Chico Outdoor Adventurer

Swimming Holes in Bidwell Park

The City of Chico’s Bid­well Park has the best urban swim­ming holes in Cal­i­for­nia. Bold state­ment, but come find out for your­self and steep your­self in more than just cool water. From the rugged Sier­ra Neva­da foothills to Down­town Chico, Big Chico Creek runs through the city and is lined with eco­log­i­cal trea­sures, curi­ous his­to­ry, and awe-inspir­ing vis­tas, which you can expe­ri­ence at any of its nat­ur­al swim­ming holes through­out the park.

From easy to chal­leng­ing, here are the most pop­u­lar swim­ming holes in Bid­well Park.

Trip Tips

1. Bring water, sun­screen, and towels

2. Wear stur­dy water shoes; flip-flops are no match for basalt rock and rag­ing waters

3. While the water is wet, the park is dry, so leave the alco­hol at home

4. Make sure to #Recre­ateRe­spon­si­bly and fol­low Leave No Trace prin­ci­ples as you explore.

5. Respect the wildlife. Big Chico Creek is one of the few trib­u­taries of the Sacra­men­to Riv­er that is spawn­ing grounds for fed­er­al­ly pro­tect­ed salmon, so don’t dis­turb the deep­er, cool­er waters they call home (or pick a dif­fer­ent spot to swim if you see any) and know the reg­u­la­tions before you go.

Sycamore Pool

Locat­ed just a mile upstream from Down­town Chico, Sycamore Pool at One Mile Recre­ation Area is the most acces­si­ble swim­ming des­ti­na­tion on Big Chico Creek. This expan­sive liv­ing pool, where the creek con­tin­u­ous­ly flows through a 1920s-era con­crete basin, is sur­round­ed by Low­er Bid­well Parks idyl­lic tree canopy and grassy fields. No mat­ter how hot it gets in Chico, the ever-flow­ing creek will be sure to cool you off. Life­guards are on-duty dai­ly from noon to 7:00 pm between Memo­r­i­al Day and Labor Day, except for Thurs­days when the pool is drained and cleaned. At the heart of Low­er Park, Sycamore Pool is sur­round­ed by ameni­ties and des­ti­na­tions for the whole fam­i­ly includ­ing the Caper Acres play­ground, the Chico Creek Nature Cen­ter, pic­nic areas, horse­shoe pits, restrooms, water foun­tains, and a snack shop.

Five Mile Recre­ation Area

Five Mile Recre­ation Area in Mid­dle Bid­well Park is a tran­si­tion­al area between the urban atmos­phere of Low­er Park and the more rugged Upper Park. This is where Big Chico Creek exits the Sier­ra Foothills and enters the Sacra­men­to Val­ley. Being wider, shal­low­er, and calmer than swim­ming areas fur­ther upstream, Five Mile is a won­der­ful place for fam­i­lies to splash around while remain­ing close to restrooms and pic­nic areas. It’s a beau­ti­ful area too, with a pic­turesque pedes­tri­an bridge and a mature ripar­i­an wood­land pro­vid­ing lots of shade. Vis­i­tors to Five Mile are also with­in walk­ing dis­tance to Hook­er Oak Park, com­plete with two play­grounds and ball fields.

Alli­ga­tor Hole

The first des­ig­nat­ed swim­ming hole in Upper Bid­well Park, Alli­ga­tor Hole is rather tame, espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer when Big Chico Creek’s flow relax­es, mak­ing it a pleas­ant stop along the pedes­tri­an-only Yahi Trail. Its shal­low waters and loca­tion, only three-quar­ters of a mile from the Horse­shoe Lake park­ing area (Lot E), also make it a great des­ti­na­tion for young hik­ers. It’s also a nice spot to cool off one last time after a long hike. There’s a small grav­el beach with nice views of the begin­ning of Upper Park’s South Rim.

