimmin’ Holes here

McCloud Falls

Five stars, two thumbs up, a ten out of ten – these are all appropriate reviews of NorCal’s quintessential day-trip spot, McCloud Falls. Located in McCloud, CA, and just a short car trip from Mt. Shasta City, McCloud Falls appeals to everyone. The area has hikes, rock climbing spots, good fishing, RV and tent camping, cliff jumps, epic vistas, unique wildlife, a prominent place in NorCal’s natural and social history and three waterfalls. McCloud Falls are definitely worth a visit or two…

Lower Falls

The easiest of the three falls to get to, Lower Falls flanks a large parking lot. As you get out of your car and walk towards the waterfall, you reach a viewing area looking over smooth grey volcanic rocks, the 10-12-foot-tall fall and a large swimming hole below. You’re likely to spot plenty of kids jumping off the rocks into the pool and plenty of spectators. Families enjoy Lower Falls because it’s close to the camping areas and provides a lot of places to sit down and relax. If you don’t like big crowds, stay away from Lower Falls mid-day on the weekend.

Middle Falls

If you’re up for a flat, moderate hike, park in the Lower Falls parking lot, head down the stairs and make your way towards beautiful Middle Falls. Once you’re there, you’ll find yourself in a massive natural playground overlooked by a wide, 30-foot-tall waterfall. The interplay of moss, rock, streaming water and tree cover make for a picturesque setting. You can make a day jumping from rocks that protrude out of the water, or swimming in the deep, large pool. Though not for the faint of heart, you can also climb up the cliffs framing Middle Falls and dive in. Middle Falls usually clears out later in the day, and when it’s less crowded it can prove a serene venue.

Oh, and you can jump off of it too…

Upper Falls


Taking it back to Day one for a sec 🌊

A post shared by JJ (@jmisterjay) on

Take the 15-minute hike from Lower Falls, or park in the adjacent Upper Falls lot to check out the largest of the three McCloud Falls. Unlike Middle and Lower Falls, Upper Falls does not have a trail that leads right up to it. Most people just take in views of the waterfall from the vista points overlooking the feature. If you’re looking to get up close and personal though, you can search around for access points to the large, crystal clear pool below Upper Falls.

Lake Britton

For all it has to offer, Lake Britton seems a bit overlooked in terms of North State swimming spots. Located partly in the McArthur-Burney Memorial State Park, Lake Britton is right near the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” Burney Falls. Swimming in the fresh blue water of Lake Britton, and exploring its many coves after an adventure to Burney Falls is a great way to spend the day. For even more fun, take the short trip to nearby hidden gem Clark Creek Falls. Better yet, check out the towering railway bridge over the lake featured in classic film, “Stand By Me”.

There are camping spots a plenty on Lake Britton meaning you’ll find plenty of families vacationing there during the summer months. In terms of lake activities, Lake Britton rates highly among local paddlers and fishermen. The reservoir and surrounding areas also present opportunities for boating, biking, hiking and wakeboarding. Keep an eye out for some unique wildlife including Black Bears, Bald Eagles and black-tailed deer.

It’s best if you have a boat!

Hatchet Creek Falls (Lion Slide Falls)

Everybody loves Hatchet Falls. Another Montgomery Creek swimming hole, Hatchet Creek cascades down creating Lion Slide Falls and a large pool beneath. An overturned tree with stairs carved into it rests against the falls. The tree allows visitors to climb up to the top of the waterfall and jump off. It also adds to the aesthetic. Much like Middle McCloud Falls, tall rock faces frame the water feature, which make for some death-defying cliff jumps. At Hatchet Creek, kids can swim around in a shallower area formed by a dam. The waterfall and creek are easily accessible after a short trail walk.


Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine


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