Outdoors

Our guide to the 8 best swimming holes from Chehalis to Seattle

Jump In: Eight of the best swimming holes in the South Puget Sound

Two waterfalls. Three lakes. A river, a stone quarry, an island. The South Sound is full of magical places to swim outdoors, and with the hot summer you have no excuse.
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Two waterfalls. Three lakes. A river, a stone quarry, an island. The South Sound is full of magical places to swim outdoors, and with the hot summer you have no excuse.

Four lakes. A river with a waterfall. A stone quarry. Two Puget Sound beaches. An island. Who needs chlorinated pools when we have so many gorgeous natural swimming holes in the South Sound? (Well, all right, one’s in Seattle. But it’s worth it.) And with record temperatures this summer, you just don’t have any excuse.

Pack up your towel and swimsuit, and maybe a picnic, and read on to discover eight of the best South Sound swimming spots ever.

WARM SALTWATER PARADISE

Twanoh State Park, Hood Canal

Washington State Parks bills Twanoh as one of the warmest saltwater beaches in the state, thanks to its location midway along Hood Canal — and it may be right. With clear green water on a sun-filled, pebbly beach backed by forested hills, Twanoh makes perfect swimming for anyone, from toddlers plopped into the water’s edge to bonneted grannies basking waist-deep or teenagers egging each other on to jump from the dock into water so clear you can see schools of fish and the oyster-shelled bottom 10 feet down.

With shaded picnic tables spreading back into the forest, oodles of shoreline and even tennis courts, Twanoh never feels crowded. Float back in that warm (-ish) salt water, shut your eyes against the sun and pretend you’re somewhere exotic.

Where: 12190 E. state Route 106, Union.

Information: 360-275-2222, parks.wa.gov/294/Twanoh.

Hours: 6:30 a.m.-dusk.

Cost: State Discover Pass, $10 per day, $30 annual.

Water temperature: Pleasantly cool.

Restrooms: Big and clean.

Food/drink: Bring your own.

Tips: Don’t forget flip flops or water shoes — those oyster shells are sharp. Ideal for floating toys, kayaks or stand-up paddle boards. An umbrella is useful as there’s not much shade right by the beach.

Downside: No sand.

SECLUDED PICNIC WATERHOLE

Rainbow Falls State Park, Chehalis

This swimming hole’s one of the farthest away from the Tacoma-Olympia corridor, but that just makes it all the more special when you get there. Down the winding rural state Route 6 from Chehalis and out of cellphone reach, you’ll find this quiet state park with a river running through old-growth forest. Change into swimsuits in the day-use area, then walk to the South Fork Chehalis River, which tumbles over small rocky falls into a meditative pool. The waterside rocks are bumpy but do soak up the sun, which you’ll need after your clear, cold dip among tiny green fish. Done swimming? Hike the forest or just enjoy the tranquility — though you might not see the rainbow.

Where: 4008 state Route 6, Chehalis.

Information: 360-291-3767, parks.wa.gov/570/Rainbow-Falls.

Hours: 6:30 a.m.-dusk.

Cost: Discover Pass.

Water temperature: Cold.

Restrooms: Only two, but they’re big and clean.

Food/drink: Bring your own bread and fruit, and stop by the cheese dairies along Route 6 to get the makings of a gourmet picnic.

Tips: Make it a day trip and come prepared with food and water. No lifeguard.

Downside: A scramble down to the river and a slippery rock ledge into water with slight current — not suitable for very young swimmers or those with mobility issues.

ACTIVE FAMILY FUN

Lake Tapps (Allan Yorke Park), Bonney Lake

It’s not the best swimming experience in the South Sound, but it’s the only one that comes with this many extras: a big skatepark with three bowls (including a beginner-level one), tennis and basketball courts, a beach volleyball area and a playground. The concession stand (10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekends and event days, 1-8 p.m. weekdays) offers an array of hot and cold drinks, junk food and meals at reasonable prices with super-friendly service. There’s an entire schedule of summer entertainment in the park. Play hard, cool off, repeat.

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

Information: ci.bonney-lake.wa.us.

Hours: Dawn-dusk.

Cost: Free.

Water temperature: Chilly.

Restrooms: Small but adequate.

Food/drink: Comprehensive and cheap concession stand.

Tips: No lifeguard. You can borrow life jackets. Be aware that this year the lake is lower than usual, and take the no-diving rule seriously — the water just outside the dock area is only 6 feet deep. Get there early on hot weekend days to find a parking spot.

Downside: Occasional dogs in the water. Not enough parking on warm weekends.

DIVING INTO A COOL SCENE

Madison Beach, Lake Washington, Seattle

Seattle has quite a few beaches, but this one’s worth the drive for many reasons: two diving boards on a floating pontoon, plenty of sand for the little ones, a grassy slope for sunbathing, lifeguards and even small waves thrown up by bigger boats. At the sandy end you can find freshwater clams at about waist-depth; at the seawall end you can alternate sunbathing with people-watching. Kids and tennis players will love the park behind; hip restaurants abound; and the floating bridge and construction cranes make cool scenery.

