Splash and Soak: Best Places To Swim In Yosemite National Park

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Welcome to the ultimate guide to the best places to swim in the iconic Yosemite National Park. Yosemite, with its majestic waterfalls, clear rivers, and serene lakes, offers plenty of fantastic swimming spots for all types of swimmers. Whether you’re looking to dip your toes or dive right in, this guide has got you covered. As we navigate through the top swimming spots, safety guidelines, and accommodation options, we’ll also dive deep into the stunning lakes and rivers that cradle these swimmer’s paradises. So, don your swimsuits and ready your spirit of adventure as we plunge into this immersive journey. 

Top 20 Swimming Spots in Yosemite

Here’s the table with the key features and amenities for each of the mentioned swimming spots in Yosemite:

Swimming Spots in YosemiteKey FeaturesAmenities / Services
Mirror LakeCalm, shallow water, stunning reflections of surrounding cliffsRestrooms, bike rentals
Tenaya LakeClear, high elevation lake, sandy beachesPicnic areas, restrooms
Cathedral LakesPristine alpine lakes, stunning mountain sceneryNo amenities available
Rainbow PoolNatural water slide, waterfall, historic sitePicnic areas
Swinging Bridge Picnic AreaShallow, wide sandy beach, views of Yosemite FallsPicnic areas, restrooms
Silver LakeHigh elevation, crystal clear water, surrounded by mountainsCampgrounds, fishing
Merced River at Housekeeping CampSandy beach, view of Yosemite FallsRentals, dining, shops
Lake EleanorTranquil setting, wildlife sightings, fishing allowedCampgrounds, fishing
Cherry LakeLarge reservoir, surrounded by forest, motorized boat allowedBoat ramp, campgrounds
Carlon FallsSecluded waterfall, cool clear waterNo amenities available
Wawona Swinging BridgeCalm swimming hole, scenic bridgeNo amenities available
Chilnualna FallsWaterfall, scenic setting, cool waterNo amenities available
Sentinel Beach Picnic AreaStunning views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, sandy beachPicnic areas, restrooms
Tuolumne River at Tuolumne MeadowsWild and scenic river, rapids, wilderness settingWilderness permits
Staircase FallsCascading waterfall, refreshing poolNo amenities available
Lembert DomeGranite dome, panoramic views, small poolsNo amenities available
Mono LakeUnique saline lake, tufa formationsVisitor center, restrooms
The CascadesSeries of small waterfalls, natural rock slidesNo amenities available
Devil’s BathtubHidden swimming hole, rock formationsNo amenities available
The Grand Canyon of the TuolumneScenic canyon, river swimming, waterfallNo amenities available

Mirror Lake: Located at the base of Half Dome, Mirror Lake offers calm waters perfect for casual swimmers and families with children. As the name suggests, the lake beautifully reflects the surrounding scenery, making it a favorite among photographers. You can reach Mirror Lake via a two-mile round-trip walk, adding a little hiking to your swimming adventure. The trailhead is near Yosemite Valley Shuttle Stop #17. Wildlife enthusiasts might spot deer, bobcats, and numerous bird species around the area.

dive into river

Tenaya Lake: Tenaya Lake’s crystal clear waters are inviting for adults and experienced swimmers, but its sandy beaches also make it suitable for kids. Found along Tioga Road, the lake offers panoramic views of granite peaks. An easily accessible location, it’s surrounded by meadows often frequented by mule deer.

Cathedral Lakes: The swim to the Cathedral Lakes is a bit challenging due to the strenuous 7-mile round-trip hike but it rewards with secluded swimming spots. The lakes are more suited for adults and experienced swimmers. The trailhead is located on Tioga Road and it’s not unusual to spot marmots, pikas, and even black bears in the area.

Rainbow Pool: Rainbow Pool is a natural swimming hole located off Highway 120. It’s a family-friendly spot known for its small waterfall and historic stone bridge. The swimming hole is accessible via a short trail from the parking area. Keep an eye out for various bird species and the occasional sighting of a river otter.

Swinging Bridge Picnic Area: The Swinging Bridge Picnic Area, located in Yosemite Valley, offers a shallow and calm section of the Merced River, making it ideal for children and beginner swimmers. It’s accessible by a short walk from the nearby parking lot. You can also spot various wildlife like squirrels and birds. Plus, the view of Yosemite Falls from the swimming area is breathtaking.

Silver Lake: Found along June Lake Loop, Silver Lake offers colder waters that are refreshing for adult swimmers and experienced teens. The lake, known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning surrounding mountains, is a drive away from Yosemite’s main area. Anglers might also be interested to know that the lake is home to various fish species.

Merced River at Housekeeping Camp: This swimming area along the Merced River is perfect for families staying at the Housekeeping Camp or those nearby. The river here is generally calm, making it ideal for kids and casual adult swimmers. The location, in the heart of Yosemite Valley, is easily accessible. Apart from swimming, it’s also a great spot for wildlife viewing, including deer and a variety of birds.

