Hiking + Swimming Spots for Summer

It’s August already! How can this be? There were big plans here to write lots of posts about amazing outside adventures for the summer– and then, summer happened. However, it’s not too late to take advantage of one of our favorite combos– hiking + swimming spots. Hiking before swimming allows you to go park at swimming places before the crowds get there, work up a good sweat (and get hot) before jumping in to cool off. Below, we offer a few of our favorite combos.

(Added note: several places have per-person entrance fees (Contra Loma, Lake Anza, Roberts Park), some have parking fees (Del Valle, main entrance to Henry Cowell). Check ahead for current pricing schedule. The one completely free hiking + swimming option on this list is Steep Ravine/Stinson Beach.)

First, places that are guaranteed to be hot in the summer:

IMG_5267Del Valle Regional Park:

Del Valle is out of Livermore, and it can be hot-hot-hot in the summer. There are two swimming beaches at Del Valle– our preferred beach is West Swim Beach, but if you want to park the car for hiking and not move it before swimming, your best bet is to park at the East Swim Beach lot and then hike up the Lake View or Ridgeline trails. There are a few trails out of West Swim Beach (notably the Sailor Camp trail, which connects to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail– amazing but also a very challenging uphill trail), but they are either very short & mellow (Deer Jaw trail follows the lake) or extremely tough.

Contra Loma/Black Diamond Mines:

We LOVE swimming at Contra Loma. This isn’t a real lake, but it’s a fake lagoon with chlorinated water. It has clean sand and a shallow area great for small kiddos that gradually turns into a deeper section for older swimmers. You could do a short hike around the fishing reservoir, or add on a few of the shorter hikes in Contra Loma, or head into Black Diamond Mines and figure out a more challenging loop. Just remember– one of the great things about Contra Loma is that it gets very hot– which means that hiking, even in the morning, will require water. As an important note, we discovered an amazing ice cream store just on the road into Contra Loma– Maya’s. If you head out to Contra Loma, don’t miss this delicious ice cream stop!

IMG_7181Henry Cowell Redwoods/San Lorenzo River

Read more about our recent trip to Henry Cowell here. The San Lorenzo River goes through the park, providing multiple opportunities for wading/swimming. The most popular swimming spot is the Garden of Eden, but we liked Frisbee Beach (park at Rincon Road and head down to the river) as well. Big Rock Hole is another place to check out from the Rincon Road lot. Be aware that some river crossings might be tough with small kiddos– Henry Cowell doesn’t do bridges. Plan accordingly. You can start at the main parking lot and get to Cable Car Beach, or start from the campground and hike a little further to get to the river than the Rincon Road trailhead, if you’re wanting to add in more hiking.

May be hot, may be not:

IMG_2271Lake Anza/Tilden Regional Park:

This is a well-known spot for swimming, with multiple hiking trails surrounding. We have started parking at Lone Oak and then hiking the mile to Lake Anza, swimming and hiking back to Lone Oak. This avoids the crush of sunny-day parking at Lake Anza, which can be excessive. If you park at Lake Anza though, a quick loop around the Lake could work for tiny hikers, or you could head up to Sea View via a number of different trails if you have stronger hikers. Lake Anza, like the rest of the East Bay on the west side of the tunnel, can be warm or fogged in during the summer.

Roberts Recreational Area

I just love Roberts. Roberts Park has a regular, chlorinated pool, but it’s a nice pool with a grassy area to picnic upon and trails that hook up to Redwood Regional Park, which means the possibilities for hiking are fairly endless. (Try hopping on Graham trail, heading to Redwood Bowl and then either taking Redwood Peak or spending some time on French Trail, one of the most beautiful trails in the Bay Area.) Additionally, the parking lot for Roberts Park is gets filled fast on the weekend– getting there for a hike in the morning, pre-swimming weather, means you could beat the crowds.

IMG_7127Steep Ravine/Stinson Beach

This is one of those spots that may be hot… or not. On warm days, Stinson Beach is fantastic. On cold days, it requires a down jacket, or at the very least, a good fleece. That said, trails abound out of Stinson. One caveat to hiking out of Stinson– you will do a lot of climbing, so be prepared for some hills. Matt Davis, Steep Ravine (pictured above) and the Dipsea trail are all beautiful, challenging trails. However, finishing a tough hike and getting to swim at Stinson on a warm day makes you appreciate the wonders of the Bay Area.

IMG_2873Bass Lake/Pt Reyes

Again, see Stinson Beach caveat– Point Reyes could be brilliant, with sparkly blue ocean, sun beating down as you hike through verdant beauty… or it could be fleece-necessary weather. Point Reyes is always beautiful, even if it’s cloudy and cold, but swimming weather is not guaranteed. That said, Bass Lake is 2.7 miles from the Palomarin trailhead, and it’s a swimming delight. It’s also a swimming delight for a LOT of the Bay Area, so you won’t have the place to yourself if it’s a weekend and the weather is good. (Also, in full transparency– this picture is not actually of the Palomarin trail. It’s Point Reyes, but of Sunset Beach, out of the Estero trailhead.)

Cull Canyon

So this is the only place on this list that we have not visited in many, many moons. (We also haven’t swum in Bass Lake, but the trail is familiar.) However, Cull Canyon has a well-loved lagoon and you can jump on the Chabot-to-Garin trail for your pre-swimming miles, if the trail leading around the water isn’t enough. This is another very popular spot, so getting there early enough to hike before swimming will ensure a parking spot– not always a guarantee at peak swimming hours.

There you have it– eight options that combine hiking with swimming, with various kinds of water (ocean, lake, pool, river…). Get to one of them before the weather turns, and let us know in the comments– are there other hiking/swimming options in the Bay Area we missed? What should our families know about?

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