If you’ve hit the public swimming pool circuit and already visited our family-friendly SoCal beaches, why not shake things up swim in a natural swimming hole surrounded by rugged beauty? From lava rock pools and babbling brooks to waterfalls with wildflowers, we’ve rounded up the coolest natural swimming spots to take a dip in Los Angeles that have been kid-tested and Mother (Nature) approved.
Hike and a Swim: Cooper Canyon Falls
This 1.5 mile moderate hike into the back country of the San Gabriel mountains not only provides a splashtastic swimming hole (with fish!) to play and float around in, but in wet years, you'll get a waterfall to boot. What we love about this swimming spot is the workout you get before jumping into the water to cool off. Add to that, a chance to overlap with the Pacific Coast Trail for part of the route.
Good to Know: To access the swimming hole, you'll need to scramble down some rocks (there is a rope provided to assist with this) so if you have little hikers, maybe wait until they are older to try this spot out. Purchase of an Adventure Pass is required and cost $5 per day. Or better yet, purchase the $30 Forest Adventure Pass and use it all year long.
Do The Wet Rock Hop: Eaton Canyon
Water shoes are a must for this 1.5-mile hike to the 50-foot waterfall at Eaton Canyon Falls. Along the way, there are plenty of streams to stomp through and rocks to hop across with the big falls payoff at the end where you can splash around and dip your feet into the chilly water to cool down. If your kids lack the stamina for a walk to the falls or are just too small to traverse over slippery rocks, there are a few smaller trails (and picnic areas) behind the Nature Center on which to set your tiny trailblazers loose.
1750 North Altadena Dr.
Wading, Waterfalls, and Wildflowers: Switzer Falls
Switzer Falls/Bear Canyon hike, one of Angeles National Forest’s shining jewels, is blanketed with nature-made swimming spots making it a wonderful outing for your small splash seekers. There sure are plenty of fresh water pools and streams that will delight the masses but the masses tend to show up especially on weekends 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 decent size cascading waterfall and a swimming hole surrounded by rocks. Bring water and sunscreen—those non-shaded areas get hot.
Insider Tip: Don’t forget to get a $5 parking pass before you arrive at the local Sports Chalet, as the trusty park rangers won’t forget to give you a ticket if you don’t have one!
Angeles Crest Hwy. (Angeles Forest Hwy,) Switzer Truck Trail
Free Falling: Sturtevant Falls
Ranking as the most challenging of our swimming hole hikes 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 so grab some walking sticks (and water shoes) and kick off your wet and wild adventure in style. The payoff is a stunning fifty-foot cascade that plunges into a shallow pool where your wildlings can wallow around in ice cold (mountain fed) water to cool off after the long trek. Strollers and streams aren't a great match here, but we’ve seen plenty of Ergo, backpack and sling-toting parents ambling through these parts.
Insider Tip: The required $5-$10 adventure pass for parking is available at the pack station (or at any local REI or Sports Chalet store.
Chantry Flats Rd., Angeles National Forest
Less Au Natural But Still Splash Worthy: Hansen Dam
For a refreshing change—and less stress on the ol’ legs—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 a concrete jungle. The actual lake is open for water activities like boating and kayaking while the swim area is the place for getting wet. Built to mimic a real lake, your little fish can wade into the water from the sandy “beach” and dunk, splash and swim ‘till they drop. You can also bring bikes for the lake path, try your hand at fishing, and visit the nearby Discovery Cube LA to make a day of it!
Insider Tip: Open from Jun.–Sept., weather permitting, hours vary by day and date. While the lake is free, the aquatics center is $1 for kids, $3.50 for adults.
11798 Foothill Blvd.
Lake View Terrace
Swim in a Lava Lake: Malibu Creek Rock Pool
Grab your little explorers, pack a lunch, bathing suits and sunscreen and head out for a scenic adventure to one of the coolest spots around. Just 25 miles from downtown LA, the Malibu Creek Rock Pool has something for everyone. Parents will love the wide, flat and well-kept path that is a perfect hike (just 3.5 miles round trip) for smaller walking feet. Kids will go wild for the volcanic rock-lined pool surrounded by giant boulders (you may also recognize this spot as the setting from the Planet of the Apes).
Insider Tip: The water is icy cold so make sure it’s a hot day. If swimming isn’t in the cards for you and your posse, no problem. This is a great spot for a picnic, skipping rocks or simply marveling at the bravery of the cliff jumpers and rock climbers. This popular weekend spot does get packed so make sure to head out early (or on a weekday) to get a jump start on the crowds.
Good to Know: Due to the damage from the Woolsey Fire and recent rains, the trails may be closed. Please check the website and call before going to this location.
1925 Las Virgenes Rd.
Walk With The Wee Ones: Solstice Canyon
One of our favorite waterfall hikes, Solstice Canyon offers a variety of small but refreshing natural watering holes that look like they jumped out of the pages of a fairytale. Stunning vistas, architectural relics, and a splash-able pool at the base of a trickling waterfall are just some of what this very accessible 2.5 miles round trip jaunt has to offer. Located in the Santa Monica Mountains off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, this trail provides a stroller friendly hike to the water, which makes it perfect for the whole family.
Insider Tip: This is an extremely popular recreational destination and gets packed on weekends, so plan accordingly.
Good to Know: Most trails have reopened after the Woolsey Fire but please check the website and call before going to this location.
Corral Canyon Rd. at Solstice Canyon Rd.
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—Lara Burnap & Meghan Rose & Jenifer Scott