Summer means swimming, and we don’t mean crowded, chlorinated pools. We’re talking beaches, lakes, islands and waterfalls. The South Sound is full of stunning natural swimming holes that come with added extras such as diving boards, rope swings and toddler-friendly beaches. You just have to know where to go. So pack up your towel, swimsuit and picnic, and jump in to discover seven of the best South Sound swimming spots ever.
Hood Canal heaven
There aren’t too many saltwater beaches in Washington where you can bask in calm, sun-warmed water, but Twanoh State Park is one of them. Thanks to its location midway up the Hood Canal, the clear green water is warm enough for toddlers and grandparents alike, while sun-bathers drape themselves over the pebbly beach. If you want action, the dock is ideal for jumping (though the ranger can get cross if you climb over the railings), the park has several tennis courts, and a boat launch, and trails wind through the forested hills.
Float back in that warm(-ish) salt water as the sun slowly sinks, 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, as the oyster shells on the beach are sharp. An umbrella is useful for extra shade. Throw in tennis rackets and hiking shoes, too.
Downside: No sand.
Rope swing with a view
Madrona-shaded picnic tables, a wide green lake nestled into soaring peaks. It’s a long drive, but Lake Cushman is worth every minute. Tucked up against the Olympic Mountains and forested all around, the lake’s a popular place for vacation cabins. But drive 6 miles along Lake Cushman Road from Hoodsport and you’ll find Skokomish Park, which is both campground and day-use picnic area. The water is clean and refreshing, and two beach access points are perfect for either toddlers or teens launching floaties. (Hood Canal Adventures rents kayaks, paddleboards and floating devices by the shore, $20 an hour.) Fire pits and a volleyball court round out the possibilities for a long, lazy day by the lake.
Adventure bonus: Follow the fence north from the picnic area for about 50 feet to find a sturdy rope swing into a deep drop-off. Just be prepared to clamber up some tree roots to get out, and always assess water depth before jumping.
Where: 7211 N. Lake Cushman Road, Hoodsport.
Information: 360-877-5760, skokomishpark.com.
Cost: $10 per vehicle, $4 walk-in.
Water temperature: Pleasantly cool.
Restrooms: Reasonably clean.
Food/drink: Bring your own or buy supplies at Hoodsport.
Tips: The park is dog-friendly.
Downside: 1.5 hours from either Tacoma or Olympia.
Play, swim, repeat
Lake Tapps at Allan Yorke Park is a pleasant-enough swim: bracing water with a dock for jumping, grassy shaded sitting areas and a concrete rim to dangle your feet from. But it’s what’s behind the swim area that makes it a perfect day for sports lovers: 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 hot and cold drinks, snacks and even meals at reasonable prices with super-friendly service, and there’s an entire schedule of summer entertainment in the park.
Note: In July, Allan Yorke Park was closed for swimming due to bacteria in the water. Check the city of Bonney Lake website for opening details. As a back-up, Spanaway Lake (Military Road and Pacific Avenue, Spanaway) also offers a lake swim with sporting facilities nearby (Sprinker skatepark, ice rink and tennis courts).
Where: 7203 W. Lake Tapps Highway, Bonney Lake.
Water temperature: Chilly.
Restrooms: Small but adequate.
Food/drink: Comprehensive and cheap concession stand.
Tips: No lifeguard. You can borrow life jackets. Take the no-diving rule seriously. The water just outside the dock area is only 6 feet deep. And get there early on hot weekend days to find a parking spot.
Downside: Occasional dogs in the water. Not enough parking on warm weekends.
Divers and hipsters
Lake Washington has quite a few beaches, but Madison Beach is 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 passing boats, which feel quite thrilling when you’re wobbling up on the high dive. At the sandy end you can find freshwater clams at about waist-depth. At the seawall end you can alternate sunbathing with watching local hipsters or buff lifeguards. Kids and tennis players will love the park behind, hip restaurants abound, and the floating bridge makes cool scenery.
