Two swimming holes along a fisherman’s trail on Johns Brook in Adirondack State Park. The upper is the more attractive, the lower is longer and deeper. At the top, a rocky cascade achieves some depth where the current strikes a truck sized boulder fallen into the stream. It creates a sweet spot six to ten feet deep that’s about the size of a dinner table. Excellent. Rock on the south side is 15 feet high. The north side has a big block of rock also, but it’s much less vegetated and closer to water level. A good place to enter and exit or to enjoy the sun.
Sixty yards below is a hole that’s deeper and longer, about 60 feet. It’s not as attractive, though. The wall on the north bank is a little more relaxed with good seating, but no access to the water ‘cept a jump into a small sweet spot that requires about 10 feet of clearance to avoid clipping rocks on the way down. Some bushwhacking required, but otherwise not especially difficult to reach and lightly visited.
Follow directions on the map to the indicated trail fork. If you go right, you’ll be on the fisherman’s trail that runs for .4 mi right along the creek to a cross-tie box constructed for trail support. The hole is just beyond. Alternately, stay left at the fork and take the Southside Trail to Rock Cut Brook. The upper hole is 100 yards below Rock Cut’s confluence with Johns Brook. Tenderfoot Falls is 800 feet upstream.
This is what summer should look like. Toes curling in the water, hands wrapped around a slab of watermelon. Skinny Dip is two sets of falls. The first, a broad cascade, empties into a pool about 60 feet wide and just the right depth for bobbing around and keeping cool on hot August days in the Sierra. The premier feature is the second fall. It dumps 35 feet into a splendiferous container that’s distinguished by its impound, a straight-sided lip of granite six feet high that gives the hole the dimensions of a coffee cup. A lounging slab that’s maybe 120 sq. ft. occupies the left-hand side between the upper pool and the second fall. There’s room for a half dozen people, but beyond that it starts getting crowded. Water temperature is in the mid 60s.
For years Skinny Dip was a secret closely kept by locals, especially Yosemite folk who get tired of summer crowds. Confidentiality was maintained by an extremely difficult-to-find trailhead. Usership has increased recently. Although locals say it’s unusual to find 12 people here, it happens. It’s around 15 minutes downhill from the turnout. Slabs surrounding the hole are steep for small children, however Labrador retrievers and other water breeds love it here. Note: the name is somewhat misleading; not many people go buff here.
Range cattle stomping through the meadows upstream lower water quality.
After a long climb to the top of the granite dome you find a multitiered fall with pools that would be excellent anywhere else. But this is Yosemite and expectations are very high. The pools are ovals, 40 feet on the major axis and scattered with talus that gives them uneven lines. The water is deep enough for some serious swimming, but diving is limited. The canyon faces due west, so even though it’s a long hike up, there’s enough light to stay late. Expectation of privacy is only fair since the trail, in addition to being a favorite of day hikers, is also used by backpackers going into the high country. The people are, at any rate, more congenial than many visitors found in Yosemite Valley.
Randy Rust, a Park Service fire fighter in Wawona and Yosemite native recalls one corpulent visitor he and a friend had to rescue from the Merced River.
“He came over a little rapid and fell off his tube. He panicked then grabbed onto his son’s inner tube and pulled him off too. Me and my friends – we were just kids – we jumped in and dragged him into shallow water. Once he could stand up he starts yelling and sputtering at us.” It seems Rust and his friends, in effecting the rescue, had dislodged the man’s dentures. Like good boy scouts, they dived into the river and recovered the choppers from the bottom. “And you know,” Rust said, “he never thanked us for saving his life or finding his teeth.”
Tucked just so, around the corner and up on a ledge, Honeymooners is a darling hideaway pool, just the right size for a couple or small soiree. Narrow and smooth, the sides of the pool look like they were poured from concrete. Tremendous sinuous lines with interesting underwater features, submerged bathtubs, ledges, etc. The pool is six to eight feet deep with loads of flat, pink granite surrounding it on the east-west ledge. From this vantage point you see people coming up the creek before they see you, allowing time to, um…collect yourselves.
Also, right before the switchbacks that head up the mountain, are a couple of good to excellent pools. Just upstream from the highly overvisited pool at the bottom of the trail, is a 30-foot falls where two narrow spouts leap over a smooth granite lip into a narrow, cone-shaped pool ten feet deep where privacy is unlikely. Between this fall and Honeymooners is a wide hole that lies along the broad ledge. The 70 foot length of the hole is bounded on one side by a fabulous low-angle slab. The other side is a long ledge, 15 to 20 feet high. Bummer is a big boulder has fallen right into the deep end. So sad.
Privacy is excellent to guaranteed at Honeymooners. Privacy is unlikely at the double fall below as it’s much closer to the trail.
A perfect equilateral triangle, deep at the apex where the water comes in then it fans out to a shallow wading area at the base of the triangle. Fast water early in the season creates a humdinger of a hole between a pair of rock walls. Then, as the summer wears on, the water warms and settles into the prettiest late season hole you’d ever want to blow bubbles in. It’s a good eight to ten feet deep where the water enters and there are modest jumps from the adjoining walls averaging 15 feet or so. Shade abounds on the sandy benches at the bottom and ample sun shines on the ledges. There’s even a nice sandy ramp that leads right to the deep end if you want to ease your way in rather than jumping, which may be a good idea because it’s trout cold.
Here a late visit is key, early to mid September. Visitorship declines dramatically after the park service closes the Yosemite Creek campground for the season. The trail along Yosemite Creek gets a lot of traffic from backpackers traveling from the valley to the lakes in Tuolumne, but the hole isn’t right on the trail so the expectation of privacy is probably good. One note, best approach from above where you can stand on the left-hand headwall and watch the fish and dragon flies before you jump into the gorgeous emerald water and disrupt everything.
The very definition of emerald-colored water. So green it’s shocking. A slab of granite has fallen flat across the low walls and the effect of this horizontal rock is a little like the arch rock at the El Portal entrance to the park. If you’re good at executing shallow dives, this is the place. Although the water immediately below the arch rock is only six feet deep, a headlong dive will put you out toward water eight to ten feet deep. Be advised that this is a small hole and those estimates of depth can vary with the season.
Plenty o’ shade combined with sunny ledges. The granite shoulder has several bench seats and bucket seats, some of them so deep and narrow they look like a champagne cooler. The granite is smooth, but with corrugations of just the right size and shape so that your water bottle won’t go rolling down the rock into the pool. Water quality is so good, you almost have to call it an excellent hole, but it lacks a great vertical feature.
Even though it’s a stone’s throw from the popular El Capitan Trail, this hole doesn’t seem to get heavily used. Think about visiting after the Tamarack Flat campground is closed in the early part of September. Usership decreases dramatically and, although the road to the campground is closed at the Tioga Road, you can take a mountain bike the two or so miles to the campground.
