Swimtastic Natural Watering Holes in LA

Beaches, splash pads, pools—we love them, and LA has the best!  But sometimes you want a break from the chlorinated water of pools and pads or the salt rash from the ocean. We went back to nature to round up a few wet and wild spots to add to your summer splashing roster.

malibu creek

photo credit: Emilio M. via yelp

Note: With the drought, all of these naturally fed watering holes are a little less deep this year, but as of June 2015, they’re all still wet, cold, refreshing and loads of fun.  Do a little rain dance while you’re in the water, and we’ll all hope the waterfalls get wilder and the pools deeper in time for next summer.

Swim in a Lava Lake
Pack a lunch, swimsuits and sunscreen and head out for a leisurely stroll down an oak-lined lane to the Rock Pool at Malibu Creek State Park. The 3.5 mile round trip hike is perfect for children as the path is flat, wide and well-maintained. The shaded path winds a short distance until you reach the sparkling rock pool, which is just past the visitor center. Lined with volcanic rock, you may recognize the setting from the Planet of the Apes. Be warned: the water is cold so make sure it’s a hot day. If you don’t want to swim, it’s a great spot for a picnic, skipping rocks and marveling over the bravery of the cliff jumpers and rock climbers. Tips: you can also camp here, and Saturdays all summer you can stay for the 7 p.m. campfire program. 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Agoura. $12 parking.

Online: parks.ca.gov

eaton canyon

photo credit: Jeremy Miles via Creative Commons

Stomp through the Streams
Tie on some water-ready shoes and head out on a 1.5 mile hike to the 50 foot waterfall at Eaton Canyon Falls. If your kids lack the stamina (or coordination) for the longer route, park at the Pinecrest gate for a short .4 mile walk from the bridge. The longer walk has plenty of streams to stomp across along the way with the big payoff at the end. Bring along an inner tube to float on or dip your feet into the chilly water to cool down. 1750 North Altadena Drive, Pasadena. Free.

Online: ecnca.orgslippery-rocks

photo credit: Analise Dubner

Wading, Waterfalls and Wildflowers
Switzer Falls/Bear Canyon hike is peppered with swimming holes, and is a great trek for kiddos with plenty of spots to splash in various bodies of fresh, mountain-fed water and streams. It’s super busy on weekends, especially at the entrance where families settle in for picnics and wading in the Arroyo Seco Creek. If you crave less commotion, head about a mile downstream where waterfalls and wildflowers abound. At the fork in the road, veer off to Bear Canyon Trail which loops back to the stream and takes you to a cascading waterfall and a swimming hole surrounded by rocks. Bring water and sunscreen—those non-shaded areas get hot. Don’t forget to get a parking pass, as they won’t forget to give you a ticket if you don’t have one!  Angeles Crest Highway (Angeles Forest Highway), La Canada. 626- 574-5200. $5 day pass parking, available at the local Sport Chalet.

Online: localhikes.com/Hikes/Switzer_4472.asp

sturtevant-falls 2photo credit: Jennifer Wolfe

Fifty Feet of Falls
Ranking as the most challenging of our cascade escapades at 3.7 miles, the out-n-back Sturtevant Falls trail in the San Gabriel Mountains is still super family friendly with a mostly flat and shady trail.  There are three modest water crossings, perfect for rock-hoppers of all ages. And then you get there and see a stunning fifty-foot waterfall that plunges into a shallow pool that the kiddos can wade and splash around in – and the freezing temperature will cool them off from the hike.  Yes, this year with the drought, the water is more of a trickle than Niagara Falls, but it’s still cool and wet.  Strollers won’t be happy crossing streams, but we’ve seen plenty of Bjorn, backpack and sling-toting parents ambling through these parts. Santa Anita Canyon Rd., Sierra Madre. 626-574-1613. $5-$10 adventure pass for parking is available at the pack station.

Online: everytrail.com/guide/sturtevant-falls

hansen dam lake

photo credit: Marco Antonio Torres via flickr

Less Legwork, More Meandering
For a refreshing change—and less legwork—head to the massive swim lake plopped between the 5 and 210 freeways known as the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center. Boasting 1.5 acres of crystal clear water (yes, it is chlorinated) and two huge water slides, this truly is an oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle. The actual lake is open for water activities like boating and kayaking while the swim lake is the place for getting wet. Built to mimic a lake, the kids can wade into the water from the sandy “beach” and dunk, splash and swim to their hearts content. You can also bring bikes for the lake path, try your hand at fishing, and visit the new and nearby Discovery Cube LA to make a day of it! Open June–September, weather permitting, hours vary by day and date. 11798 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace. 818-899-3779.  The lake is free, the aquatics center is $1 for kids, $3.50 for adults.

Online: laparks.org/dos/reccenter/facility/hansendamRC.htm

Did we miss any back to nature water spots? Let us know.

Still want more ways to splash? How about:
Dive in to these terrific community pools.
Play in the water without swimming at these splash pads.
Spend the day at at family friendly beach.

—Lara Burnap & Meghan Rose