Top five local swimming holes
August 5, 2004
The third time someone kicked sand on my girlfriend’s back on Speedboat Beach, I decided I’d had enough. Enough of the hot sand. Enough of the screaming kids. Enough of the churning motorboats.
I wanted peace. I wanted quiet. I wanted cool water, a bit of privacy and an escape from the chaos of a Tahoe summer. I wanted a watering hole, and it’s a good thing the Basin Area is filled with them.
The options for combining hiking and swimming in the lake are endless. From the alien landscape of Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness to the serenity that surrounds Five Lakes above Alpine Meadows, places for picnicking, laying out and even breaking out the rod and reel abound, and every swimming hole possesses a lushness uncommon during the arid Sierra summer.
“For me it boils down to a granite lake,” outdoor enthusiast and Alpenglow employee Tom Anderson says. “I want a place that gives me water clarity, something to dive off and something without those pungy stick obstacles.”
Jessica Moore, one of Anderson’s co-workers, says she tries to find watering holes that are similar to Inks Lake in her homestate of Texas. She spent time working at the state park there.
“It was this big clear hole you could jump into,” she says. “You could huck off cliffs into deep water. That’s what people are looking for.”
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With traffic backing up around the lake and temperatures inching toward 80 degrees this weekend, forget Speedboat Beach and Sunnyside. Park the car and hit the trail. Try one of the swimming holes named here or pick up a map and find one of your own. At the very least, it will save you from sitting in standstill at the Tahoe City wye.
When John Muir wrote that the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range should be renamed the Range of Light, thoughts of Desolation Wilderness must have been tucked in the back of his mind. Granite faces dominate the area that sits just southwest of the lake and all of them reflect the brilliance of the sharp, Sierra sun.
To get a taste of Desolation’s beauty, try visiting Fontanillis lake. Park at the Eagle Lake trailhead, and prepare for a 5 mile hike into the heart of the Sierra.
Just before getting to Eagle Lake veer left on the trail and head up the trail into Desolation Wilderness. At the junction of the Velma Lakes and Kick’s Pass, take the trail on the left going up a saddle. Take the trail marked Dick’s Lake and continue until you come to Fontanillis Lake.
The lake meets many swimming hole ideals and is the favorite of local trail specialist Hannah Sullivan of Tahoe, Trips and Trails. According to her, it’s super private, there are plenty of rocks to jump off and “there’s none of that mucky bottom to deal with.”
The name for this Desolation gem exists for a good reason. Most people stick to the main trail that runs past it and don’t see it until they’ve hiked to Shadow Lake above it. But if you realize it in time this is one worth visiting.
“It’s smaller and secluded,” Tom Anderson of Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City says. “It has a great granite peninsula that sticks out on the South Side. It’s great.”
To reach it, take highway 89 to Meeks Bay. Park in the dirt parking lot across from the resort. The moderate hike climbs along the northern most part of the unofficial Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. Follow the trail parallel to Meeks Creek and into a forested valley. It’s a 5.7-mile hike one-way to the lake.
The ever-popular Five Lakes trailhead just before Alpine Meadows Ski Resort picks up more cars in a day than most local CHP officers do all summer.
The trail climbs up 2.5 miles of dusty, arid Sierra terrain before flattening out in a shady meadow full of flowers and a series of five lakes.
Don’t be deterred by the crowds here. Most people park it at the first lake and have lunch. Be willing to go a little farther and you’ll find a great private spot for a picnic and some sunning.
Sure 6.8 miles sounds like a long hike, but this Desolation-wonderland makes it all worthwhile. Trees are almost nonexistent around the lake, making for perfect bronzing, and the granite lined banks make perfect launching pads for entering the refreshing water.
For a real adventure, Tom Anderson at Alpenglow Sports recommends picking up Dana Designs new Racer X pack. Equipped with a dry bag interior, you can fill this ultra-light pack and float out to an island to camp overnight.
You can pick up the trail behind Fallen Leaf Lake, and there are two options for approaching the lake.
When you’ve been hiking for a while, there’s nothing better than the cool, clear water rushing down from overhead. The waterfall pools along the Shirley Canyon trail in Squaw Valley offer the perfect chance to cool off.
In May, the river was strong and high, making it impossible to swim, but it’s perfect now. Just pick up the trail by the condos at the bottom of Squaw Peak Road and hike until you see a pool that interests you, or until you’re so hot getting wet becomes the only way to cool down.
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