The exception to not one, but two rules. Glen Aulin is almost 2,000 vertical feet higher than the average cutoff point for swimming holes included in this book. What’s more, there are a couple of man-made structures visible from the water. An inauspicious start, but shoot…no point in being doctrinaire. The prohibition against man-made structures was conceived to ensure that places included here have the appearance of being wild. No swimming holes at dams, next to highways, etc.
Glen Aulin slips by since it’s in designated wilderness. Plus it’s so pretty. The hole at the bottom is 100 feet wide and 40 to 50 feet long. It’s an irregular oval with a fairly small deep end. Not much of a vertical description other than the fall itself, a broken cascade about 40 feet high that slants to the left. Comfortable boulders to sit on, but no slabs for relaxing. Water temp is in the high 50s and the color is that fabulous Yosemite emerald.
Expectation of privacy is zero. Glen Aulin is a popular stopover for backpackers and the site of a High Sierra Camp, one in a series of backcountry lodges that are administered by Yosemite Concession Services. High Sierra Camps require reservations.
Almost a room. One-hundred eighty degrees of vertical or near vertical rock climbs 40 feet around an excellent hole. The falls are about 25 feet high with a dynamite rock impound that creates a deep, even hole in the river. Plenty of area to sit which is good because it probably sees a devil of a lot of people judging by the compaction of the trail leading to it. On the way up from the South Fork Merced you pass a couple of smaller pools and tubs that make a nice kid’s area.
The name apparently derives from Roman myth. Diana, goddess of the hunt, was bathing in a pool when a hunter discovered her in all her naked loveliness. Ever the modest goddess, she turned the hunter into a stag and watched impassively as his own hounds tore him to pieces. The area around the North Fork Merced underwent a destruction of its own in 1987 when a forest fire destroyed 100,000 acres. That and the ensuing salvage logging has left the surrounding hills as nude as the goddess herself, though not nearly as pretty. Forest Service officials say the soil has remained fairly stable with only a few slips and slumps making it into the river.
Expectation of privacy is poor, however litter was not a problem when I visited.
Another waterpark. Here the granite slabs are laid down on a parallel plane with the creek, creating long waterslides upstream and a series of curtain falls and classic swimming holes downstream. The three emerald beauties at the lower falls are deep and unmuddled by boulder clutter. They are perfectly uniform in size and shape, as if struck from the same anvil. All are lens-shaped, about 80 feet by 30 feet long and deep, 12 to 15 feet. The fall above each pool rolls over the smooth granite lip in a wide, gentle shimmer.
Farther down is a fourth pool. It’s in trying to get to this last pool that most injuries occur. Treat it with caution. On the other hand, you can treat the upper slides as a sort of children’s area where three shallow pools connect to one another through gentle slides that have an average drop of around 12 vertical feet.
The best thing to happen to this hole was a huge gate installed at the highway which added two miles to the approach. Until then University Falls got way too much traffic and was trashed. Each year there were several injuries, almost all alcohol related. Rescuers say that number has dropped in the two years since the gate was installed. Evidently two and half miles is beyond cooler range for most yahoos. Fun mountain bike rides both ways, but it’s hike-a-bike on the steep foot trail down to the river.
The river under the Edward’s Crossing bridge gets pretty crowded. More discriminating bathers spread out to one of the holes along the South Yuba Trail between the Edward’s and Purdon Crossing. Mountain Dog is one that gets a little less activity. It’s a sweet place with a kiddie pool. An unnamed creek creates the twin spout emptying 15 feet into a shallow gravel basin. The adult pool is slightly downstream. It’s about 60 feet in diameter with a comfortable gravel bar. The water is ten feet deep at best, but bring a snorkel for entertainment, ’cause there’s nothing to jump from.
This is a swimming hole for the practical minded — very pleasant, user friendly and easy to find — but not something that’s going to take your breath away. This is more of a family swimming place since access is easy. However, as with any of the hike-in spots on the South Yuba, it’s not uncommon to find skinny dippers. If you bring junior, be prepared to give an anatomy lesson.
On the trail right below Edward’s Crossing you’ll find a cheery, hand painted sign that reads “Right to pass by permission.” An easy-going landowner willing to let the public cross private property must post a sign to let people know that they are crossing private land. Otherwise the owner could lose rights to that land.
North Canyon is really a series of holes within a long constriction. From the trail the hole stands out like a jewel in the rocky canyon below. It’s located at a bend in the river, but this one’s a big, 150-degree turn. There’s a broad, rocky ledge above the river with plenty of room to spread out. Diving is pretty good, not more than 15 vertical feet, but the diving rocks are easily climbed for repeated plunges.
These days the water runs clear. That was not always the case. The Yuba was a mess in 1884 as placer miners diverted water to work dry areas like the Malakoff Diggins just above North Canyon. To separate the gold they sluiced vast amounts of gravel through chutes. The tailings were flushed downstream into the Yuba, eventually coming to rest on top of valuable agricultural land in the valley below. Farmers sued the mining companies, winning a decision that ultimately ended hydraulic mining altogether and codified what’s now considered America’s first environmental law.
Like most places on the Yuba, early season water levels will be dangerously high, especially if it’s been a heavy snow year. It’s going to be cold also. Best wait until July or so. The expectation of privacy is fair. The broad terrace attracts visitors and the Malakoff Diggins State Park brings many people down the South Yuba Trail toward North Canyon.
Ask locals where the good swimming holes are and this place always comes up. The hole takes its name from a 45-foot, mushroom shaped rock that’s a favorite jumping off spot for the cliff diving set. The vertical is really great and the landing is plenty deep. It’s a wet approach and that keeps some of the people away, but not many. You’ll find at least one dozen individuals here on a weekend and not a heck of a lot of room for them to sit either.
On the way to Mushroom, at the bottom of the spur trail, is a popular swimming hole called Strawberry. It’s over-visited, suffering litter, graffiti and dozens of people. Can be a rowdy crowd and some inevitably make it down to Mushroom where the true locals are more sedate. Pools that look so enticing to us are also attractive to pond turtles, a sensitive species. Turtles reproduce slowly and let’s face it, if you looked like a turtle you’d be lucky to get any either. When you visit take care to walk on bare rocks, where possible. Turtles lay eggs in the sand as well as decaying vegetation. If it looks like turtles could dig in it, try not to disturb it.
The frogs and turtles tolerate the summer time yahoos and the occasional beer can that floats downstream from Strawberry. Land owners on the adjoining property are less liberal, so obey the no trespassing signs.