Lake Eleanor: Lake Eleanor, located in the northwestern part of Yosemite, offers a serene swimming experience. Suited more for adults and proficient swimmers, this remote lake provides a quiet and peaceful environment. You can reach it via the Lake Eleanor trailhead, a moderate hike. Keep in mind, though, that this area is bear territory, so follow all bear-safety guidelines.

Cherry Lake: Cherry Lake, outside Yosemite’s western border, is a vast, tranquil body of water perfect for adults and experienced swimmers. Accessible via Cherry Lake Road, this lake is less crowded and provides a peaceful swimming experience. Wildlife, including deer, osprey, and sometimes eagles, can be spotted here.

Carlon Falls: A short hike from Evergreen Road will take you to Carlon Falls, a delightful swimming hole beneath a cascading waterfall. This spot is suited for adult swimmers and adventurous teens due to the fast-moving water near the falls. The surrounding area is lush and vibrant, often visited by colorful birds.

Wawona Swinging Bridge: Another Swinging Bridge location, this time in Wawona, is a popular summer swimming spot. The South Fork of the Merced River provides a calm and cool dip for kids and adults alike. The area is easily accessible, with parking available nearby. Majestic pine trees surround the swimming area, often housing various bird species.

Chilnualna Falls: Though a somewhat strenuous 8-mile round trip hike, the pools beneath Chilnualna Falls offer an exhilarating swimming experience. This spot is best suited for adults and physically fit teens. The trailhead can be found near Wawona Hotel, and along the route, hikers may encounter squirrels, chipmunks, and various bird species.

Sentinel Beach Picnic Area: Located in Yosemite Valley along the Merced River, Sentinel Beach offers shallow, gentle waters that are ideal for families with young children. It’s an excellent spot for a picnic followed by a relaxing swim. You can also enjoy stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and Half Dome.

Tuolumne River at Tuolumne Meadows: In the high country of Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows offers various swimming spots along the Tuolumne River. The river’s calm sections are suitable for adults and older kids. The area is easily accessible from the nearby campground. As this is high sierra country, wildlife includes marmots, deer, and a rich diversity of high-altitude bird species.

Staircase Falls: Located near Curry Village, Staircase Falls is a less-known swimming spot that offers privacy. Best suited for adults and experienced swimmers, the pools of water at the base of the cascading falls offer a refreshing dip after a day of hiking. Spotting wildlife here is common, including deer and various bird species.

Lembert Dome: Lembert Dome is nestled in the heart of Tuolumne Meadows. At the base of the dome, there’s a peaceful, refreshing pond ideal for a midday swim. This secluded spot is best suited for adults and experienced swimmers. The trail to reach the dome is a 2.8-mile round trip hike starting from Lembert Dome parking. Wildlife sightings include mule deer, ground squirrels, and various bird species.

Mono Lake: Just outside of Yosemite’s east entrance, Mono Lake offers a unique swimming experience due to its saline waters. The lake is famous for its tufa towers – calcium-carbonate spires and knobs that make for a unique landscape. Suitable for adult swimmers, the lake can be reached easily by car. Birdwatchers would appreciate this site as it’s a migratory hub for several bird species.

swimming in waterfall

The Cascades: This less-frequented spot is a hidden gem just off Highway 140, near the park’s Arch Rock Entrance. The Merced River cascades into a pool creating a small waterfall, offering a refreshing experience for adults and teens. The area is accessible via a short hike from the nearby pullout. You might spot raccoons, squirrels, and various bird species around this area.

Devil’s Bathtub: Located outside of the park, but worth the trip, Devil’s Bathtub offers crystal-clear waters in a granite basin. This spot is more suited for adventurous adults due to the challenging 10-mile round trip hike. The trailhead starts at Vermillion Campground, and hikers often spot marmots, pikas, and sometimes, black bears.

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River: It’s a challenging multi-day hike to reach this location, but the pay-off is stunning – cascades, waterfalls, and clear pools for swimming. This spot is recommended for experienced, adventurous adults. The trail starts from either Tuolumne Meadows or White Wolf campground. Along the way, keep an eye out for deer, bears, and high-altitude bird species.

Lakes and Rivers in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is known worldwide for its breathtaking granite cliffs, towering sequoias, and abundant wildlife, but its water bodies – serene lakes and powerful rivers – hold their own unique charm. Let’s dive in and explore some of these aquatic wonders and their suitability for swimming.

Unique Features of Yosemite’s Water Bodies

Each water body in Yosemite presents an intricate ecosystem and geological formation. You’ll find pristine glacial lakes, like Tenaya Lake, that embody tranquility, while rivers like the Merced carve their way through majestic valleys, forging landscapes like the famous Yosemite Valley. These water bodies are a life-source for the park’s diverse flora and fauna, making them an integral part of Yosemite’s biodiversity.

