Southern California Swimming Holes

07.12.12


Dippity-do!

Swimsuit season doesn’t just happen at the beach: get into the wild via a short hike, a long trek, or an easy bike ride and make a splash at any of these three swimming holes in the Angeles National Forest. Cannonball!


Bridge to Nowhere Swimming Hole

Bridge the Gap

Abandoned in a remote and rugged section of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, the fabled "Bridge to Nowhere” belies its name. It actually leads to a sublime swimming hole! But you’re gonna have to work—and get wet—to reach it! Hikers can access the bridge on a popular, 5-mile (one-way) trail following an old road that was washed out by the enormous 1938 flood. You’ll have to cross the East Fork of the San Gabriel River six times when taking the main trail, considered the path of least resistance; and the water can get higher than just your ankles (walking sticks are helpful for balancing in the flow). The single arch bridge has an elegant shape resembling the famed Gateway Arch in St. Louis, but this "Gateway to the Wets" leads to a swimming hole on the other side. It’s also conveniently located within a privately owned pocket that allows bungee jumping via Bungee America, so fear not if you spy people sling-shotting into the depths below. Once you cross the bridge, the road runs into the wall of the canyon and ends abruptly. Turn right on a dirt single track that travels along the side of the canyon (and offers a great perspective of the bridge) before a steep descent to a swimming hole haven made up of multiple pools—some offering calm waters, others rippling with rapids. Swim against the current, float along with it, or just dip your toes in from the banks, basking beneath the Bridge to Nowhere. Somewhere out there.

Take I-210 to Azusa and take the Route 39/San Gabriel Canyon Rd. exit. At the end of the ramp, turn north and drive 11.5 miles up Route 39 to East Fork Rd. Turn right, drive 5.2 miles to a T and turn left on Camp Bonita Rd. Drive .75 mile to the trailhead (map). Hike north up the canyon along East Fork Trail. After a mile, the trail crosses to the west bank. Continue up the canyon, crossing the river half a dozen times, largely sticking to the east side. At 3.75 miles, pick up the old road rising above the east bank of the river to reach the bridge. The swimming area is just past the bridge. A $5 Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead and a free wilderness permit for the Sheep Mountain Wilderness is required for the hike. Both can be obtained at the East Fork Ranger Station on Route 39 at the foot of the mountains. Note: be mindful of water levels before swimming, as they can change. The rugged trail is officially dog-friendly, but this can be a rough hike for canines.

Icehouse Canyon Swimming Hole

The Big Chill

With a name like Icehouse Canyon, one might expect something cool, and this would be accurate. The Icehouse Canyon Trail near Mount Baldy delivers a quick way to chill out without breaking much of a sweat. To hike the entire trail one-way, it’s 3.6 miles and 2,600 feet up a mountain canyon to Icehouse Saddle (yes, sweat is likely for this one!). But you won’t need to hike more than 0.7 mile (one-way) to reach several alluring pools worth a dip. The trail starts just outside of Mount Baldy Village. If at first you don’t see any water, fret not: it comes tumbling toward you about a quarter mile in, spilling over boulders in a creek bed shaded by oaks, maples, and pines. The creek flows in short cascades over three Jacuzzi-sized pools. But keep going further up the trail to the stone ruins of an old cabin and a green cabin that’s still occupied. Here you’ll hit the H20 sweet spot. The pool below the cabins has a 7-foot cascade for those who prefer the shower to the tub, and just above the cabins sits a wider, deeper pool rimmed by Western columbine blooms—a real mountain charmer. Sink in, chill out. Icehouse has the cool factor.

Take I-210 toward Claremont to the Baseline Rd. exit. At the end of the ramp, turn left and make an immediate right on Padua Ave. Drive 1.8 miles north to Mount Baldy Rd. Turn right and drive 7 miles into the mountains to Mount Baldy Village where a $5 National Forest Adventure Pass can be purchased from the Mount Baldy Visitor Center. Proceed another 1.7 miles up Mount Baldy Rd. and turn right on Icehouse Canyon Rd. Pull into the trailhead parking on the left. Hike up Icehouse Canyon Trail for 0.7-mile to the best pools. After 1 mile, the trail passes through a junction with Chapman Trail, crosses the creek once more after 0.4 mile and leaves the water behind. It is 3.6 miles to the top of the trail at Icehouse Saddle. A wilderness permit is required to enter the Cucamonga Wilderness and hike all the way to the saddle. No permit is required to enjoy the first 1.8 miles of the trail. Bring bug spray. Note: be mindful of water levels before swimming, as they can change. Dog-friendly!

West Fork Bikeway

River Roundup

Sometimes you gotta gear up before you can cool down. Tucked within the rugged peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains north of Azusa, the West Fork National Bikeway follows the West Fork of the San Gabriel River up to Glenn Camp Campground—bringing up to 7 miles (one-way) of beautiful river scenery, plus plenty of opportunities for "water breaks". The trail begins where Route 39 crosses over the West Fork, a section of river that gets flooded by weekend visitors because of its calm water and quick access from the parking lot. Want to leave the crowds behind? Saddle up and start cycling! As you ascend the car-free road, ride between the river and canyon walls decorated in moss, ferns, sticky monkeyflower, and the occasional panther lily. A half-mile in, just before the crest in the climb, a dirt footpath on the right leads to a small, sand beach on the river—perfect for those who want fast access to an oasis. Make this your turnaround point or extend the ride by continuing up the bikeway, grabbing a snack of sun-ripened blackberries from bushes that line the way. If you brought lunch, picnic tables are spread along the road, including a prime one on the left at 6 miles in, bordering a stream with a small waterfall. Shift your gears to “Relax”. It’s smooth cruising back the way you came.

Take I-210 to Azusa and take the Route 39/San Gabriel Canyon Rd. exit. At the end of the ramp, turn north and drive 13 miles up Route 39. A $5 Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead and can be purchased at the East Fork Ranger Station on Route 39 at the foot of the mountains. The trailhead is on the left, 1.3 miles past the intersection with East Fork Rd and just before the road crosses over the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. There is additional parking at the West Fork Day Use Area just across the river. Bike 7 miles up the paved bikeway to Glenn Camp Campground, or go the extra (steeper) mile to the dam at Cogswell Reservoir where the pavement ends. Note: be mindful of water levels before swimming, as they can change. Dog-friendly!

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