A Sierra classic. Oregon Creek is awfully darn close to being the perfect swimming hole. It’s hidden, yet accessible. It’s deep, but not too narrow. It mixes square blocks of granite with the sinuous curves of water-worn rock. These combinations make Oregon Creek a delight. The upper tub is fed by a pair of small falls. One descends in perfect stair steps; the other is composed of three spouts that braid together as they tumble into the pool. Farther below, right-angle rock fissures produce swimming holes, some of them perpendicular as poured concrete. Conversely, the rock up above is etched in smooth, sculptural lines with so many different grooves that watching the water flow over it is mesmerizing. There’s not much of a sandbar to sit on, but the surrounding rock is evenly cut in four-foot-wide terraces that make the area look like an amphitheater. It has some awesome Sierra Jacuzzis and a waterfall you can duck behind and stare out through a cool curtain of running water.
Located as it is on a local watershed, Oregon Creek isn’t prone to becoming a raging torrent since it doesn’t drain snow runoff from the High Sierra. You can basically use this hole as soon as the water’s warm enough. There’s plenty of shade although probably not a lot of privacy. The approach is gentle, but the slabs that lead down to the water are steep and polished. Submerged rocks have caused several neck injuries in years past. Learn where they are before you jump
A big, fat patch of water. Measuring more than 100 yards in diameter, Mammoth is wide enough to swim laps. There’s a low wall you use as a diving platform, but you’re better off to treat this hole like a nice, friendly lake. It’s open and sunny, a great place to spend the hot part of the day bobbing up and down with your beverage of choice. Unfortunately, there’s little area for lounging. There is a small bench and sand bar on the opposite shore, but you have to swim to get there. Consider bringing an air mattress or innertube even though both are a little bourgeois.
Yours may not be the only flotation device on the river. Small, floating dredges are a popular way to look for gold and several claim operators have formed semi permanent camp up the road at Shenanigan Flat. Since claim operators believe any piece of junk could prove useful in the future, pipe, barrels, tents and tarpaulins create a blight. Nevertheless it can be instructive to stroll through the camp and compare contemporary miners to the ‘49er archetype of a sourdough with a pan and shovel.
Despite the miners, the expectation of privacy is good. Mammoth has a long season since the width of the hole creates a slow current during early high water and the western exposure creates warm, sunny autumn afternoons. Water quality is a little hinky.
A big, open hole with a tall wide fall. Locals say the water is 30 feet deep under the fall. I didn’t have time to jump in and confirm the claim, but I’m skeptical. Nevertheless, diving is fabulous. On the left hand side jumps are 10, 15 and 20 feet. The rock is even taller on the right with jumps at 25 and 40 feet. Better still, it’s easy to clamber back to the top after each jump. Water quality was good with visibility about six feet or so. Lots of boulders to sit on. No real place to lie down, though.
Since Kimshew is less than 100 yards from the road the crowd is more representative of the general public than you’ll find at swimming holes where you have to hike in. More pickup trucks and NRA stickers. If you want to fit in, remove the public radio license plate frame from your car, bring an air mattress and lite beer. Still, since it’s basically a drive-up, this is a good destination for families with pre-schoolers.
Many of the roads in the area are light rail right of ways that were built to haul out the virgin timber. Although falls are on forest service land, much of the surrounding property is still owned by logging companies. Much of it has been harvested recently.
Upper and lower holes. The upper is fed by a six-foot stairstep fall. The pool is a strapping 100 feet long, but only 20 feet wide with irregular sides and bottom. Nice large pool, shame the bottom isn’t less boulder-choked. The lower pool is about 80 yards long and punctuated by a rope swing which deposits riders into water 10 feet deep. You’ll find four sand beaches around the lower pool on the downstream side. Best way to get to them is swim. Brown’s Hole, by virtue of its remote upstream location, is the only place on Big Chico Creek that on weekends doesn’t swarm with college students from Chico State. Attendance averages ten or so people on a weekend, but that can go as high as 40!
The rock on Big Chico is very interesting. It’s a lava flow 18 million years old and full of pockets both big and small. Down at Bear Hole there are tunnels you can swim through.
A series of pools form where the creek works its way northeast. The first is a nice round pond at the bottom of a short rapid. Amusements here include hanging onto a submerged rock lip at the bottom of the rapids and holding yourself under the swift water until your ears beat against your head. Nice slabs to sit on, but little shade. It’s about a ten-minute walk. More with a cooler.
The main pool is a 20-minute scramble farther upstream. Minor third class scrambling with ledges and pockets delivers you to a narrow piece of water about 150 feet long. The sides are bounded by moss-covered diving rocks. A rope leads up the left face. Getting up to the diving rocks is something of a blister and the trip down can be even worse.
The sweet spot is awfully narrow because submerged ledges stick out well into the main channel of water. Grizzly Creek is perhaps the most unusual approach option in this book. Instead of wading the 200 or so yards from the highway to the first pool, try the tunnels just to the right of the small parking area. The first tunnel is 70 feet long and although the opening is large enough to walk through, the ceiling lowers to four feet. Definitely some crouching going on. The second tunnel is more challenging. It bends, so there’s no light for about half of its 80 foot length. Water in the tunnels should be about knee-deep.
If rivers could walk, this one would swagger. Three tall, proud falls empty into deep holes, all of them surrounded by dark volcanic rock from nearby Mt. Shasta. The upper falls is gorgeous stone, 92 feet high that comes down in two steps to an enormous, round hole about 100 feet in diameter. Below, the water moves briskly through boulders and elephant ear a little less than half a mile to the middle fall which itself is 81 feet tall and 100 feet wide. It plunges in an uneven curtain into an oval pool filled with dark, Gothic-looking water. One or two nice rocks to dive from. Many swim across the pool on the right-hand side where a boulder pile leads up to the fall itself. Water is mid 60s in summer. Seating is on boulders, none of them terribly flat, none big enough to lie down on. The lower falls is a drive-up and filled with people. The expectation of privacy is only slightly better at the first two falls.
Regrettably all of the falls are too recessed to have views of Mt. Shasta and too accessible to be really wild. If only McCloud River were some remote watershed it would be worthy of highest honors. There’s a bright spot to the river’s easy approachability. The trail is being reconstructed to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A word of caution: many non-expert anglers visit here. Lots of them snag and break their line. Any line you encounter may have hooks in it.
Best thing to say about this spot: It’s a good place to meet people. It’s not unusual to find 30 or 40 folks here where a series of pools lead down to the highway bridge. The best pool is up around a curve in the river where water comes down a 15-foot baffle of serpentine. The entire hole is 40 to 50 feet long. A finger of serpentine sticks about 30 feet out into the main channel. The deepest part is in the eddy behind the rock finger. The sides of the hole are remarkably round with easy ledges to pull yourself out of the water for repeated trips to the adjoining jumping rock. No sand beach, but plenty of ledges, lots of sun.
