People swim in a swimming hole
Wawona Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park.
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

9 magical swimming holes in California to escape the heat

Need to chill? California’s coastline and beaches typically get all the attention, but consider an old-fashioned swimming hole to cool off on hot days.

If you go, be mindful of fast-moving water, check the park websites for current conditions and restrictions, and make sure to pack out all of your trash.

Ready to take the plunge?

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Santa Paula "Punch Bowls"

Santa Paula Swimming hole
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.
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Two people climb the rocky hillsides along the pools of Seven Falls in Mission Creek.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Seven Falls, Santa Barbara

In the foothills of Santa Barbara, the Seven Falls Trail includes three tempting pools when the weather cooperates. The trailhead is on Tunnel Road (where parking is in high demand), near its junction with Owl Ridge Road above the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. It’s a moderate to challenging 3.2-mile round-trip hike to reach the sometimes-dry site of the pools and falls. The route, which isn’t always clearly marked, gets steep in parts and involves a lot of rock-hopping and boulders — a thrill for some, peril for others.

The trail starts on paved road (used by utility crews), becomes dirt road, then follows Mission Creek. Everyone who takes the journey seems to have a different response. In the first days of April, one hiker on AllTrails reported that “I love this trail so much.” Said another: “Dry and I got lost twice.” It’s generally wetter in winter, of course.
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Santa Barbara Red Rock Pools

Santa Barbara County Swimming hole
Farther west in the Los Padres National Forest, hikers will find several large swimming holes along Red Rock Trail 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.
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The Century Lake Dam at Malibu Creek State Park.
(Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times)

Century Lake, Malibu Creek State Park

Unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains Swimming hole
The views in the watery vistas perfectly reflect the surrounding rock faces. It’s not a natural lake, so where did it come from? In 1903, rich Angelenos created the dam and lake as a fishing and hunting preserve for members of a country club. The club flourished for a while but eventually went belly up. In 1946, 20th Century Fox Studios bought the lake and a big swath of land to film movies, hence the name.
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A swimmer sitting on a rock at Rainbow Pool, Yosemite National Park.
(USDA Forest Service)

Rainbow Pool, Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne County Swimming hole
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, which 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.
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A kayaker in a cave at Natural Bridges Trailhead swimming hole.
(David Bunnell/Calveras Visitors Bureau)

Natural Bridges, Calaveras County

Calaveras County Swimming hole
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.
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Wawona Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park.
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Wawona Swinging Bridge, Yosemite National Park

Mariposa County Swimming hole
Update: In April 2023, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office announced the the Merced River would be closed until further notice due to rising water levels. Check the Yosemite page on the National Park Service website for updates.

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.
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South Yuba River

Swimming hole
Update: In April 2023, the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services announced that the South Yuba River would not be safe for swimming for months, due to strong and icy water flows.

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.
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Swim Beach, Richardson Grove State Park

Swimming hole
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. A few years ago, a footbridge was installed to allow access to a seasonal swimming hole.
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