Where: East Madison and Howe streets, Seattle (take Madison Street exit off Interstate 5).
Hours: Noon-7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends through Sept. 1 for lifeguards.
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 children 15 and younger to swim out to the pontoon, and they’ll want goggles. Come before 3 p.m. for best sunshine.
Downside: Can get crowded on a warm day, especially parking. Lots of seaweed.
Skimboards and sand dollars
It’s still Puget Sound (read — freezing cold) but Dash Point State Park isn’t just for swimming. A freshwater stream wanders over wide sand to a flat surf — the perfect conjunction for skimboarding and beachcombing. Find sand dollars by the stream and clams under the sand. Head out to the salt water to find jellyfish, scuttling crabs, drifting mussels and bobbing seals.
Or bring your skimboard and pop some tricks at one of Puget Sound’s premiere skimboarding beaches. With a west-facing shallow depth, the water is cold but not impossible to swim. Just watch out for those jellyfish.
Perfect for: Camping and watching the sun set over Maury Island.
Where: 5700 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way.
Hours: 8 a.m.-dusk.
Cost: State Discover Pass.
Water temperature: Very cold.
Restrooms: Small, dirty.
Food/drink: Bring your own.
Tips: Go at low-mid tide; the beach disappears at high tide. No lifeguard. Get there early for parking on hot weekends.
Downside: Mud and seaweed can be icky, water can be soupy and full of eelgrass. Cold outside shower.
Stone-cold and fresh
When you plunge into the cold water at Tenino Quarry Pool, you’re swimming in 120 years and 150 feet of history. The long-disused sandstone quarry, with towering stone walls lined with lush ferns, is now filled with fresh water, brilliant sunshine and a breathtaking waterfall, all rimmed with mysterious nonswimming ponds of lime-green algae.
Little kids play in the expansive shallow pool, which is also slightly warmer. More adventurous types jump into 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. You’ll have to drive back up to the state Route 99 junction for coffee.
Adventure tip: Hike the trail from the park to the top of the waterfall, or just clamber over the leftover stone blocks. You can also explore the Yelm Tenino Trail right outside; check out free bikes at the Yellow Bicycle Project near city hall (visit Iron Works at 224 Sussex Ave.).
Where: Howard Street, Tenino.
Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 28.
Cost: $2 Tenino School District residents, $4 out-of-district residents.
Water temperature: Cold.
Restrooms: Tiny and lacking privacy.
Food/drink: Bring your own (especially water); not many cafes are still open on the main street.
Tips: There are lifeguards, and kids under 18 have to pass a swim test before entering the deep pool. Use the restroom before you get there.
Downside: There’s not much space to sit and very little shade within the pool area, though the outer park is expansive. Expect some floating green weed in the deep pool.
Islanders don’t like you spoiling the secret, but if you haven’t discovered Anderson Island’s Ol’ Swimming Hole yet, you’re missing out. After a picture-postcard ferry ride from Steilacoom, follow the island road through calm forest to the clear blue water of Florence Lake at Lowell Johnson Park for a true island getaway.
Grassy picnic spots, a warm west-facing sandy beach, a floating pontoon for high flips, jumps and slides, another one with a floating picnic table (don’t drop your soda into the lake), a dock for jumping and a kiddie dock with small slide leading to a shallow section perfect for toddlers — you can’t ask for much more. Add a volleyball court and life is good. Just don’t miss the ferry home.
Note: No dogs allowed.
Where: Guthrie Road, Anderson Island (from the ferry, follow Yoman Road uphill and turn left at Harbor Place right at Guthrie Road).
Cost: Free; ferry $29.25 for car and driver, $5.45 passengers or walk-on/bike, $3.25 youth.
Water temperature: Cool.
Restrooms: Small but usually 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: Get in the ferry line early, or ride your bike on. Bring a volleyball. Pick blackberries or beachcomb while you wait for the return ferry. No lifeguard.
Downside: Gets crowded on holiday weekends.