A second hole called Big Paradise lies upstream. It’s actually the smaller of the two and more bouldery, but with a much larger jumping rock, about 75 feet. The sweet spot is tiny. Still, there are those who jump into it. The splatter potential is way high. I wouldn’t do it with a gun to my head.
Water quality looks good; however, locals say gold dredgers upstream periodically turn the water muddy. Significant brown algae and moss on the river rocks. Very slippery. Must get really fuzzy later in the season when the water heats up.
Enough water to conduct naval maneuvers. It’s at a sharp elbow in the Trinity River where the prime swimming area is 50 feet wide and stretches more than 350 yards around the north to west bend. There are three rock outcrops that unfortunately don’t give off into deep water the way rocks at Tish Tang do. There is, however, a good jumping rock on the opposite shore at the top of the bend. Be careful swimming over to it because the water is deceptively swift.
Plenty of beach, most of it east-facing. By 10 a.m. the sand is already scorching. The main beach is a 200-foot arc of fine sand that occupies as much as 30 feet between the water and the rock walls. Because the beach curves along with the river, you have a little more privacy since you can always find a place around the corner. The rock outcrops create partitions that further divide the beaches and produce a swimming hole that can absorb lots of people.
Good thing too. On a holiday weekend I saw 20 cars parked at the turnout. Must be a respectful crowd because when I visited on the day after the long weekend, I didn’t find a single piece of litter
Fully conjugated the name is Tish Tang a Tang, a corruption of the Hupa Indian phrase “land that sticks out into the water.” The swimmable part stretches almost one half mile and is wide, flat and featureless except for Prayer Rock, a 25-foot outcrop that it’s said Native Americans used for ceremonies.
Tish Tang doesn’t belong in a hiking guide except that it’s got a cool name and it’s a good spot for families with small children. Generations of automobiles have compacted the cobbles and sand into a roadway that even low-clearance, two-wheel drive cars can make it out onto. It’s so easy to reach the river that an elderly gentleman said he brought his wife to soak in the reputedly healing waters less than two weeks after she broke her hip.
The river has degenerated some from its status as a spiritual and restorative waterway. Bob Braxton, a commercial fisherman from Trinidad said he’s snorkeled much of the river here, including a deep, deep hole under a madrone tree about 200 yards downstream from Prayer Rock.
“I find lots of beer cans, that’s for sure. People on float trips, they toss the cans over and lots of them get caught in that hole,” Braxton said. “At one time or another I’ve found virtually every domestic and most of the imports.’’
Water so clear that if you dropped a shiny quarter ten feet to the bottom, you’d still be able to read the mint date. The serpentine rock that lines the Smith is very hard, producing little sediment, thus giving the river its crystal clear reputation. An overlay of pillow basalt gives the water its beautiful color. The Smith also holds the distinction of being the largest wild and scenic river in the nation as well as being the only river in California that is completely free flowing from its tributaries to its discharge.
Dazzling water quality boosts what would otherwise be a fair hole to good. The hole has a couple of six-foot jumps with nice ledges on the near bank for entering and exiting the water. The shores are jagged and uneven, as opposed to smooth contours that would make this swimming hole more geometrically appealing. A large turtle-shaped rock in the center of the river makes a nice place to sun. The water is cold–in the low 60s–and even on a hot day you have to take a deep breath before jumping in. The expectation of privacy is fair. Since it’s right along a trail, you’re likely to see one or two groups passing by.
Bonus Feature: What looks like an undeveloped climbing boulder is next door to the swimming hole. It’s about 20 feet tall with a heinous overhang. It needs extensive cleaning, though.
It’s hard to stay put at Cottonwood Creek Falls. All the twists and turns in the creek keep drawing you farther upstream. Several sharp turns make this stream seem something like a labyrinth and each turn is followed by a small fall with a tub or small basin below. Hardly grand enough to make National Geographic, but it is a nice place. The stream bed is composed of a rock laid down on the same angle as the water flow, giving the stream something of a paved look. The drainage faces south, producing sweltering temperatures during the summer. A shallow basin in the middle is deeply shaded by trees, but water there will become stagnant earlier in the season.
There are more than 70 miles of hiking trails in the Laguna Mountains. This isn’t one of them. Access from the roadside turnout is via a brushy draw draining south. After a few hundred yards of moderate bushwhacking you pick up an old road that follows some power lines. That road intersects another heading north up the canyon. The brushy descent aside, Cottonwood Creek is easy enough to get to that it’s a good place for families. Pick a hot day in spring when the water level is still up and before the moss gets long and shaggy. There are some good-looking oak trees just below the falls that make a nice place for a family picnic.
Forget the falls. (Which for some reason aren’t shown on the topo anyway.) The aesthetic is at the basins and tubs above the cascade where everything appears as if in miniature—all beautiful in a diminutive way.
Wildflowers, sedges and even grass make the pools at the top more enchanting than the fall itself which runs 150 feet over polished slabs into steep, fast tubs which are not safe for swimming. The tubs up on top, though, are perfectly crafted for blowing bubbles on a hot day or doing a water ouzel impression. Hikers on the PCT might use the creek for a fast soak, but, hidden as it is 200 yards below the trail, it seems to escape a lot of traffic. Also it’s a little tricky finding the spur trail then scrambling the last 100 vertical feet over some loose rock.
The best time to visit is in April. The watershed is only about 20 square miles, so it dries up pretty quickly. Also, the ceanothus and manzanita are in bloom and light breezes are redolent with honey and spice. Be prepared to share the trail with bees. There’s some steep climbing—900 vertical feet in two miles to reach the spur trail. Then minor bushwhacking to an inconsequential scramble leading to the basins. Running shoes should be more than adequate.
Julian locals love this place. As the name implies, there are three falls, each one a big, smooth granite bowl. They are, in every sense, swimming holes that stand out. At one point on the approach, after crossing a low saddle, you suddenly get a full frontal view of the falls filling the head of a steep canyon. The three falls are between 40 and 50 feet tall. The middle hole is around 60 feet wide, 10 feet deep with ample granite slabs to relax on. The uppermost is the trophy hole—the “hog hole.” To reach it, scramble left around the second falls and you’ll be able to drop into the upper bowl. It’s a big ol’ tank of water with a 25-foot rock face on the right side which has launched generations of splash rangers. Summer afternoons are long. You can get some relief from the sun in the cottonwoods below the lowest bowl, but there are few comfortable rocks among the trees as compared with the comfortable though sun-stunned slabs surrounding the upper bowls.
Turbidity is about the only bad thing there is to say about this hole. When I visited in mid April, Boulder Creek had poor visibility. It may have been the result of a recent forest fire or it may be due to the fact that it carries discharge from Cuyamaca Reservoir. Late summer and early fall may be bad times to visit as the flow from the Cuyamaca Reservoir is generally reduced. And watch for poison oak. It flourishes along the Boulder Creek.
