The 5 Best Northern California Swim Holes to Beat the Heat

Lower McCloud Falls. Photo: @ncalimaloneys/Instagram

The excessive heat is about to hit Northern California for the duration of the summer and I’ll be spending a lot of it hiding indoors playing my favorite summer game of “what is the perfect temperature so I’m comfortable but not going to see a huge spike in my bill.” I know, the name is lengthy but I play it regularly.

That being said, one of our greatest assets this far north is our abundance of natural beauty. So, I wanted to share some of my favorite hangouts for getting into some water and out of the heat.

5. Bidwell Park

The 1-Mile or Sycamore Pool in Lower Bidwell Park is popular with families and is just minutes from parking spots. Or, for the more courageous, Salmon Hole requires a difficult climb, so caution is necessary. Still, this has less people generally during the week and can be worth it for the views.

Learn everything about the swimming holes with our Complete Guide to Bidwell Park.

4. Potem Falls

The drive to Potem Falls feels like a dusty drive to the middle of nowhere. Potem Falls is a short hike to a small hidden gem. A lot of the waters on this list may be icy, but they offer a sweet escape from the heat. Bring snacks, and be prepared to picnic at the rocks at the edge of the pool.

Learn all about NorCal’s Most Blissful Swimming Hole – Potem Falls.

3. McCloud Falls

The hike to all three is a nice moderate hike, but for a simple swimming hole, Lower McCloud Falls is popular. The rocky surroundings are the perfect place to just lounge and hangout, and offer the perfect perch to jump in the water. Middle McCloud Falls is easy to get to, and is usually fairly populated as it is popular with photographers, picnickers, or even swimmers.

Plus, it’s also fun for cliffjumpers:

2. Whiskeytown Lake

No list of swimming holes would be complete without listing one of the most popular destinations in our backyard. Brandy Creek Beach, Oak Bottom Beach, East Beach, and more areas provide places to swim, occasionally rope swing, or bring the boat out. The lake is also popular among fisher-people, and you can also rent either stand up paddleboards or kayaks, depending on where you go out.

(Warning: Recently, High Levels of E. Coli were found in Whsikeytown Lake)

1. Hatchet Falls (Lion Slide Falls)

By far, my favorite location to visit in northern California is Hatchet Falls. Again, it can be a small hike to get to, but it is well worth it. In the center of the falls, a log rests and someone has carved steps into it. The area can be a good place to just hangout, or, the logs and surrounding cliffs offer places to cliff-jump into the water. Or, for one brave soul, it is a waterfall over which to kayak. Check out the video:

No matter what people decide to do here, it is a beautiful location and the cool water is the perfect escape. As always, make sure to pack out what you pack in, and keep our natural areas beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Read all about Hatchet Creek Falls – Possibly Northern California’s Best Swimming Hole.

As the temperatures stay in the triple digits, remember a few things. First of all, what I always tell myself is that the weather will toughen us up. After this week, we will be acclimated and will be able to face anything knowing we survived this. Secondly, don’t forget that we are all going through this heat together, and the communal displeasure is no reason to be rude to strangers or to lash out at friends. Thirdly, some small pieces of advice from a local – sunscreen is worth the cost and don’t leave deodorant or chapstick in your car (and definitely not a child or animal!) And finally, don’t forget that we are lucky to have abundant water resources here, so get out there and check them out!

If you have any favorite places, feel free to let me know!

Ryan Loughrey

Ryan has been wandering the PNW since 1993. Follow his blog at


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