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HUNT FOR SWIMMING HOLES AND HIKE TO WATERFALLS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

HUNT AROUND FOR THE TOP WATERFALLS AND SWIMMING HOLES IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA’S ‘NORTH OF ORDINARY’ REGION FOR A VERY REFRESHING SUMMER ROAD TRIP!

Escape the city buzz and chill next to enchanting waterfalls, hike to hidden swimming holes and leap into the largest natural lake in California. Here’s a list – and a Swimming Hole & Waterfall map – to the top places to see our stunning watery wonders. Also, save this Google map for your road trip!

If you’re traveling along Highway 101 through Northern California, stop in at the California State Welcome Center in historic downtown Ukiah for maps and local tips for your trip through North of Ordinary country!

Follow the Swimming Holes and Waterfalls Map for Northern California in the "North of Ordinary" region

1. HIKE A LUSH REDWOOD GROVE TO GUSHING FALLS IN MENDOCINO COUNTY

Amble along the fern-lined canyon of the Russian Gulch Waterfall Trail past diverse landscapes to reveal a 36-foot cascading fall. Located in Russian Gulch State Park, this moderate 3.8-mile loop winds through lush forest and alongside the tranquil Russian Gulch Creek. Lollygag in the redwood groves for budding rhododendrons and banana slugs. Find a comfy log at the waterfall to soak up the sounds and the verdant views that frame the falls.

Russian Gulch Waterfall Trail - Lush waterfall with logs

Hike to a waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County

The beach at Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County, Part of the North of Ordiary region

Launch a kayak, SUP board or just lounge on the white sand beach at Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County.

WHERE TO STAY IN MENDOCINO COUNTY
Conjure up safari vibes but keep some modern comforts at Mendocino Grove Glamping. Fall into your soft mattress with even softer sheets in a large luxe tent on a raised platform. Build a campfire or take a hot shower to savor a cool coastal redwoods night. Grab a pal and head to the Meadow Commons area for board games under a heated porch, complimentary morning coffee, or a quick hammock nap. 

WHERE TO EAT IN MENDOCINO COUNTY
Explore the Village of Mendocino for picturesque strolls and dining experiences. Enjoy French-inspired cuisine in the garden at Cafe Beaujolais. Savor local ingredients from a menu brimming with flavor and complemented with an impressive cocktail and wine selection. Keep it casual but stay on the restaurant’s beautiful property at The Brickery. Sink your teeth into a slice of brick oven baked pizza. No matter where you dine, this buzzing culinary destination will delight your taste buds.

SEE MORE OF MENDOCINO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

2. SPLASH AROUND THE SMITH RIVER’S MANY EMERALD POOLS IN DEL NORTE COUNTY

Discover a delicate waterfall wandering through a magical redwood grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Stroll the 5-mile Boy Scout Tree Trail past moss-draped spruce and towering redwoods as it descends into a lush gully to reveal the tranquil spill of Fern Falls. You’ll then have a treasure trove of swimming holes to choose from along Highway 199 as it winds around the aquamarine Smith River. Plunge into a cooling pool from the Second Bridge rope swing (near Craig’s Creek) with easy access from Forks River Boat Ramp. Swim and sun the day away at Myrtle Beach. Panther Flat Campground offers a pristine family-friendly swimming hole with easy water access. For calmer water, head toward the mouth of the Smith River along Highway 197 for options in and around Ruby Van Deventer County Park and the town of Smith River. 

Fern Falls is framed with bright green ferns and tall redwood trees

Cool off at the Fern Falls waterfall while hiking along the Boy Scout Tree trail at the Redwood National Park in Del Norte County, California.

Rope swing hanging off of the Second Bridge area of the Smith River in Del Norte County, California

A rope swing from “Second Bridge” beckons over the sparkling blue-green Smith River in Del Norte County, California

WHERE TO STAY IN DEL NORTE COUNTY

Truly unwind with riverfront – and playful otter – views at Xaa-wan’-k’wvt Village and Resort. Cook up your own dinner delights in one of their fully-updated guest rooms with a kitchenette. Spend the day enjoying the resort’s Smith River access including swimming, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking. A boat dock is also in the works! For more activities and relaxation, resort guests can enjoy Lucky 7 Hotel & Casino’s amenities including a geothermal pool.

