Swimming holes are a great place to make splash
Summer’s finally here – but before you pack up the towels and head to the nearest chlorinated pool, think again. The Puget Sound area is dotted with swimming holes, some urban, some so off-the-beaten-track you’ll have to bring your own picnic. Some are lakes, others a stone quarry or saltwater beach. All reach swimmable temperatures this month. One thing they all have in common – they’re surrounded by the natural beauty that Washington does so well. Read on and start planning.
Ol’ Swimming Hole, Anderson Island
Lowell Johnson Park, 114th Avenue and Guthrie Road, Anderson Island
Peopled mostly by locals and vacationers in-the-know, this west-facing beach on Lake Florence is a hidden gem, quiet and with swimming opportunities that go from a miniature toddler pool and dock (right-hand beach) to deep-water pontoons. The rest of Anderson Island is also worth exploring, from Puget Sound beaches to the historical Johnson Farm Museum. Or rent a vacation home and stay longer.
Kids bored waiting for the ferry? On the Steilacoom side, head for the park at the top of the ferry line or grab snacks at the cafe opposite. On the island side, wander down to the front of the line and pick blackberries at the fence.
Getting there: Take the ferry from Steilacoom (allow plenty of time for parking in the line and walking down to buy your ticket from the dock office), then drive up the hill and turn left on Harbor Drive, then right on Guthrie Drive. Riding your bike onto the ferry saves money, though it’s quite a hilly mile up to the lake.
Timing: The lake can be chilly, so wait until mid-afternoon on a warm day to let the sun heat things up. Check ferry times, and don’t miss the last boat off the island.
Eating: Bring your own, including water, or pick up some picnic supplies from the island’s only grocery store, 11012 Eckenstam Johnson Road (about a mile past the Harbor Drive turnoff). The only place to eat out is the Riviera Lakeshore Restaurant on Lake Josephine, 11019 Country Club Drive.
Playing: There’s a volleyball net and a pontoon for sunning about 25 feet out from the dock. Sadly, the slides and jumping tower have long gone.
Facilities: New restrooms offer clean changing areas, a big improvement on the old Honey Bucket. There are a few picnic tables, but no lifeguard.
Lake Washington (Madison Park beach)
East Madison and East Howe streets, Seattle
This is where you swim if you like the fine life. Without paying Madison Valley’s high home prices you can enjoy trendy restaurants, shopping and a beach that’s sandy and not too cold. The water’s roped off to adult-chest depth, and there are even small waves when the speedboats rush by. Watch the beautiful people, stare at the traffic on the floating Evergreen Point bridge and even dive for freshwater clams just beyond the pebbly water’s edge.
Getting there: Super easy. From Interstate 5 take the Madison Street exit just before downtown Seattle and drive to the end of the road. Street parking can be tricky, especially on weekend afternoons.
Timing: Don’t leave too late in the day for this east-facing beach; it gets shady and cold by about 4 p.m. The park closes at 11:30 p.m.
Eating: No need for a picnic when all the hip Madison Valley restaurants await you. Try Mexican tapas at Cactus, Irish fare at McGilvra’s, the sweet treats at the Madison Valley Bakery (closes 6 p.m.) or ice cream farther up the main street near Mad Pizza.
Playing: One of Seattle’s best children’s playgrounds is right behind the beach, plus tennis courts.
Facilities: A small restroom offers a changing area but no shower. There’s also a lifeguard, and a floating pontoon and diving board for showing off your stunts (swim test necessary).
Lake Washington (Newcastle Beach Park)
4400 Lake Washington Blvd. S.E., Bellevue
Of Lake Washington beaches, this is a particularly warm one in the late afternoons if you want to work on your tan. A 300-foot dock is great for jumping off (swim test necessary), and a shallow area is roped off for kids’ safety. Plenty of sand and a playground make for a fun day.
Getting there: From the south, turn off I-5 onto state Route 405, then take Exit 9 (112th Avenue Southeast). Turn west toward Lake Washington, then right onto Lake Washington Blvd.
Timing: Afternoon is the warmest time for this west-facing beach, though on a very hot day the water gets a bit soupy and the parking stretches way up the hill. Closes at dusk.
Eating: Bring your own, though in late August you can wander back up the road to pick wild blackberries.
Playing: The playground is big and good for small children.
Facilities: The restrooms are large and fairly clean. There are picnic tables and lifeguards.
