California is known for its dry, dusty, and legendary deserts, as well as it’s miles and miles of pristine coastline. When you think surfer, you think California. When you think Joshua Trees and succulents? California as well.
But the state also boasts a diverse collection of beautiful lakes and watering holes. To some more experienced in the space, these may sound familiar, like Lake Tahoe and Hatchet Falls, but what about the ones that fly under the radar?
This guide uncovers five of California’s best little-known, must-swim lakes, falls and pools that will leave your friends and Instagram followers begging to know where you found that little, secluded sweet spot.
Aztec Falls is a fantastic California oasis tucked inside Deep Creek Canyon in the San Bernardino National Forest.
An easy 1.3-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail will lead you to these refreshingly cool waters and magnificent rocks perfect for lounging and sunbathing.
Aztec Falls is also surrounded by monumental stonewalls up to 40-feet high. Daredevils take advantage of these for cliff jumping into the deep pool below. The best time to discover this watering hole is during the spring and summer, however the summer season can get crowded.
Cleo’s Bath is almost too good to be true. Located via the Pinecrest Lake Loop in Stanislaus National Forest, this fantastic watering hole is a refreshing reward after a challenging, yet gorgeously scenic, 6-mile trek.
Don’t be intimidated by the strenuous hike, as it shows off California’s breathtaking beauty and rewards you with crystal clear, rarely crowded pools and a modest waterfall.
Unfortunately this swimming hole can’t be enjoyed year round and should be avoided during winter when it snows and late summer when the water level is low. A word to the wise: Bring bug spray for the hike and leave the kids at home.
Fallen Leaf Lake
Everyone knows the splendor and awe of Lake Tahoe. Snowfed, high-altitude pristine waters that attract Olympic skiers to Squaw and former Olympic swimmers to the Trans-Tahoe relay.
But it’s smaller neighbor, Fallen Leaf Lake is just as gorgeous, cold, and pristine with ninety-percent less people.
Replete with its own marina, Fallen Leaf Lake is accessible via Emerald Bay road in South Lake Tahoe. While you may think that most people would avoid the crowds for a mountain lake with great views, but they don’t.
Enjoy the resources and nightlife of Lake Tahoe with a fraction of the crowds and noise during the day at Fallen Leaf Lake.
Potem Falls is unlike anywhere else in California and words will hardly do it justice. This wonderfully picturesque, and surprisingly lonely, watering hole can be uncovered in Shasta National Recreation Area after a breezy 0.4-mile hike.
It’s comprised of a stunning mix of nature’s elements: Rock, vegetation and a dazzling 70-foot water that cascades into emerald waters. The best part of Potem Falls, aside from the rope swing, is how few visitors are in on its secret, allowing for uninterrupted peace of mind.
Located on the southern end of the magical stretch of PCH called Big Sur, Limekiln Falls isn’t the most secluded but one you’ll want to explore.
While everyone is hightailing it to McWay Falls in Pfeiffer Burns, Limekiln is a crystal clear creek that dumps onto fallen coastal redwoods, sugar pines, and slick rocks.
Enjoy some of the other trails connected to Limekiln campground and journey back here to cool off, or use this as a way point to have some fun while you meander up the PCH. Either way, a redwood waterfall is always worth the visit.
As you pick your own watery adventure, keep in mind that cannabis use can be risky in the outdoors. It’s true, enjoying the plant while drying off in the sun from swimming all day is, in fact, perfect, but we recommend not using any open flames in a dry state such as California.
Instead, please consider packing a vape pen or an edible to consume while enjoying the one-of-a-kind magic that is the California wilderness. It’ll be just as fun and Smokey the Bear will be much happier you did.