Guide to Auburn Swimming Holes at North Fork American River

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In Northern California, the arrival of hot summer days means one thing… seeking out the best outdoor natural swimming holes. Nestled amidst lush forests, rugged mountains, and winding rivers, these hidden gems offer refreshing retreats from the summer heat. The water coming down from the mountains is so fresh and clear, unlike any other experience. You don’t even hesitate to dive right in because it’s so picturesque!

There’s one caveat to this natural summer pastime, how do you find these hidden gem swimming holes? Because they are naturally occurring water and rock formations in the mountains, there’s no direct address to input into your GPS. For many years, only locals knew how to find and access them.

We are a family living in Sacramento and we often spend our weekends and summer days out exploring the rivers and swimming holes. In this blog post I am sharing our tips on how you can find these spots, stay safe and come prepared.

All About Auburn, California

Auburn, located outside border of the Tahoe National Forest in Northern California, is a charming city rich in history and natural beauty. Known for its pivotal role during the California Gold Rush, Auburn boasts a well-preserved Old Town, featuring historic buildings, antique shops, and museums that transport visitors back in time.

The city’s scenic landscape, characterized by rolling hills and the picturesque American River, offers abundant recreational opportunities, from hiking and biking to rafting and fishing. Auburn is also a gateway to the renowned Auburn State Recreation Area, attracting outdoor enthusiasts year-round. With a vibrant community spirit, local wineries, and a range of cultural events, Auburn seamlessly blends its historic past with modern living, making it a unique and inviting destination in Northern California.

Getting to Auburn from Sacramento

Traveling from Sacramento to Auburn, California is straightforward and offers a scenic journey. The drive is approximately 35 miles and takes about 45 minutes. Take Interstate 80 East from Sacramento, and follow it directly to Auburn. The route is well-marked and easy to navigate.

Getting to Auburn from San Francisco and the Bay Area

Traveling from San Francisco and the Bay Area to Auburn, California takes between 2 – 2.5 hours, depending on traffic. Start by taking Interstate 80 East from San Francisco, which will lead you directly to Auburn. The route passes through scenic landscapes and offers opportunities for food, gas and electric car charging stops along the way.

Summer Weather in Auburn

In the summer, Auburn, California experiences warm to hot weather, typical of this area. From June through August, daytime temperatures generally range from the mid-80s to the mid-90s Fahrenheit. During heat waves, the temperatures can reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. These hot temperatures will warm up the river waters and make it comfortable to swim in the water.

Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence – North and Middle Fork American River

The Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence is a stunning natural area where the North and Middle Forks of the American River meet. Located in the picturesque foothills of the Sierra Nevada, this confluence is renowned for its breathtaking scenery and a wide array of recreational activities. The clear, cool waters of the North and Middle Forks are perfect for various water activities, including swimming, kayaking, and white-water rafting, offering summer adventures for water enthusiasts.

Clarks Swimming Hole

Clark’s Swimming Hole, situated along the scenic Lake Clementine Trail in Auburn is a hidden gem for fresh water swimming. Nestled in the Auburn State Recreation Area, this idyllic spot is perfect for swimming amidst the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The swimming hole is accessible via a moderately easy hike along the Lake Clementine Trail, which winds through lush forests and alongside the tranquil waters of the American River. Plan on walking about 0.7 miles from the trailhead. As you approach Clark’s Swimming Hole, you can start to see the swimming hole shore from the trail. Be aware, there’s no sign or official indicator of the upcoming swimming hole. You need to stay vigilant and keep your eyes open. On hot summer weekends, there’s usually already other people swimming in the water.

Clark’s Swimming Hole is known for its clear, cool waters, which provide a refreshing escape from the summer heat. The natural pool is surrounded by rock boulders and shaded by a limited number of overhanging trees. To avoid over exposure to the sun, I recommend bringing a shade tent, sun hats and sunscreen.

One thing to note, this is a very popular spot on summer weekends and holidays. Which means that it can get over-crowded on certain days. The park ranger warned us that sometimes college kids can get rowdy and loud, making it less friendly for families with young kids. I suggest coming early or during the week to avoid the crowds.

The Two Sides of the Tall Green Bridge

All of the photos in this blog post are from our day swimming under the Tall Green Bridge. Our original plan was to hike to Clarks Swimming Hole, but the patrolling park ranger advised us against it. It was Memorial Day weekend and around 10:30am. He said that Clarks Hole was already very full and it would be a lot for us with our two young kids.

He advised us to walk down the trails underneath the Tall Green Bridge to the swimming holes below. The water was very warm, shallow and calm at certain spots, making it ideal for young children. It was great advice because we were able to swim in peace without any crowds, and we didn’t have to walk very far because our car was parked very close.

When looking at where to set up camp under the Tall Green Bridge, there’s two sides underneath to consider. There’s clear and shallow waters on both sides, it’s just a matter of finding a trail leading you down the hill safely. All of the parking is up the mountain at an elevated level, so everyone must hike down to the water. These trails can be steep and rocky at certain points, which can make carrying your beach gear a bit tricky. The key is taking your time and wearing the proper shoes for hiking. Avoid slippery sandals!

Swimming Hole Under the Foresthill Bridge

Another known place for finding swimming holes is under the Foresthill Bridge, which is just a short 8 minute drive from the Tall Green Bridge. I have been swimming under this bridge before and it’s a pretty similar situation when it comes to planning logistics. You find parking up above either at the side of the road or in the parking lot, and then you find a walking train that leads you down to the water. There’s almost always other people around who have set up already, so you can follow their lead.

