Jump in, the water's fine at local swimming holes

Puget Sound offers variety of swimming holes with amenities for whole family

rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.comJuly 18, 2014 

You can’t get much better than summer in the Pacific Northwest: warm, dry days, long evenings, cool breezes. It’s perfect swimming weather, and luckily for South Sounders, there are a lot of choices when it comes to ditching the chlorine and diving into lakes, rivers or even Puget Sound.

Here are our eight favorite swimming holes. Decide what kind of swimmer you are, and take your pick. (Oh, and read the accompanying story on safe swimming, too.)


Madison Park Beach, Lake Washington, Seattle

OK, so this one’s not technically in the South Sound. But it’s worth the drive north for a lot of reasons: There are two diving boards on a floating pontoon, plenty of sand, lifeguards and even small waves thrown up by bigger boats. (This makes for fun thrills while you’re wobbling up on the high dive.) You can even dig for tiny freshwater clams at about waist depth. Kids and tennis players will love the park behind. Hip restaurants abound, the city views are sweet, and there’s great people-watching, too.

Where: East Madison and Howe streets, Seattle (take Madison Street exit off Interstate 5)

Information: seattle.gov/parks

Hours: noon-7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends through Sept. 1 for lifeguards

Cost: Free

Water temperature: Chilly

Restrooms: Too small

Food/drink: Plenty of cafes and restaurants on nearby Madison Street

Tips: Bring water shoes for kids; the pebbles are sharp. There’s a tough swim test for kids who want to swim out to the pontoon.

Downside: Can get crowded on a warm day (especially the parking lot). Lots of seaweed.


Allan Yorke Park, Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake

Allan Yorke Park not only has great swimming, but it’s got plenty for nonswimmers, too. A square dock closes off a shallow swimming area but allows better swimmers to jump off the other side. In front of the grassy, shaded picnic area is a curvy lake wall where nonswimmers can dangle their legs in the water to cool off. There’s no lifeguard, but there are free life jackets for kids. With a volleyball court by the lake, an awesome skate park just behind and tennis courts, everyone will have plenty of fun.

Where: 7203 W. Tapps Highway E., Bonney Lake

Information: ci.bonney-lake.wa.us

Hours: Dawn until dusk

Cost: Free

Water temperature: Cool

Restrooms: Reasonable

Food/drink: Excellent concession stand (profits help food bank); also grills

Tips: Come before 1:30 p.m. for the closest parking.


Harry Todd Park, American Lake, Lakewood

This lake beach is just down the road from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It’s obviously a popular place, crammed with picnickers and parking-lot tailgate parties on a hot Sunday afternoon. Within the dock area, there’s plenty of swimming room and a roped-off shallow section, plus a lifeguard and a bit of sand where you can watch personal watercraft roar up and down American Lake. There’s a small playground and an old-school skate park (metal quarter-pipes and rails).

Where: 8928 N. Thorne Lane SW, Lakewood

Information: cityoflakewood.us

Hours: 7:30 a.m.-sunset

Cost: Free

Water temperature: Cool

Restrooms: Adequate

Food/drink: Bring your own

Downside: Duck poop all over the grass. Noisy and crowded, especially the parking lot.


Kenneydell Park, Black Lake, Olympia

With 40 acres of green, sweet-smelling forest and rush-edged beach, Kenneydell Park west of Tumwater wins the prize for most sylvan swimming hole – until you get out of the car and hear the roaring of the personal watercraft on the private side of the lake. If you can ignore this, the small, pebbly beach, with its dock and grassy edge, makes for pleasant swimming.

Where: 6745 SW Fairview Road, Olympia

Information: co.thurston.wa.us/parks

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Cost: Free

Water temperature: Reasonable

Restrooms: Adequate

Food/drink: Bring your own; there are grills

Tips: Bring your own floating devices and fish nets.

Downside: Noisy boats and water scooters across the lake.


