Photo: Donny Barnec

5 of the Best Swimming Holes in Northern California

California Insider Guides
by Donny Barnec Aug 17, 2016

1. Lemkes Lagoon

Lemkes Lagoon

Photo: Donny Barnec

Located about 5 miles north of Nevada City, California. Park your vehicle just past the bridge and take the Hoyts Crossing trail. After a mile hike along the South Yuba River, you’ll come to Lemkes Lagoon — a swimming hole with cliff jumping that you’ll most likely have all to yourself. (Be aware of nudists!) Bring some rope as it’s a steep scramble down to the swimming hole. Dogs are not a good idea here.

2. Rock Creek

Rock Creek

Photo: Donny Barnec

This one’s located about 40 miles East of Chico, California. Take the Feather River Highway East (Rte 70) to just before the Rock Creek Powerhouse and turn left down a gravel road. Park anywhere along the road. Start your hike on the right side of Rock Creek as the trail fades away and you begin to scramble over massive boulders throughout the creek. The swimming hole is about ¾ mile up the creek and you can’t miss it. You’ll come up to a natural waterslide that plunges into the swimming hole area. If you’re ambitious enough, climb further up and you’ll find yet another swimming hole. Again, dogs not advised.

3. Emerald Pools

Emerald Pools

Photo: Donny Barnec

Located about 26 miles West of Truckee, California, take Interstate 80 west from Truckee or 80 East from Auburn. Take exit 161 to Rte 20 and head north past Camp Spaulding. Take a right onto Bowman Lake Road until you cross over a bridge. Park in the parking lot on the right-hand side. Emerald Pools has two separate swimming holes. If your mood is to relax and hang out then choose the upper pools (take the trail at the parking lot). The upper pool offers a rope swing and some spots to hang a hammock. If you’re feeling adventurous, then head across the street and scramble down to the mountain, which doesn’t really have a trail. Once you get to the river, follow it until you hear the waterfall. This is a mecca for cliff jumpers. Jumps range from 20 to 100 feet. Head farther down the river for a more relaxed setting. Dogs should be okay at the upper pools, but don’t bring them to the lower ones.

4. Seven Falls

seven falls

Photo: Donny Barnec

Located about 39 miles from Oroville, California, take Ca-162 from Oroville east for about 25 miles. Take a right onto Milsap Bar Road for 13 miles. (Note: a 4×4 vehicle is highly recommended for this one.) At 13 miles onto Milsap Bar Road, you’ll come to a turn that opens up wider than the normal narrow dirt road. This is where you park. To be sure you’re at the right spot, look for an old rusty fridge down the hillside, where the faint trail begins. It’s about a 1,100-foot steep descend down the ravine to the swimming hole. Once you arrive at the river, you’ll see the waterfall which you’ll be able to cliff jump off as well. You can head up or downstream for the other waterfalls/swimming holes. Dogs not advised.

5. Gods Bath

Gods Bath

Photo: Donny Barnec

Located about 27 miles from Sonora, California, take Tuolumne Rd for 7 miles which turns into Carter St. (You’ll pass signs for Black Oak Casino.) Turn right onto Buchanan Road for 2.4 miles, which turns into Fish Hatchery Road for another 1.8 miles. Turn left onto Cottonwood Road (Forest Route 1N04) for about 12.5 miles until you drive over the Clavey River Bridge. Park on the right-hand side after passing over the bridge. You’ll see a sticker on the bridge that reads: NO JUMPING. The trail is behind the railing, and it’ll be steep to descend down to the river. After about a half mile hike up the river — there’s no trail, so use the river as your guide — you’ll arrive at Gods Bath. On the right side there will be a relatively flat area to lay out and catch some sun. There is a small waterfall there which plunges into the swimming hole. To the right of swimming hole is “the bath” it’s a cylinder shaped pool carved out by years of erosion. Jump into the bath and swim over the archway underwater into the swimming hole or cliff jump wherever your heart desires. Dogs not advised.

For more adventure shots, check out the author’s Instagram @alphawanderlust or his website Alpha Wanderlust.

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