A place of startling beauty and, like many beautiful things, it suffers from over exposure and misuse. It’s scuba deep and wide enough for water ballet. The fall itself is a strapping, single channel of water that spills 90 feet into a bowl with steep shoulders. Downstream the sides flare out and flatten into dry space for lounging directly opposite the fall’s face. Cottonwoods keep the sun off and there’s a sycamore shaded grotto on the right-hand side that you can swim to for sanctuary if the boom box brigades show up.
Cedar Creek Falls has been a favorite day trip for generations of San Diegans. Before the Helix Water District built El Capitan reservoir in the ‘30s, people used to be able to drive to the falls. Now the trip requires a steep hike down a gated road paralleling the Upper San Diego River. Most people hike to the end of the road where the water district has posted a No Trespassing sign, then walk about one-quarter mile upstream to the swimming hole.
On a peak weekend you might expect to find as many as a couple of dozen people. Inevitably, they leave litter. If you see people littering, return the trash to them and politely say, “Excuse me, I think you dropped this.” Confronted with the empty potato chip bag or beer can, most people mumble and act embarrassed.
Certainly the better dressed of the Barker Valley Falls. The lower fall has a nice basin about 40 feet wide that’s skirted by mature willow, sycamore and at least one ancient oak that provides deep, reliable shade. This is a steep bowl with vertical rock on either side of a 40-foot fall. The enclosure isn’t as steep or sculpted as Upper Barker, although the descending spur trail is steep and rock strewn. Brushy to boot.
The bottom is broken and uneven. It’s usually seven feet deep around the fall. Water quality is fair with visibility being about six feet. Whatever the shortcomings, Lower Barker is a very private place. Private but not quiet. To be heard you’ll have to raise your voice above the sound of rushing water.
Another sound to prepare yourself for would be the whir of rattlesnakes. Spring is the most active swimming season on the San Luis Rey River. It’s also prime time for buzz worms. Here are a few bits of folk wisdom that may help you avoid snakes, or at least stop worrying about them. A striking snake can reach no more than half the length of its body. In many cases the animal doesn’t inject any venom. The most effective item in any snakebite kit is a car key. Meaning, skip the razor blades and suction devices. Just get to a hospital.
Five tiers are spread out along a vertical drop of 140 feet into the floor of Tenaja Creek. The most popular is the top one, a rough oval about 20 feet long on its main axis and around ten feet deep. Water enters through a wedge-shaped gap in the wall above and tumbles 20 feet in two chutes to the main tank. The hole then spills over a would-be slide running 40 feet on a steep incline. Problem is the water below the slide is really only a basin which, along with the third pool below it, turns stagnant early in the season. By late May the plant goo index is off the charts.
Excellent views of the falls as you approach from the old Tenaja Road below. Used to be the road went all the way up to the fall. The designation of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness closed the road in 1984. One of the state’s newest designated wilderness areas, it occupies a triangle of peace and quiet between the guns of Camp Pendleton, the roar of water craft on Lake Elsinore, and the urban din of southern Orange County.
Getting to the lower pools is sketchy; I used a rope and a visiting boy scout troop that was picking up garbage was happy to use my line to get up the slab between the top hole and the second pool. The scouts regularly remove litter. Still there’s plenty left behind. Despite the closed road, high visitorship means beer, boom boxes and litter.
Upper Hot Springs is a cylinder bored straight into the rock. The left wall rises 50 feet and the right wall is 30 feet. Between them is a hole ten feet deep—maybe more early in the season. Ferns, mosses and alders contrast sharply with the horned lizards and hard, dry chaparral above. The picture is completed by a two-person sunning rock where the light shines smooth as honey. The fall is a 25-foot chute of polished granite. Jumping ledges present an irresistible temptation. They stair step up the left-hand wall in three-foot increments to a height of 15 feet. Be aware that the higher ledges lean out over a submerged shelf. Check it out before you jump.
Getting to Hot Springs Canyon requires some minor bushwhacking, route-finding skills and scrambling. The last couple of hundred yards to the hole itself is steep and brittle. The rock is extremely loose and the fall would be a long one. Nevertheless, visitor ship is fairly high. Privacy is unlikely on a weekend and the approach has more poison oak than I’ve seen anywhere. Seriously, even if you tried to cultivate the plant commercially, I don’t think you could produce a more abundant crop.
Footwear -Trail running shoes are best for most of these trips. Sports sandals are acceptable for the shorter and many intermediate ones. Remember, he who is shod lightest travels fastest.
Accessories -For your birthday, request a telescoping aluminum walking stick. They’re an invaluable on steep slopes. For Christmas ask for one of those water bladders with a drinking tube that you can wear like a small back pack. Most of these trips are hot and dry.
Trespass – The overwhelming majority of swimming holes featured here are entirely on public land. A few cross, or lie near private land that, when visited for this book, did not appear posted or were marked with signs giving the public limited permission to use the property. In any event, you must obey no trespassing signs.
Entry and Exit – There are more than a few swimming holes with steep sides in which you can jump into only to realize there’s no easy way back out. Check first.
Jumps Anyone jumping from cliffs should not depend solely on this guide for safety information. Talk to locals if they’re available for safety information, but most importantly get in the water and have a look around for yourself. You are responsible for your own safety.
A steep, but not very deep, canyon with a narrowly channeled and fast stream. Lots of loose rock produces cobble and gravel that diminishes depth. It starts getting interesting a little more than one mile after you turn west into Rock Canyon.
The approach is from upstream, and the pools get better the farther downstream you go. A steep rock wall, 80 feet long and covered with moss and lichen, marks a series of dodges and turns in the creek that gouge out a seven-foot pool with two lounging slabs where you can break out the beach towel. Nap in the shade while your fingers drag in the water. In addition, there’s a good bench of land ninety vertical feet above the creek that’s generally clear of undergrowth and dressed in dappled sunlight. Great place to apply the picnic blanket.
Seventy yards farther down is a larger hole, 20 feet in diameter and oval-shaped. A water chute seven feet high creates a small deep end. There’s a good sense of enclosure, not just around the fall itself, but to the south along some rock ledges that are around 15 feet tall with mature Ponderosa and some young oaks.
Expectation of privacy is excellent. Most places have no use trails going down to the stream. Step lightly, this terrain is a great way to injure an ankle.
More tubs than the plumbing section at Home Depot. This part of the creek doesn’t have lots of vertical relief, but a pattern of short cascades creates lots of little containers with plenty of surrounding vegetation, and water that’s a gorgeous translucent slate color. It’s striking in afternoon light.