Quarry Pool, Tenino
City Park, 100 Howard St. N, Tenino
A waterfall dripping down a towering, ferny wall … fresh water in a dark pool as deep as the forest is high … a sleepy Wild West town. That would be the Quarry Pool in Tenino, beloved by those in the know as one of the coolest (literally) dips around.
Set in an out-of-use stone quarry just east of Tenino, the spring-fed swimming hole is managed by the city and surrounded by lightly forested park. The shallow three-feet kiddies’ pool is chlorinated, but the large one that stretches up to 100 feet deep below those high stone walls is as fresh and cold as they come, just waiting for you to back-flip off the diving boards.
Getting there: From I-5 south take Exit 102, turning left onto Trosper Road. Turn right onto Capitol Boulevard, straight onto Old Highway 99. At Tenino turn right onto East Sussex Street, left on Olympia Street and cross into City Park.
Timing: Noon-7 p.m. weekends.
Eating: You can picnic, but Tenino also has dining from El Puerto Mexican to 1950s-style diner Scotty B’s. Aunt Kate’s Chocolates serves up cool ice-creams and thick milkshakes, and the Old 99 Espresso and Diner does reasonable coffee and sweet cinnamon rolls. All are along Sussex Street, the town’s main drag. If you’re there on a Saturday you can shop the farmers market from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Tenino Elementary.
Playing: The park also offers play equipment (including a huge dome), enormous leftover stone blocks for exploring, sports fields, hiking, fire rings, shelters and camping. A bike trail to Yelm begins in the park, going past the Monarch Sculpture Garden.
Facilities: There are restrooms and showers, and a lifeguard. Entry fee is $3.50, or $1.50 for Tenino residents. As of printing, the City of Tenino still needed donations to fund the waterfall pump and open on schedule this weekend. The pool will stay open all summer depending on funds: Call 360-264-2368 before visiting to make sure it is.
Dash Point Beach
5700 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way
This is one of the few Puget Sound beaches actually warm enough for swimming. A bucolic stream meanders past the parking lot, along the walkway and out into the beach, where the perfect combination of west-facing orientation, forested backdrop and an extremely shallow depth make for reasonable temperatures, though there can be a lot of seaweed.
Getting there: Turn into Dash Point State Park at the sign and pay the $10 daily parking fee (a $30 Discovery Pass will last you one year at all state parks). The beach is a 100-foot walk by the stream from the parking lot.
Timing: This beach is best in the afternoon, when a warm sun can make you think you’re in more southerly climes. But don’t get there too late on a hot day or there won’t be a parking spot. High tide means more water, low tide means warmer water and other possibilities such as dog walking, skimboarding and sand dollar hunting. Beach access closes at 8:30 p.m.
Eating: Bring your own food. There are about 20 picnic tables and some handy logs, plus a couple of barbecues.
Playing: Dash Point is one of Puget Sound’s premier skimboarding beaches. There are also hikes in the state park forest and good critter-hunting at low tide. Don’t eat the clams.
Facilities: Basic restrooms at the beach allow changing, plus an outdoor shower for the sand. You can also camp across the road for a longer stay.
Mashel River, Eatonville
Smallwood Park, Mashel Avenue South, Eatonville
Here’s the place the locals like to play on hot days, and for good reason. The Mashel forms a series of shallow and deep pools separated by rocks and logjams put there by the Nisqually tribe to create salmon habitat – perfect for swimming, sunning or wandering. Sun-lovers can relax on the bench at the top of the bluff, while swimmers can clamber down the rocks and into the clear, cool water. Those with toddlers might like to cross on the rocks higher up to reach the far shallow shore, and the really adventurous (and strong swimmers) can jump off the overhanging log into the deep pool (always swim it first to check for underwater snags).
Getting there: Head south out of Eatonville and turn left just after the river bridge. From the far parking lot, veer left to the sign and climb down the rocks to the bank.
Timing: Any time of day is good for this spot.
Eating: Bring your own food for a picnic, including water, or head back into town for dining choices that range from elk or boar burgers at Bruno’s to delicious pastries at the bakery.
Playing: Smallwood Park has 26 acres of forest and park, including hiking trails and a kids’ fishing pond. Across the river in Mill Pond Park there’s a play structure and the historic stage-coach cabin.
Facilities: There’s no where to change at the river: Come prepared, and drive back over the river to Mill Pond Park for restrooms.