Northern California Swimming Holes

08.2.12


Dip In!

It's the thick of summer and the right time to hit the refresh button. Grab your swim trunks, some sunscreen, and your pals. Here are three great places to take a dip in the wilds. Splish-splash!


Big Rock Swimming Hole

Holey Experience

In Santa Cruz the swimming holes are as abundant as the redwoods. You've just gotta know where to go. Hint: head for the redwoods down by the river. San Lorenzo River, that is. Here, short hiking trails lead to a few good options, including off-the-beaten-path Big Rock Hole tucked deep inside Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. This hidden basin features—surprise!—a big rock, plus a tempting rope swing (just make sure there's enough water before you go showing off your Tarzan skills). Shrouded and shaded by big-leaf maples and coast redwood giants, this private hideaway also has a small sand beach, ideal for kicking back and shamelessly being a slug with a book and some bonbons. To get there, the simplest approach involves a moderately steep half-mile hike downhill, forging the riverbed, and crossing a redwood barrier to discover the basin on the other side. If you’re looking to tack on some miles, you can also reach Big Rock Hole from the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park parking lot via a beefier 7- to 8-mile (round-trip) hike. Take a look at this map to craft your route. Despite popular myth, rangers warn that wearing your birthday suit at this lagoon is not an option, so don't get cheeky; keep the loincloths on for any Tarzan and Jane exploits. Ahahahaahahhhhhhhh!

For the easiest access to Big Rock Hole, pull out along Hwy. 9 at the Rincon Parking Lot, a free inlet on the side of the road about 3 miles south of the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park main entrance. Then hike down the Rincon Road Trail about a half-mile to the San Lorenzo River. When you hit the bank, steer right past the "No Diving" sign, and cross the river. Continue on a footpath a few hundred yards downriver until you hit Big Rock Hole. Return the way you came. If you're hiking from the Visitors Center, paid parking is available for $10, located at 101 North Big Trees Rd. in Felton. No alcohol or dogs are permitted. Use the rope swing at your own risk.

Del Valle Swimming Hole

Lake Expectations

Livermore's most popular form of liquid may be wine, but its waterfront also earns excellent ratings. Pack a picnic and head out on a day of boating and beaching at Livermore’s Lake Del Valle, a 5-mile long, multi-use reservoir surrounded by golden hills. The beauty begins even before arriving at the park; a scenic drive along the valley ridge offers excellent views of the burnt yellow and oak-speckled landscape. The valley walls block Bay Area breezes, so expect the bump in heat to linger (and bring sunscreen). As the centerpiece of the blue oak peppered, 5,000-acre Del Valle Regional Park, the namesake lake offers two swimming beaches, 16 miles of shoreline, and boat rentals galore. Hop on a 10-person pontoon with pals, or pedal a two-person paddleboat. The water keeps things cool. Dunk away, but keep a toe out for the trout, bass, and catfish beneath the surface. If you're lucky, you might even spot a bald eagle swooping for a snack in the lake. Post up at a picnic table or spread a blanket at one of the two large, rock-sand beaches equipped with Baywatch-conjuring lifeguard stands (the lifeguards themselves are only on duty at certain hours). The west beach, located near the park’s marina, is more bustling than the east beach, which is a calmer place to recline and take a dip. Nice way to Livermore it up!

TIP: Del Valle Regional Park runs 90-minute boat tours around the lake four times daily. Join them for a Naturalist Tour to the Del Valle Dam, which breaks down the plant and animal life of the area. Or, hop on the history-filled Scenic Tour.

Del Valle Regional Park is located at 7000 Del Valle Rd. in Livermore, CA. Parking is available for $6. Boat tours run May through September on weekends only. Scenic tours are offered at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. Naturalist tours run at 1:00 p.m. For more information on boat tours, swing by Lake Del Valle’s Rocky Ridge Visitor Center or call (925) 272-0432. Tours cost $5 for adults and $3 for seniors over 65 and children under 12. Naturalist tours run on weekends. Dogs are welcome for $2/each.

Navarro River Swimming Hole

Water Under the Bridge

Anderson Valley is firmly planting its name among other wine valley greats like Napa and Sonoma, but beyond its tasty pinots lies another great way to wet your whistle. The Navarro River cuts right through tiny Hendy Woods State Park, framed by a charming old bridge often used as a viewing platform for the waters below. With crackling summer temperatures, you’re better off heading straight for the source. Reach the river via a short trail that descends to the large, sand and pebble riverbed. There’s plenty of room for wandering, and plenty of spots to dip your toes, or go nose to toes! The western side of the bridge is a nice place to stroll and find your perfect swimming hole. Prior to visiting, you may want to book an overnighter at adjacent Hendy Woods State Park, an absolute gem in Mendocino County with 92 campsites and four small, stand-alone cabins. The 845-acre park butts right up to the flats of the Navarro River and is home to two redwood groves, Big Hendy and Little Hendy. Bridge the gap to a refreshing escape.

BONUS: En route or on your return trip, make a stop at Husch Vineyards—the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley appellation. The tasting room is tiny but their pinots and Gewürztraminer are mighty, and the large lawn with a porch and picnic tables makes a signature valley perch. 

Anderson Valley and the Navarro River are 120 miles north of San Francisco. Reach it via Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 128. Exit Hwy. 128 following the sign to Hendy Woods State Park. The first bridge you cross goes over the Navarro River. The best access point is to the west of the bridge. Husch Vineyards is 1.5 miles west of Hendy Woods along Hwy. 128. Both the swimming hole and winery are dog-friendly! 

What's Shakin'?

Have you heard about the recent shift in activity at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park? Earthquake is a new exhibit and planetarium show that’s shaking things up with incredible interactive highlights that are both informative and entertaining:

Buckle Up: Fly over the San Andreas Fault and dive into the Earth’s core in the immersive planetarium show.

Shaken and Stirred: Experience a high-magnitude jolt in an earthquake simulator.

Seismic Chick: Meet live ostrich chicks and learn their surprising connection to earthquakes.

It’s a Small World: Walk through a 25-foot-diameter model of the Earth, exploring its surface and interior.

Daily programs explore myths and misconceptions about earthquakes, how earthquakes impact evolution, and ways you can prepare for the next one. Beat the quake-rush: get your advance tickets at calacademy.org.

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