There are around one dozen closely spaced tubs and pools on the lower section. On this part of the creek the uppermost pool has a collar of rock around the hem that broadens into a sinuous sunning slab. It’s more picturesque toward the top, but my picnic blanket goes down on a secluded spot to the left of the trail, across a small island with dappled sunlight. It’s not visible from the trail, so privacy is good to excellent.
About one mile farther upstream is another set of cascades. Visually, the best ones are where red rhyolite creates impounds of green water. At another, fractures in the solid rock streambed create a channel that accelerates water and cuts out a hole that’s five feet deep and about seven feet in circumference. In addition, there’s a picnic area formed by a downed fir that’s fallen across the strembed. Floods deposit cobble and sand high up on the stream bank against the trunk and produce a perfectly flat area about the size of a family tent.
How much will you pay for privacy? This is the pour-off, the top of the tumble, the high point where water from Mt. Lemmon begins its acceleration toward Tucson. Here, water has cored what looks like an elevator shaft deep down into the rock. The water falls close to 100 vertical feet into a pool that’s ten feet wide, but less than six feet deep. The view is expansive, well above the road that’s visible to the southwest.
To reach it, follow directions to Pavlov’s. From the upper hole contour along the plateau, follow a faint trail that will deliver you to yet another fall, this one below Monomania. Here you encounter a minor fifth class chimney about 45 feet high. You can boulder it, but consider bringing a short rope to use on the sling fixed there so you can do a body rappel on the way back rather than downclimbing it. Alternately, you can walk around to the left of the chimney over steep, loose rocks that present their own problems. But is it worth the trip? Probably not unless you are the type that values unique experiences and the thrill of going where few have been. If you’re just a casual weekend hiker, enjoy the lower parts of the canyon.
You’ll salivate, too. These are a couple of holes close together. The lower fall (pictured above) is about 30 feet high and it fills a pool of about that width. Plenty of shade from a couple of pretty cedars and willows, plus a nice lounging rock on left side that’s close to 40 square feet and situated right under a big, mature cedar. A diving rock 10 feet high adjoins the lounging slab and stands right over the fat end of the hole.
Upper Pavlov is even better. A fall about 45 feet high cascades into a hole that would retain water even if it didn’t rain until the next ice age. It’s shaped like an isosceles triangle, 25 feet from the apex to the base and 45 feet wide at the base. Ample lounging rocks on both sides are deeply shaded. The only negative is that sloping sides of the hole itself don’t offer any really good platforms from which to launch. Best jumping is at the lower pool.
The upper hole is reached by scrambling up a gully to the left of the first hole. Very loose rock and a steep angle. Continue bushwhacking to the left, switching back and forth on narrow, crumbly ledges. You’ll gain a ledge with a faint trail that leads to the right and delivers you to the second hole. Also, visit a small fall just above the upper hole where a pair of large boulders pinch the water, causing it to hollow out a six-foot deep tub.
A little pool that’s located so deep in the canyon, you have to order out for sunshine. The swimming hole is really no more than a bucket, five feet deep and about ten-feet wide. There are some ledges to sit on, but none larger than a single bed. There’s nary a footprint here, although the hand of man is upon this place. Expect to find a few items of litter that wash down from Mt. Lemmon and the highway.
Privacy is excellent to guaranteed. This, because the approach is difficult. In fact, this swimming hole and two more reviewed on the following pages appear absolutely inaccessible. Thousands view them from the road, but located as they are on the far side of what appears to be a canyon with near vertical walls, they seem like some distant ivory tower. They are not. Follow the instructions on the map page until you get to the main canyon. To reach this hole turn downstream on the eastern bank a short distance or until you get to the water, then turn upstream to the pool.
The greatest danger on this approach is loose rock. Try to step only on larger rocks. Always have three points of contact: hand on walking stick, another hand on a piece of rock and another foot firmly placed before you load the other foot. Be especially careful of stones that appear flat. They are the ones most likely to slide.
No, not the Romero everybody knows about. This is a place where a rock finger forces a hairpin turn in the creek, creating in the process four pools that amount to a water park better than Disney could build. Balanced rocks on the canyon wall to the right add to the scenery, while stone at the top of the fall is so beautifully milled by the water that golden light from the setting sun makes it appear like smooth butter.
The biggest fall is a two-step cascade, 60 feet high or so. Water comes down in three chutes. The left one runs hardest, but the right one falls into its own little cove. Very pretty and intimate. Down lower there’s a short fall formed by a large boulder fallen into the rifle notch canyon. Below that there’s a narrow slot pool 9 feet wide and 50 feet long. The boulder might present a dive platform, but swim around and check it out first. Farther down, on the other side of the rock finger, the river heads north out of the canyon.
In sum, a glorious place to sun and draw the envy of the other hikers looking down at the fall as they schlep along the trail to spend the afternoon with dozens of others at Romero Pools. It’s not unvisited, though. An old fire ring indicates use. If you make it there, use care walking on delicate grass at the fringes of the pools. To avoid destroying the vegetation completely, enter and exit at the same place. Don’t trample through the grass and mud.
Like having a backstage pass. If you know how to descend the fall, you can walk right past the 30 or more weekend visitors you’re likely to find at Maiden Pools and pop right into a private spot less than 50 yards from the hoi polloi. Steep slabs hide it from view, so surprisingly few of the many visitors even know about it.
The fall is beautifully formed top to bottom. At the top, water exiting Maiden Pools accelerates into a long, slender rock chute, corkscrewing 40 feet through gneiss before plunging 90 vertical feet into an exquisite tub below. The tub is carved into more gneiss, a metamorphic formation characterized by bands of dark rock blended with lighter colored quartz. The bottom of the tub and surrounding walls appear meticulously inlaid by a stone mason of the abstract impressionist school.
A larger pool immediately downstream will be around six feet deep at the start of the season. It’s bounded by brush, boulders and a tiny sand beach with shade from an oak tree. Broad slabs higher up to the right of the fall have enough room for all your friends, but unlike the visitorship at Maiden Pools, the bottom of the fall has guaranteed privacy. That’s because you need a rope to get in. It’s a pretty straight forward rappel. Even though it looks from the top as if you’d need more than 60-meter rope to reach the bottom, a standard length is plenty. Bring ascenders for an easy climb back out.
You have to do a whole lot of hiking before you’ll find a place more beautiful than Bear Canyon and Seven Falls. The highest pool is bodacious, but steep with little place to sit. The second is a plunge pool at the bottom of a 100-foot fall. It just goes down and down. Gorgeous feature, but not a practical swimming hole. The third fall only has room for three to four people.
The fourth fall is 45 feet high and it creates a plunge pool surrounded by a lonely expanse of marble-smooth rock. There are beautifully sculpted butt buckets for backsides of any dimension, although the likelihood is that only those with slim athletic hips are likely to make it up here.
