Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

Even having visiting some pretty incredible places this summer (like Paris, Lake Tahoe, and Maui, for example), I’d count this day trip as a highlight of the season—one of the more awesome things we’ve done.

Up near Nevada City, where Route 49 (the “Mother Lode-” or “Gold Country Highway”) crosses South Yuba River, a series of swimming holes form when the river flow is low—perfectly cool on a hot day, which most summer days around here are.

Our friends showed us this spot, roughly an 1hr45min-drive from Davis, and reminded us why again it’s so exciting to have the chance to get reacquainted with Northern California.

It was Labor Day weekend when we went, and while we certainly weren’t alone (it’s a popular local spot), there is plenty of riverbed and boulders to spread out along if you’re prepared to do some ambling and/or swimming. That said, it was a bit of a challenge to get to the spot we spied with a two-year-old, a bag of picnic supplies, and a slightly-less useful pregnant lady. (It was nice to have a strong husband and some good friends to share the burden of crossing the water with kids—and then, crossing back again!) In other words, best to be prepared.


Once we found our spot and laid down our things, however, it was perfect! There was some current and you could swim downstream passing through and around the rocks, or you could eddy out into a smaller pool and just enjoy the scenery.


One of our favorite discoveries was this whirlpool (i.e. back massager) in a narrow, but fairly deep hollowed rock. Even Hudson took his turn standing in the small pool. When you were sitting inside, you couldn’t hear anything but the pounding water!

In the spring, when water levels are high, the current would be too fast (and the water too cold) for swimming. Here’s a site with flow data, but in general, late summer (and very early fall) is probably the best time to visit. The South Yuba River State Park association has more information.

Spots in the shade are hard to find along the river, and so while I wouldn’t recommend carrying too much if you plan to move around, do be sure to bring plenty of water and some sunscreen if you visit!  Oh—and some non-slip water shoes! I wish I had done so.


A perfectly exhausting day in the sun. Even In-N-Out couldn’t rouse Hudson, who completely collapsed from all the fun.

P.S. More gorgeous swimming holes: a quarry in Vermont, caves and boulders-strewn beaches in Sardinia, and hot springs in Costa Rica.

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