WHERE TO EAT IN DEL NORTE COUNTY
After a full day of swimming, follow the call of mouth watering Mexican from Lolita’s Taqeria in Smith River. No frills and yet all good, the menu does not disappoint from the locally-loved fish tacos to the homemade tamales. For a classic yet delicious meal, Howonquet Restaurant in Lucky 7 Casino delivers on breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bite into a Kobe beef cheeseburger or load up at the bountiful salad bar.

SEE MORE OF DEL NORTE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

3.  LAKE HOP IN LAKE COUNTY TO FIND YOUR FAVORITE SWIM N’ LOUNGE SPOT

Grab the beloved rope swing at Blue Lakes and swing over turquoise-colored water. Swim the day away in spring-fed waters or rent a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard. Play around at Highland Springs Recreation Area, a 3,200 acre watershed with hiking, fishing, disc golf, and of course, swimming! Fire up the grill for an afternoon BBQ. Soak up some rays at the Swim Beach at Clear Lake State Park. California’s largest freshwater lake is a sprawling paradise of beautiful water and lakeside fun. Retreat to Harbin Hot Springs to soak in choose-your-temperature natural spring pools and fully disconnect in nature. Discover for yourself why Harbin Hot Springs has been voted one of the top 10 spas in the world. 

Find a rope swing and dive into Lake County, California's lakes!

A view at waters edge of Harbin Hot Springs with the sun setting

Soak at Harbin Hot Springs in Lake County, California, rated one of the 10 best spas in the world!

WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE COUNTY
Escape to The Lodge at Blue Lakes for a lakeside refuge with spectacular mountain views. Rest your head in a newly remodeled guest room with great amenities including a few with kitchenettes. Choose from a lake view or mountain view. Cruise Blue Lakes’ inviting waters on an electric boat you can rent from the lodge. This is an ideal place to unwind and nestle into lakeside nature. 

WHERE TO EAT IN LAKE COUNTY
Fall in love with elevated pub fare at the beautifully restored Blue Wing Saloon. From rescued redwood wainscotting to a heated veranda, this eatery’s vibes are as good as the menu. Tear through a rack of ribs or jambalaya. Savor delicious wines or a vegetarian dish. Or just swing in for a drink, cozying up to the black walnut bar and sipping a speciality Blue Wing Saloon cocktail or mocktail.

4. COOL OFF IN A BLUE-GREEN OASIS IN HUMBOLDT COUNTY

Meander under sky-scraping redwood trees along the Trillium Falls Trail in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (part of the Redwood National and State Parks). Pass delicate trillium blossoms along this easy 2.8-mile loop and listen to the gentle babble of an enchanting waterfall. 

Begin your hunt for swimming holes and Bigfoot) on Highway 299.  Bask in the warm mountain sun or jump from a rock into the cool waters of the sparkling Trinity River, in one of Willow Creek’s many swimming holes

Grab your floaties and sunscreen (and kayak) and head over to the Eel River in Richardson Grove State Park near Garberville. Lay a picnic on your blanket and enjoy a beach surrounded by rocky outcroppings. Or cross the seasonal footbridge over to swimming hole bliss. 

Trillium Falls Hiking Trail in Orick, California, part of Humboldt County

Two kids jumping from the rocks at Willow Creek's swimming hole in Humboldt County, California.

Jump from the rocks at a sweet swimming hole near the town Willow Creek on the Trinity River

WHERE TO STAY IN HUMBOLDT COUNTY
Truly unwind off the beaten track.  Coho Cottages, perched on the side of a mountain, offer a serene escape of luxurious bungalows with oversized tiled showers, heated floors, and soaking tubs. Enjoy the many amenities or explore the stunning natural surroundings. Relax in the screened in porch, play in the community garden, or grill a meal on the outdoor BBQs. 

WHERE TO EAT IN HUMBOLDT COUNTY
After a day swimming in the sun, dive into delicious fare at Raging Creek Pub & Eatery. Grab a quick salad for lunch or stay a while enjoying live music and dinner. Sample a rotating menu of burgers and local brews served by super friendly staff in a relaxed pub atmosphere. To order like a local, go with the famous hand cut fries, plus fish tacos or the “Slayer Burger.”