Most people collect at the fifth and sixth fall where there’s a triangular pool that measures 80 feet at the hem. Slabs are big enough to hold a fraternity party. Visitorship is very high, but people don’t seem to stay for too long. Part of the reason for the high turnover is that the south-facing canyon gets broiling. You might want to retreat to the shade down canyon. One other negative, the water contains lots of tannic acid. It’s harmless, but it gives the water a reddish-brown color.
Water can go from a roar to a whisper and color can range from dark, tannic red early in the season to a photosynthetic green after a month of low flow and steady sun. Also, the canyon has fascinating metamorphic rock that’s been heated and twisted like hot taffy.
The most popular hole (apart from Seven Falls) is the lowest one where the canyon drains from the northeast. It has broad slabs that are oriented in the direction of the water’s flow, creating smooth, low-angle seating, some that can accommodate lots of people. An awesome place to test new sunscreen. Shade? Forget it.
A little over 150 yards above is a teardrop-shaped pool about 35-feet across on the fat end. Small seating ledges are on the right, but they’re a little rough on the user’s bottom. Above is another pool, good to excellent. It’s most notable for the shade created by a pair of sycamores that have bravely situated themselves in the middle of the stream where the water falls six vertical feet on either side.
And there they stand, the two trees with a good amount of root structure exposed, but looking quite satisfied with their location. One of them even appears to be smiling.
Greatly loved by rock jumpers. The tank is 80 feet long and 20 feet wide. Walls on each side range from 10 to 25 feet high. The lounging area is commodious with enough sand to park a semi on. Good thing too. The expectation of privacy is only fair, even on a weekday. There was not a scrap of litter when I visited because dutiful volunteers keep the trails clean in this heavily-used wilderness.
No more than 150 yards above there’s a pleasant upstream escape from the one dozen people you might find on a weekend at Hutch’s Pool. It’s a miniature of Hutch’s and surprisingly little visited. It would be killer except for three fallen boulders that really reduce the size of the sweet spot. Ledges are fractured and bumpy and there’s not lots of shade. However, there is water all over the place, including three more small pools on the main canyon and a nice fall on the adjoining stream to the south.
What’s more, about one quarter mile below Hutch, you’ll pass a large outcrop about 80 feet high. Adjoining the outcrop is a basin 50 to 60 feet long. The top is filled with some short cascades. The best feature is a couple of deeply shaded lounging rocks. The deepest spot is a small tub at the top—enough to get in and splash around, but that’s about it. Worth a pause, but not a destination in itself.
The place to take a date. Blocky rocks create a modest buffet of four or so small tubs. They’re nothing grand, but they do make a good place to get in and be cozy. Descending from the trail you come out onto a ledge paralleling the creek at about 50 vertical feet above the tubs. Best advice is to walk along the ledge to survey the prospects, then descend to the one that suits you. That said, the best one is at a tributary where a nicely formed tub, five to six feet deep is fed by a three-foot fall. There’s good seating on some of the blocks. You can also plunk it down under a couple of small oaks, but no place really sensuous to lie down in the shade with a love interest.
Many of the boulders blocking the stream are due in part to an earthquake in 1885. It was centered in Mexico, but Tucson residents reported seeing dust rising from the Catalinas. However, geologists say many boulders in the canyon were there a long time before the quake.
The expectation of privacy is excellent, although the place isn’t unknown. There’s a cairn by the best tub. No descending trail, so there’s a bit of bushwhacking involved, but you can weave your way among the sticky prickles. On the tributary stream are another couple of small tubs at the bottom of a twelve-foot cascade. Note that all these features are high in the watershed and apt to get green and slimy earlier in the season.
Bigger than Texas and with lots more depth. Pools are well shaded and apparently perennial. There are three of them separated by about 300 feet of elevation. The lower pool is an oval 25 feet on the major axis. On the right is a sand beach about 100 square feet. Nice ledges but none good enough for reclining. The left ledge is 45 feet high while another wall rises 200 feet. Diving is limited by rocks that overhang the water, so there’s a substantial risk of clipping one on the way down, even though the water is plenty deep to stop a falling body.
The depth of the lower pool is a function of the middle pool which catches lots of the sand and gravel. So this middle pool is not as deep, but has really good sand pockets with cottonwoods as well as a ledge 10 feet wide with virtually unlimited seating. The upper fall is the real prize. It comes down a tube carved into the rock and cores out a tank of water about 35 feet long and 25 feet wide. Jumps are many. It’s easy in and easy out via a rock collar with a sandy fringe.
You’ll likely find 10 to 20 people on the weekend, but that number is easily accommodated by the three falls. Milagrosa Canyon is a classic by any measure.
Bonus Feature: You pass a popular sport climbing spot on the way. Difficulty ranges from 5.8 to 5.11b.
In a place as crowded as Oak Creek Canyon you have to go pretty high up the watershed to leave the riffraff behind. Pumphouse Wash drains the top of the canyon. At 6000 feet elevation this hole is at the practical cutoff for swimming holes considered warm enough to be comfortable. But it’s a near classic and to leave out this and the two other places featured on the following pages would be a glaring omission.
The big show is crescent-shaped and about 40 feet wide. Water arrives through a rifle-notch channel cut deep into the basalt and over a fall about 10 feet high. The rock has big, blocky fractures. On the right as you look upstream it’s loose and brushy. Action is on the left wall. It’s around 40 feet high with good seating and a ledge at 20 feet that may be jumpable, but I wasn’t able to confirm this. Seating at the water is sparse, mostly cobble with a couple of sofa-sized boulders. Note: If the water is high enough to cover the lounging rocks, chances are good that it will be too cold to jump in without suffering an embarrassing temporary physical affect. (Guys, you know what I’m talking about.)
Expectation of privacy is fair. You’ll find better privacy about one-half mile farther down where a wall running southwest creates a basin about 70 feet long. There’s a rope swing attached to a spruce tree, but it looked more like a place to pass through than a destination.
Gorgeous place to pull off your clothes. The sides of the pool are parallel, creating a nearly perfect rectangle, around six feet deep. Water enters across a broad slab, one that must make a dandy slide on a hot day in August. Rocks stretch out on both sides of the pool, adding further to the charming appearance. At the optimum water level, these ledges will be around one foot above the surface so you can dangle your legs in the cool water while you work on that poem you’ve been meaning to write.
Not in a literary mood? There’s enough seating on the left to have a party. A tremendous sense of enclosure aided by a beautiful, blank sandstone wall on the right as you look upstream. Even though this part of the canyon faces west, the walls keep the afternoon sun from becoming too intrusive. And in truth, it makes the water just a little too cold. Be prepared.