Dash Point State Park, Federal Way

Dogs, kids and skimboarders love Dash Point. With a vast expanse of flat mud at low tide and a meandering stream, it’s one of the prime skimboarding locales on Puget Sound. Plus, with a west-facing shallow depth, it’s one of the few Sound beaches that won’t freeze your toes off. There’s no lifeguard, but the water is calm. You can also camp and hike, and watch the sun set over Maury Island.

Where: 5700 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way

Information: parks.wa.gov/496/Dash-Point

Hours: 8 a.m.-dusk

Cost: $10 park entry ($30/year Discover Pass)

Water temperature: Cool

Restrooms: Small, dirty

Food/drink: Bring your own

Tips: Look for where the skimboarders already are, and wait your turn. Find sand dollars by the stream and clams under the sand. Go at low tide; the beach disappears at high tide.

Downside: Mud and seaweed can be icky. Cold outside shower.


Sandstone Quarry Pool, Tenino

Whoever had the idea to fill Tenino’s long-disused sandstone quarry with fresh water should get a medal. To swim beneath towering, squared-off walls, with overhanging trees and a crystal-clear waterfall, is incredible enough. To know that the pool descends some 150 feet (with leftover machinery down in the depths) is astounding. In the deep pool are two diving boards and lifeguards. The enormous shallow pool is stone-floored and 3 feet deep everywhere. The water’s freezing, but it’s worth every shiver.

Where: Howard Street, Tenino

Information: ci.tenino.wa.us/quarry-pool

Hours: noon-7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through August

Cost: $1.50 for Tenino School District residents; $3.50 for those out of district

Water temperature: Very cold

Restrooms: Tiny and lacking privacy

Food/drink: Bring your own, although there are cafes and restaurants two blocks away on the main street.

Tips: Definitely swim to the waterfall — it’s worth it. Use the restroom before you get there. The Yelm-Tenino bike trail goes right past the pool if you need more exercise.

Downside: There’s not much space to sit and very little shade.


Deep Lake, Millersylvania State Park, south Thurston County

If you’re looking for warm water and few crowds, this is the place to come. Millersylvania is a state park and campground, but you can just pay the day fee and swim in Deep Lake, which stretches out some 30 yards at waist depth with pleasantly warm water. Kayak, pedal boat and paddleboard rentals are offered at $15 an hour, letting you explore the rush-edged lake with tranquil hills on the horizon. Rent an inner tube for $3, or just hang out under the old-growth firs and cedars at a shady picnic table.

Where: 12245 Tilley Road S., Olympia

Information: parks.wa.gov/546/Millersylvania

Hours: 6:30 a.m.-dusk

Cost: $10 park entry ($30/year Discover Pass)

Water temperature: Warm-ish

Restrooms: Excellent

Food/drink: Good concession stand

Tips: Try out the kayaks/paddleboards.

Downside: Water a little murky at times.


Lowell Johnson Park (Ol’ Swimming Hole), Lake Florence, Anderson Island

Anderson Island’s Ol’ Swimming Hole is the hidden gem of the South Sound lake scene. Separated from Steilacoom by a 20-minute ferry ride, the Lake Florence public beach is quiet, surrounded by forest and with very few boats to disturb the peace. But if you’re looking for water adventure, it’s all here: a pontoon for high flips and jumps, another with a slide; one more slide on the kiddie dock leading to the shallow section; and another dock for deeper jumping or diving. Then there’s the volleyball court and plenty of sand for sculpting. Just don’t miss the ferry home. There’s nowhere to stay on the island unless you own a home there.

Where: Guthrie Road, Anderson Island (from the ferry, follow Yoman Road uphill and turn left at Harbor Road, right at Guthrie Road)

Information: andersonislandparks.org, ferry schedule at co.pierce.wa.us

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Cost: Free, but ferry is about $35 for car, driver and passengers

Water temperature: Cool to chilly

Restrooms: Reasonable and clean

Food/drink: Bring your own, or stock up at the general store on Eckenstam Johnson Road

Tips: Ride your bike to save on ferry fees. Bring a volleyball. Pick blackberries while you wait for the ferry home.

Downside: Gets crowded on holiday weekends.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568

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