5 spots to river snorkel in California – San Francisco Chronicle
For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here. Put on a diving mask and you can transform your favorite summer swimming hole into a magic underwater kingdom. Add a snorkel or scuba gear and the conversion is complete. All you need to know are the five best
For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here.
Put on a diving mask and you can transform your favorite summer swimming hole into a magic underwater kingdom. Add a snorkel or scuba gear and the conversion is complete.
All you need to know are the five best destinations for swimming, snorkeling or scuba diving at rivers in the Sierra Nevada and Northern California.
The sensory experiences are far different than what many expect. The first thing is the sound, where the river surrounds you with quiet amid a muted surge of the nearby flows. The next surprise is the fish. In rivers, the trout are far smaller than most expect to see.
In one encounter, we dived in a pool of a feeder creek that fed a major river. It is one of my favorite fishing spots and I’d always wondered what it would look like underwater with snorkel gear. To our surprise, there were about 100 trout — in a 150-foot radius where stream water fed into the head of the pool — and it seemed almost all of them were about 3 to 4 inches. A few were bigger, like maybe 6- to 7-inchers, and there was one 12-incher, and nothing bigger.
When you snorkel or dive, the clarity is always a wild card. In most cases, as summer flows arrive and rivers settle out, underwater clarity viewed through a diving mask can extend 20 to 30 feet, and as much as 50 feet in the more pristine locations.
One thing is for sure: When you combine snorkeling or diving with your favorite swimming hole or fishing spot in Northern California, you will never look at a river quite the same. Here are the five best:
Quartz Point/Yuba River, Downieville: The best two spots on the North Yuba River are just east of Downieville. The best is out of Union Flat Campground, 6 miles east of Downieville, located just above Quartz Point. As summer takes hold and the Yuba settles down, you can cruise Highway 49 and find these big, deep pools, edged by outcrops and large boulders. Clear emerald green water makes for an excellent aqua view. The bottom of the river is a boulder field, where small trout often stage in the pocket water behind the boulders, as well as along the edges of tail-outs that feed the pools. Another excellent pool is 3 miles east of Downieville, a short walk from Sierra Shangri-la Resort, and most who rent a cabin there will find their way to it. Contact: Tahoe National Forest, Yuba River Ranger District, 530-288-3231, www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe.
Rainbow Pool/Tuolumne River, Groveland: This is one of the most famous swimming holes in the Sierra. What you will find is a small but pretty waterfall that pours over a granite rim and into a wide pool. It’s a rite of passage for kids to jump off the rim and into the pool. With snorkeling gear and an underwater video, you can capture the big leap both above and below water. The pool itself has a mostly sand bottom and seems devoid of fish. It is located five minutes from Groveland off Highway 120. Contact: Stanislaus National Forest, Groveland District, 209-962-7825, www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus.
Boards Crossing/Stanislaus River, Dorrington: Boards Crossing is a road and bridge routed across the Stanislaus River out of Dorrington on Highway 4, a short distance from Calaveras Big Trees State Park. A dirt parking area is available on the shoulder on the right, just before the bridge. The beauty of this spot can be discovered with a short walk downstream around a bend, where you find a deep pool on your right. This is a freestone stream where the Stanislaus runs through boulder gardens and pools. If you snorkel, you can watch your kids swim or the occasional raft float by, paddles dipping into water. When many first see this stretch of river, you might figure it is loaded with big trout. Nope. Just a handful of dinkers. Contact: Stanislaus National Forest, Calaveras Ranger District, 209-795-1381, www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus.
Cattle Camp/McCloud River, McCloud: This swimming hole is nestled in a small gorge, edged by short limestone walls. The water is pristine, clear, cold and emerald green. Off Highway 89, a signed turnoff for the McCloud River Loop leads to Cattle Camp and a signed turnoff for the Cattle Camp Swimming Hole. Underwater, you see clear water rushing over boulders, with small trout often located in pocket water and where miniature white-water riffles pour into slicks. The water is cold, but that doesn’t stop many. Contact: Shasta-Trinity National Forest, McCloud Ranger District, 530-964-2184, www.fs.usda.gov/stnf.
Tish Tang/Klamath River, Hoopa Valley: The water at Tish Tang on the lower Klamath in summer is often like a swimming pool. With an underwater camera, you can film your family or friends or dog — underwater. Tish Tang is a Forest Service campground that is set on an extended peninsula on the Klamath River. The river horseshoes around the peninsula, and in the process has scoured out a deep, slow-moving swimming hole. The shore is sandy and slopes out gently into the river, making it great for youngsters (and dogs) to work their way in without facing a sudden drop-off. In mid-August through September, it’s common for runs of steelhead in the 12- to 16-inch class, what we call half-pounders, to migrate through in large numbers past Tish Tang to points upstream. Contact: Hoopa Tribal Council, 707-672-6018, www.hoopaforestry.com/campground.html.
Tom Stienstra is The Chronicle’s outdoor writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @StienstraTom Facebook: www.facebook.com/tomstienstraoutdoors
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