You reach here by starting downstream from the spot reviewed on the preceding page. It’s more than a mile, twisting and turning in a southerly direction before the canyon hooks to the east and delivers you immediately to the top of the hole.
A narrow trough points to a fan-shaped pool about 25 feet wide. The main chamber is six to ten feet deep where part of the stone has been scooped out by spring runoff from Flagstaff and environs. It’s at the bottom of a narrow canyon where run off has etched a thin line in the rock such that you can get in the water and start swimming 100 feet before you even get to the fat part of the hole. The surrounding ledges are ten and fifteen feet above the water and give out over what should be a deep part of the pool.
Seating at the water level is on uneven, medium-sized boulders that nevertheless are set at a nice angle facing the pool. There’s plenty of lounge area on nice flat terraces above. On the right the stone is so even and flat that it looks like it was smoothed out with a concrete trowel. Deep shade, too. Problem is that it’s difficult to get back to the ledges once you jump in the water. Since the rock is steeply undercut and leaves no footing at water level, you have to walk around.
Not much evidence of usership. That’s partly because the approach is a little tricky. From the hole reviewed on the previous page, you continue southeast down the canyon for a couple of hundred yards to where it turns southwest. There, the water cuts into a slick rock channel forty feet deep and just six feet wide in places. The best way past is on the ledge above the narrows to the east. It’s one quarter mile downstream from there.
The first good swimming hole occurs just after Summers Spring. You’ll notice the trail turns to the west as you head upstream. On the left is a north-south ridge about 200 feet high which forces a hairpin turn in the creek. On the western side of the ridge the water has created a hole deep enough for submarine races. Wide and long, too. It spans 50 feet and stretches for nearly 250 feet in some places.
Look for a couple of diving ledges at six feet and at 15 feet on a terrace opposite the trail. There’s tremendous, if not inconvenient seating on the terrace. Trailside, there’s sand and cobble. Scattered shade, but mostly lots of sky. You can duck into willows for comfort from the heat. Also look for sand benches to the west and northwest.
Just under one mile upstream is a set of west-facing limestone ledges. Below is a beautiful hole, 100 feet long and 30 feet wide. Sand and cobble in the bottom. Gorgeous place. You’ll find it a couple of hundred yards above where the canyon dog legs to the east. Parsons Springs is 1¼ miles farther up the canyon. Above the spring, the amount of water in the canyon diminishes considerably.
A big ol’ balanced rock sits right at the center of a horseshoe shaped pool. It’s around 70 feet in circumference with a mondo, fatty deep end at the apex of the horseshoe. The water is plenty deep for diving. It’s clear, green and begging you to jump. The pool is formed by a finger of rock that forces the bend in the creek. The balanced rock is right at the tip of the finger, capping a classic, classic swimming hole.
Although barely visited now, it’s been popular in years past, several hundred years past. Indian ruins are nestled in a small overhang near the hole. If you want to examine it, do so from a distance. There’s been significant damage to archeological sites in the canyon. Destruction has been particularly bad in the past few years, officials say.
From a user’s standpoint, the only negative about this spot is that there is no really good place to sit. About the only option is on the right at the top of the hole. It’s an area covered with grass that gives out onto some broad submerged slabs. Use care entering and exiting and be careful not to trample the grass.
Plenty of wading and some swimming between here and the trailhead. Lots of slippery rocks, too. Bring a walking stick and make it a sturdy one.
A short narrows produces a slot pool 80 feet by 20 feet. Best use is lap swimming and lounging. It’s not deep in the center, but at the corners eddies create deep water. The hole faces due north, it’s open and sunny with broken vertical walls that rise 70 feet on the west side and about half that on the east. Jumps are seven to ten feet above the western alcove, but you have to work to get there. The slab leading from the water up to the ledge is at a steep angle.
If you visit in May or June look for fish in spawning coloration. One species, the Desert Mountain Sucker can look almost like goldfish. Scott Reger, a fish biologist for the department of Game and Fish said that in some cases the whole lower half of the body turns color.
“Lots of fish do that sort of seasonal advertising. They can’t go buy Maybelline, so they have to do it themselves. But in the case of fish, it’s mostly the males that change color.” There is a supreme ledge on the east side. About 15 feet above the water. Not for diving, but for lounging. It’s close to 100 square feet with a corresponding overhang that makes a canopy, creating a great place to survey swallows hunting insects. The catch is you need to be able to make a couple of rock climbing moves to get there. Try it. Otherwise use a deeply shaded pocket of cobbles at the top of the pool, just to the left of the cascade.
A combination of rock and water that could make a poet out of a plowman. The Wet Beaver Wilderness collects runoff from between Apache Maid and Oak Hill, then turns it into a lyrical combination of sandstone and water. Brick red terraces the size of tennis courts lead down to a channel 20 feet wide and 60 feet long. The most dramatic spot is a rock wedge jutting into the flow that produces a triangular diving ledge leaning over deep water.
The trail to the hole runs from west to east, such that if you’re headed out in the morning and returning in the evening, you’ll be squinting both directions. Whichever direction, take a break from the hike to turn around and look at the ground you’ve covered and you’ll find the mesas illuminated by a heartbreaking light. Lots of wind-scarred juniper with dead, cracked branches in contrasty light. They look like they’re auditioning for an Ansel Adams photo.
There’s a good kiddie pool along the Weir Trail, flat pools with cobble impoundments and easy entry with slow water about 600 feet below a gauging station. A good place to take baby so they won’t tip over and roll down the hill.
During the weekend there may be as many as 20 cars at the trailhead, and that’s not counting people at the campground. Many users spread out along the creek or follow the popular pack trail up to the mesa, but be prepared for neighbors when you visit The Crack.
West Clear Creek zigzags between sheer walls that are 100 feet high and more. It’s not a really tight canyon. Walls alternate with steep wooded slopes and side canyons. In between is a riverbed filled with small cobble and gravel. The pools occur in places where the water piles up against one of these walls to create long, narrow pools accompanied by a broad terrace of grass and gravel.
Both are similar: arcs of green, 90 feet long, that lie against a vertical rock face 150 feet high. The walls above are mottled green from moss and lichen growing there as well as on the camping benches above. Depth during the season is around five feet.
There is another series of pools at the bottom of the trail. No jumps. No plunge pools or anything like that. Depth will be six to eight feet at best. More than anything, it’s a good hot weather spot. Morning exposure chases away the chill, then the sun ducks behind a wall that runs southeast to northwest and it will stay cool and shady. Trees on the camping bench above improve shade even more.
On a weekend you’ll find one dozen people or more, many of them doing car shuttle hikes through the canyon. Privacy is only fair. The other drawback is the muddy bottom, probably due to a fire above the creek in 1996.