Day Camp

The for­mer Day Camp loca­tion along Big Chico Creek (still called Day Camp on the Upper Bid­well Park map) is one of the eas­i­er swim­ming holes to access. A sun­ny sand and peb­ble beach is just sev­er­al steps away from Park­ing Lot H, and the Yahi Trail pass­es right by it. Day Camp is just a lit­tle over a mile away from the Horse­shoe Lake park­ing area (Lot E) if you want to take a walk along the Yahi Trail or bike Upper Park Road. This swim­ming hole includes a restroom at the park­ing area. 

Even though the camp isn’t there any­more, you can still splash around the Day Camp swim­ming hole and feel like a kid all over again!

Swimming Holes in Bidwell Park

Bear Hole and Diver­sion Dam

Bear Hole is easy to find from Alli­ga­tor Hole: about a mile upstream along the Yahi Trail, you’ll notice that the trail starts fol­low­ing an old con­crete ditch struc­ture. You’ll also notice that Big Chico Creek begins cut­ting through a jum­ble of shiny black vol­canic basalt (the Love­joy For­ma­tion). This is how you know you’ve made it to Bear Hole. If Upper Park Road is open past Horse­shoe Lake (Tues­day through Sat­ur­day with good weath­er), you can park at Lot K or L. It’s also pret­ty easy to find your way to Bear Hole from Upper Park’s Mid­dle Trail or Low­er Trail. 

Once you’re there, you’ll find out why Bear Hole is one of the most talked about fea­tures of Bid­well Park. Deep, sparkling pools con­nect­ed by rush­ing chutes of water are sur­round­ed by a nat­ur­al rocky play­ground. The smooth basalt drenched in full sun is also a great spot to catch some rays. Just upstream of Bear Hole is the old diver­sion dam where addi­tion­al pools can be found. Note that water cur­rents in this area can be strong, espe­cial­ly in the win­ter and spring. Stay safe dur­ing your visit!

Salmon Hole

Fur­ther into Upper Bid­well Park, Salmon Hole offers one of the most scenic swim­ming expe­ri­ences in the area. You’ll need to work hard­er to get there as it’s over a half mile away from the Diver­sion Dam park­ing lot (Lot L) along the Yahi Trail. With Upper Park Road closed on Sun­days and Mon­days past the Horse­shoe Lake park­ing lot (Lot E), it takes a lit­tle under two and a half miles to hike or bike in via Upper Park Road. The final approach down into Salmon Hole is also steep­er and more rugged than the pre­vi­ous swim­ming des­ti­na­tions. Those that make it will be reward­ed with one of the largest nat­ur­al pools on Big Chico Creek and many enjoy­able side-pools. Salmon Hole, sur­round­ed by groves of oak and steep cliffs, also offers ample shade. You might even see some rock climbers tak­ing on the steep rock walls nearby.

Brown’s Hole

Brown’s Hole is the most remote des­ig­nat­ed swim­ming hole in Bid­well Park. Those who find their way here will enjoy more soli­tude and an almost wilder­ness set­ting. Two long and slen­der pools are sur­round­ed by thick stands of oak and oth­er ripar­i­an plants. Upstream of the small water­fall above Brown’s Hole is a nice grav­el beach next to a small­er swim­ming area. Brown’s Hole is a lit­tle under two miles from the Diver­sion Dam (Lot L) along the Yahi Trail, and three and a half miles from Horse­shoe Lake (Lot E) along Upper Park Road. A spur trail is avail­able from the old park­ing area (Lot S).


Dri­ve about 85 miles north from Sacra­men­to or 70 miles south from Red­ding on High­way 99 to Chico. Sycamore Pool and One Mile are acces­si­ble by exit­ing west onto High­way 32, turn­ing right onto Cypress Avenue, and head­ing into Bid­well Park at the five-way inter­sec­tion. The Five Mile Recre­ation Area is acces­si­ble by exit­ing east onto High­way 32, turn­ing left onto Bruce Road, and turn­ing right onto Cen­ten­ni­al Avenue. Exit­ing east onto East Avenue from High­way 99 will lead you to Upper Park Road.