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Northern California is home to some of the most stunningly beautiful swimming holes in the world, and many people aren’t even aware of this kept secret. We’ve narrowed down the top 5 hidden gem swimming holes only a few hours drive away from bustling San Francisco.

Standish-­Hickey Swimming Hole

Mendocino County

Standish­-Hickey State Recreation Area (SRA) is located in Northern Mendocino, along California’s North Coast buried in the world famous Redwood Trees. It is home to the tallest Redwood, the 225­foot Captain Miles Standish Tree, aging more than 1,200 years old. The emerald 2­mile stretch of the South Fork of the Eel River, is additionally home to the alluring Standish-­Hickey swimming hole. The main large hole is deep enough to (safely) jump off nearby rocks and offers a gentle sandy beach for picnicking and sunbathing. Other less popular shallow pools are located both upstream and downstream if you’re looking for a smaller crowd. Skinny dippers have been known to frequent these less busy swim holes in the summer as temps easily reach up to 100 degrees. Access: From the Standish­-Hickey SRA entrance, parking is at the day use area adjacent to Redwood Campground. A .25 mile walk across the river via a seasonal footbridge brings you to the swimming hole.


Oregon Creek

Northern Sacramento Valley

The clothing optional Oregon Creek swimming hole brings far less people as it’s unmarked so not many even know it’s there. It hole is quite shallow, 6­8 feet max, and littered with rocks so the hole is not made for diving, but rather wading and cooling down. Located on the Middle Yuba River, large slabs of rock surround the pool for laying out and picnicking. Mini whirlpools created by the falls have a swirling effect much like a hot tub. For the brave souls, there is air space to slip in behind the falls where another tub is located and seats two, possibly three people. Access: You’ll walk from the parking area directly off Highway 49 via the Oregon Creek covered bridge down to the slowly moving river. You’ll shortly spot the swimming hole.

North Fork Falls

The American River, Northern Sierra

For the adventure swimming-hole seeker, the North Fork of the American River is the ideal place to be. With multiple swimming holes, cascading waterfalls, and cliff jumps you’ll have an assorted variety of ways to cool off under the hot summer heat. The waterfall located at the upper pool offers the largest cliff jump while smaller options are located at the lower pool. Cliff jumping heights range anywhere from 10­25 feet at these particular rocks, so scout the current conditions well before jumping. Access: From the North Fork Campground the trail begins at campsite 10. The trail parallels the river, you’ll walk a quarter mile downstream until you spot both the falls and pools.


Clark’s Hole

The American River, Auburn

A popular swimming hole since the 1900’s and planted right in the heart of old time gold country, Clark’s Swimming Hole has been cooling people off during Auburn’s high summer temps for over 100 years. Story has it that the literal hole is a result of aggressive mining activity during the Gold Rush, causing the water from the American River to pool up much like a reservoir. The calm and tranquil nature of the pool makes it perfect for swimming but is also quite busy in the summer months. Bring everything you need for a day trip as you’ll hike in, passing a waterfall, thick blackberry patch and will have to climb down a few rocks before reaching the swimming hole. Access: Off Highway 49 and after passing the Old Foresthill Bridge you’ll park and cross the street to find the Lake Clementine Trail which will take you directly to Clark’s swimming hole.


Carlon Falls

Yosemite Valley

Directly east of San Francisco, located in the iconic Yosemite National park, is Carlon Falls. Located on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, the year long waterfall (about 15 feet tall) and large swimming hole is ideal for scorching hot summer days. The run off from the Sierra’s can be ice cold but during three digit temps it will feel refreshing to plunge in. The swimming hole is located directly at and under the waterfall, and is a 4.5 mile hike round trip once you reach the trailhead. Option to stop at the waterfall and swim here or continue up the trail for a few scattered smaller swimming holes mainly for wading and cooling off. Or, just bask in the sun on the multiple rocks and breathe in the fresh Yosemite Valley air. Access: Trail entrance is just outside the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Looking for some scenic spots a little closer to SF? Check out these stunning sunset hikes and gorgeous day trips just outside the city.