swimming river in california


It's a hot summers day, the whole gang is looking for something to do and you've got a giant blow up unicorn floatie that you've been dying to use. The solution? Find swimming holes and lakes in California where you can all cool off. This is the perfect excuse to go for a road trip! 

We've rounded up a list of 10 best swimming spots that are calling your name. 

1. Sacramento River

Considering this is the biggest lake in California, Sacramento River undoubtedly tops this list. Paradise Beach is the most popular swimming spot along the river and is open year-round. Not a bad way to spend a day, and even better? It's free!

sacramento river swimming spot in california

2. American River

Running through the Sierra foothills in California, American River intersects with Sacramento River and is home to loads of wildlife, as well as having plenty of recreational areas for water sports! The most popular area is Watt Avenue so head there for a day of splashing good fun. To get there, take the Watt Avenue exit off of Highway 50. 

3. Mono Lake

The saltiest swimming hole in town, this easy-going lake is perfect to spend a day floating. The lake is two and a half times as salty as the ocean, so you'll be extra buoyant - it's impossible to sink! Make sure you keep your head above water as the salt can seriously sting your eyes. The shallow water heats up in summer, so while interesting, this isn't the most refreshing place to swim in California. You'll need to rinse the salt off your skin after emerging from the water. Visit this spot after a hike in Yosemite Valley before heading home. 

mono lake swimming spot


The Garden of Eden is an idyllic slice of paradise found in the Henry Cowell Redwoods just off Route 9. This swimming hole is stunning - no wonder it's called Garden of Eden! This spot is hidden along the San Lorenzo River and is worth the 10-15 minute hike to find it. The trail is clearly marked. Pack a picnic and a good book because you'll want to stay here for a few hours! If there are too many people carry on up the river to find more peace and quiet. 

5. Cleo's Bath

Escape the summer heat at Cleo's Bath in Stanislaus National Forest. This secret swimming hole is worth seeking out with pretty views, National Forest surroundings, and rocks to chill out on for the day - bliss! You'll need to work for it though, as it's a four-mile hike to reach the swimming spot. The natural pool is deep and cool, and there is even a waterfall to splash under! To reach the swimming hole, follow the signs for the Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail. 

cleos bath in california

6. Lake Anza

The best swimming hole in East Bay, Lake Anza is located in the hills behind Berkeley. The 'lake' is a man-made pool in Tilden Park perfect for swimming and lounging under a sun shade. It does get a little crowded, but let this speak for how nice it is to visit! Lake Anza is open for swimming between May and September, with a small entry fee required. There are great amenities including bathrooms and changing areas, so it's the perfect spot to take a picnic and relax for the whole day. 

7. Emerald Bay 

Also known as the Pride of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay gets its name from the vibrant turquoise water. It's one of the most exquisite places to while away a summer's day on Tahoe. Emerald Bay is great for swimming and a little less crowded than other Lake Tahoe swimming areas. 

8. McCloud River

If you find yourself hanging out North of San Fran, definitely give this sweet swimming spot a go! With lower, middle, and upper falls, you get to choose your experience. The water in the McCloud River is clear, deep, but quite cold. The middle falls are the largest, with the opportunity to jump off rocks into the water. The upper falls are generally colder and less crowded while the lower falls are your typical beach hang out. 

9. Russian River

The go-to spot for tubing, Russian River is one to check out if you're in for an action packed summers day. The cool river runs through lush wine country in Northern California. The lower Russian River has a gentle current and beaches where you can set up your towel for the day. Some of the top spots are Sunset Beach and a secret spot off Redwood Drive if you can find it!

russian river swimming spot in california

10. Lake Del Valle

Lake del Valle is a water reservoir 10 miles south of Livermore. More akin to a lakeside resort, this swimming hole is known for its incredible scenery and fun summer vibes. It's a great place for swimming and picnicking, but this location is busy most of the time so if you're a low-key beach goer - be aware! 

Tips for swimming in lakes and rivers in California

  • As with any swimming area, always check the current and only swim if you are confident!
  • Don't let kids swim alone and watch out for changes in current and water levels.
  • Be aware of local regulations in terms of bringing dogs along and always clean up after yourselves before heading home. 
  • Be responsible and take all your trash home with you! 

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