Is It Safe to Swim in the River?

River water levels vary greatly by the season. In the early spring, the river can be very full with fast flowing white water. It is very dangerous to attempt to swim when the water is overflowing and moving fast. In these conditions, even strong swimmers can get swept away with the current.

We tried to go swimming twice during the month of May at two different locations, and both times the water level was too high in many spots. We had to search around for a safe spot for water play. Always use your best judgment and stay safe.

During Memorial Day weekend, we saw lifeguards and park rangers monitoring swimmers. If someone got too close to the fast flowing waters, they would use a bull horn to tell them to come back closer to the shore.

How Deep Are the Water Holes for Swimming?

In the summer, the water levels start to go down and will be at their best peak swimming conditions by August. In some places the water gets very shallow (which is good for kids), but there’s still spots where the water is several feet deep and you can actually swim.

Safe Swimming for Children

Safe swimming for children at the Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence requires attentive supervision from the parents, preparation, and awareness of the environment. Begin by scouting out swimming areas where the water conditions are as safe as possible, with low water levels and a very slow current. Come prepared with water safety vests and flotation devices for kids who want to get in the water and swim.

The Parking Situation at Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence

If I’m being honest, the parking situation at the Auburn Confluence is precarious. There’s a couple very small parking lots that fill up by early morning. Most people end up parking on the side of the roads, which is still very limited parking. You will see signs all over the place that say no parking… but then many cars will still be parked on that side of the road. It’s very confusing and hard to navigate. When in doubt, ask a park ranger to avoid a ticket.

Plan on walking a ways to get to a path that leads down to the river. Most people will end up having to park fairly far from their destination. Your best bet is to arrive as early as possible.

No matter where you end up parking, you will still be expected to pay the $10 parking fee. Park rangers actively give out tickets to cars who are not displaying their paid ticket stump on the dashboard.

Paying Park Fees

The Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence has a year-round $10 parking fee. This goes for both parking in the parking lots and on the side of the road (any side of the road). You will get a ticket stub to display on your dashboard.

There’s self-paying kiosks located around the area. Don’t ignore them! You will get a ticket! Make it easy and bring cash with you as a back-up in case you can’t pay with card.

What to Pack for Your Water Hole Day Trip

When you are going out into nature for a day of swimming, you need to plan on coming prepared with everything you will need.

Below I have listed out all the typical items we pack for a day at the swimming holes:

  • Plenty of water
  • Cold ice chest with sandwiches, snacks and drinks
  • A shade tent
  • Fold-up chairs
  • Towels
  • Beach toys
  • Water shoes (the rocks are sharp and slippery)
  • Floaties
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun hats
  • Extra clothes for layers and sun protection
  • Both walking shoes and sandals

No Shade From the Sun

I mentioned a shade tent earlier in the packing list, but I want to expand on this. As you can see from the photos in this blog post, there’s almost no natural shade at the Auburn swimming holes. It can get very hot in the summer with intense sun rays. Make sure to protect yourself, your children and your dogs from over exposure to the sun with a shade tent that you bring along with you. It can be a challenge to find a flat spot on the ground without big rocks and boulders, but it can be done.

Steep and Rocky Trails

The terrain in this area can be very uneven with steep and rocky trails. The last time we went to the Auburn swimming holes, my husband’s sandal strap broke off and he had to walk barefoot on the very hot ground. I always make myself and the kids bring closed-toe shoes for walking on the trails, and then they can switch to sandals or water shoes when we get to the shore.

Arrive Early on Weekends and Holidays

This area is extremely popular for outdoor adventurers, and people come from very far away to swim in these rivers. Which means that there’s often traffic and difficulty finding parking, especially on the weekends and summer holidays. Your only course of action to avoid a tough parking situation is to arrive as early as possible, or go during the week and avoid the weekends all together.

Upper Lake Clementine Beach

Upper Lake Clementine is a picturesque swimming spot, located 20 minutes north of the Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence. Getting to this particular spot is a different challenge, and I’ve written a separate guide to Upper Lake Clementine Beach here.

Popular Hiking Trails in this Area

While some visitors come to this area with the intention of swimming, many others just like to enjoy a nice scenic hike.

Some of the more popular hiking trails in the Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence are:

Hidden Falls Swimming Holes

I have heard buzz around the Hidden Falls Swimming Holes, which you can find along the Hidden Falls and Seven Pools Loop trails. I haven’t personally explored these swimming spots yet, but it’s on my bucket list. If you have experience with this area, please leave a comment below with helpful information.

Beware of Ticks

While I have never encountered a tick in this particular area, I have heard from others that they can appear on the trails. To be on the safe side, always do a tick check and seek medical attention immediately if anyone gets bit by one.

Be Proactive and Avoid Sun Stroke

Sunstroke, also known as heatstroke, is a serious condition that can occur when the body overheats, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Because of the high altitude of this area, paired with very limited shade, over heating at the Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence is a very real scenario.

Avoiding heatstroke while enjoying the outdoors requires a combination of hydration, protective clothing, and smart planning. First and foremost, drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty, to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing to reflect sunlight and allow your body to cool efficiently. Applying sunscreen with a high SPF and wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can protect your skin and eyes from harmful UV rays.

Are Dogs Allowed at the Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence?

Dogs allowed on leash in the Auburn State Recreation Area Confluence. The one exception is Lake Clementine, where no dogs are allowed.

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