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 under 16 to swim out to the pontoon, and they’ll want goggles. Come before 3 p.m. for best sunshine.

Downside: Gets crowded on a warm day, especially parking. Lots of seaweed.

WARM WATER, NOISY BOATS

KenneyDell Park, Black Lake, Olympia

There’s a dock for jumping, pebbly beach for wading, enormous rush-edged swimming area for exploring and 40 acres of green, sweet-smelling forest for hiking. The only problem with KenneyDell park in Tumwater — and it’s a big one — is the Grand Prix roaring of personal watercraft on the private side of the lake. If you can ignore this, you can bask in one of the warmest swimming holes in the South Sound, with a lovely grassy slope and oodles of picnic shelters in the ferny woods behind.

Where: 6745 SW Fairview Road, Olympia.

Information: co.thurston.wa.us/parks.

Hours: 9 a.m.-dusk.

Cost: Free.

Water temperature: Comfortable.

Restrooms: Big and fairly clean.

Food/drink: Bring your own (there are grills). There’s a coffee stand at Littlerock Road and 70th Avenue Southwest.

Tips: Bring your own floating devices and fish nets for exploring. Life jackets available. No lifeguard.

Downside: Incredibly noisy watercraft across the lake — weekdays are slightly better.

SKIMMING, SPLASHING

Dash Point State Park, Federal Way

It’s one of those rare Puget Sound beaches that won’t freeze your toes off, but Dash Point has something else that’s even better: a stream that meanders over the vast expanse of flat mud at low tide, creating the perfect playground for toddlers, dogs and skimboarders. Little kids can find sand dollars by the stream and clams under the sand; bigger kids (and grown-ups) can throw down a board on one of Puget Sound’s premiere skimboarding locales. With a west-facing shallow depth, it’s cold but not impossible to swim, and the water is calm. You can also camp and hike there, 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: Discover Pass.

Water temperature: Cold.

Restrooms: Small, dirty.

Food/drink: Bring your own.

Tips: Look for where the skimboarders are and wait your turn. Or sign your kid up for a camp: DB Skimboards is running one Aug. 11-14; dbskimcamp.com. Go at low-mid tide; the beach disappears at high tide. No lifeguard. Go early for parking on hot weekends.

Downside: Mud and seaweed can be icky, water can be soupy and full of eelgrass. Cold outside shower.

WATERFALLS INTO STONE-COLD POOLS

Quarry pool, Tenino

A waterfall pouring over towering stone walls; lush ferns fringing deep green pools; brilliant sunshine and the mystery of a plunging 150-foot depth ... no, you’re not in Hawaii. You’re in Tenino, where some bright spark had the idea to fill a long-disused sandstone quarry with fresh water every summer.

Little kids love the expansive shallow pool, which is also slightly warmer; more adventurous types love the deep pool with its two diving boards, rocky edge and waterfall ledge. The water’s freezing, but it’s worth every shiver.

A block away in downtown Tenino, you’ll find a sleepy little country town with historic attractions (Train Depot Museum, Ticknor School House), ice cream and antique shops. Farther out, Cozy Valley Farm is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays for milk, eggs and more. cozyvalleyfarms.com.

Where: Howard Street, Tenino.

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

Hours: Noon-7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through Sept. 6.

Cost: $2 Tenino School District residents, $4 out-of-district residents.

Water temperature: Very cold.

Restrooms: Tiny and lacking privacy.

Food/drink: Bring your own (especially water); cafés and restaurants two blocks away on the main street.

Tips: There are lifeguards, and kids under 18 have to pass a swim test before entering the deep pool. Definitely swim to the waterfall. Use the restroom before you get there. The Yelm-Tenino Trail goes right past the pool, if you need more exercise. The adjacent park has a playground. Try the new Yellow Bicycle Project, where yellow bikes are free to check out for the day near city hall (visit Iron Works at 224 Sussex Avenue to check out).

Downside: There’s not much space to sit, and very little shade within the pool area. There’s some floating green weed on the deep pool that is more atmospheric than annoying.

ISLAND GETAWAY

Lowell Johnson Park, Lake Florence, Anderson Island

If you haven’t been to Anderson Island’s Ol’ Swimming Hole, go now before everyone else discovers it. With a view-perfect ferry ride from Steilacoom followed by the forest and the clear blue water of Lake Florence, the beach is a true island getaway. There’s also plenty of fun: a floating pontoon for high flips and jumps, another dock for jumping or diving, and a small slide on the kiddie dock leading to a shallow section perfect for toddlers. This year the hot summer seems to have lowered the water level, but warmed the temperature. There’s also a volleyball court and plenty of sand for sculpting. Just don’t miss the ferry home.

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-dusk.

Cost: Free, but ferry is around $35 for car, driver and passengers; walk-on/bike $5.

Water temperature: Cool.

Restrooms: Not big enough, but clean.

Food/drink: Bring your own, or stock up at the general store nearby on Eckenstam Johnson Road (open daily until 6 p.m.).

Tips: Ride your bike to save ferry dollars. Bring a volleyball. Get in the return ferry line early and pick blackberries or beachcomb while you wait. No lifeguard.

Downside: Gets crowded on holiday weekends.

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