Major Lakes and Rivers Suitable for Swimming

Merced River: Originating in the high country of the Sierra Nevada, the Merced River carves its way through Yosemite Valley, creating a stunning landscape of granite cliffs and verdant meadows. It’s known for its crystal-clear waters, diverse fish population, and several swimming areas along its course, each offering unique experiences – from the tranquility of Cathedral Beach Picnic Area to the family-friendly shallows at Housekeeping Camp.

Tuolumne River: Starting from the high-altitude landscapes of Tuolumne Meadows, this river meanders through grand meadows and rugged canyons. It offers numerous swimming and fishing spots, particularly in the calm sections near Tuolumne Meadows. Its pristine waters and surrounding wildlife make it a beloved destination for nature enthusiasts.

Tenaya Lake: This beautiful alpine lake, nestled between granite domes along the Tioga Road, is known for its striking blue waters. Tenaya Lake is one of Yosemite’s largest natural lakes, making it a popular spot for swimming, kayaking, and picnicking. Its sandy beaches and surrounding trails are also perfect for those seeking a relaxing day out in nature.

Lake Eleanor: A hidden gem in Yosemite’s remote northwestern region, Lake Eleanor offers a quiet, peaceful environment. Although it’s less accessible than some other water bodies in the park, the serene experience of swimming or boating here, surrounded by dense forest and abundant wildlife, makes the journey worth it.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir: Formed by the damming of the Tuolumne River, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides the primary water supply for San Francisco. Its deep blue waters are set against a backdrop of towering granite cliffs and waterfalls, making it a picturesque, though less frequented, location. Swimming is not allowed in the reservoir, but it’s a fantastic spot for hiking and wildlife viewing.


Wildlife in Yosemite’s Water Bodies

While swimming in Yosemite, you might also be lucky enough to spot some rare or endangered species that call these waters home. The Yosemite Toad, a species of special concern, can often be seen near bodies of water in high country areas. The Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog, an endangered species, also inhabits these areas. Bald eagles, ospreys, and various waterfowl species frequent Yosemite’s lakes and rivers. When swimming, always adhere to safety guidelines and respect the natural habitats to ensure these beautiful spots remain unspoiled for future generations to enjoy.

Lodges and Hotels with Swimming Areas in Yosemite

While the natural water bodies of Yosemite offer countless swimming adventures, sometimes you might want the comfort and convenience of a pool. Several lodges and hotels within and around the park offer swimming facilities, ensuring you can take a relaxing dip after a day of exploring. Let’s take a look at some of the top options.

Yosemite Valley Lodge: Nestled in the heart of Yosemite Valley, this lodge offers a seasonal outdoor pool, allowing guests to cool down while surrounded by stunning views of Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point. What sets it apart is its proximity to Yosemite’s key attractions, making it an excellent base for exploring the park.

The Ahwahnee Hotel: The Ahwahnee Hotel, known for its stunning architecture that seamlessly blends with the surrounding landscape, offers a heated outdoor swimming pool. Open year-round, it’s perfect for a leisurely swim, no matter the season. The hotel’s striking views, luxury accommodations, and world-class dining establish it as a premier choice for visitors.

Curry Village: Curry Village features a large outdoor pool that provides a refreshing respite from the summer heat. The pool area, with lounge chairs and umbrellas, is a perfect spot to relax. Curry Village’s unique selling point is its range of accommodations, from cabins to canvas tent cabins, appealing to a wide range of budgets and preferences.

Yosemite Westgate Lodge: Just outside the park’s western gate, Yosemite Westgate Lodge features a seasonal outdoor swimming pool. After a day of exploring Yosemite, you can unwind in the large pool or lounge on the deck. The lodge’s location, outside but close to the park boundary, offers a balance between accessibility to the park and a peaceful retreat.

Rush Creek Lodge: Rush Creek Lodge, near the park’s Big Oak Flat entrance, boasts a heated saltwater pool and two hot tubs. Open year-round, they are perfect for a relaxing swim under the Sierra stars. Its eco-friendly design, modern amenities, and array of onsite activities make Rush Creek Lodge a popular choice for travelers.

Understanding Swimming in Yosemite

General Rules and Guidelines

Before we start, let’s understand that swimming in Yosemite National Park is an experience like no other, blending adventure with nature’s serenity. But it comes with some rules to ensure everyone’s safety and the preservation of the park’s ecosystem. Moreover, for the sake of preserving the park’s pristine water quality, the use of soaps or shampoos in the water is strongly discouraged.

Diversity of Swimming Spots

Yosemite’s swimming spots are a true testament to its diverse landscape. The park offers an array of swimming locations to cater to everyone’s preferences, from serene, gentle waters for those seeking a relaxed dip, to wild, rushing rivers for the more adventurous. For instance, Tenaya Lake, with its calm, clear waters and sandy beaches, is ideal for families and casual swimmers. In contrast, adrenaline junkies might gravitate towards the swift currents of the Merced River, offering a thrilling, invigorating experience.

woman swimming

Essentials to Bring for Swimming in Yosemite

Swimming in Yosemite is an experience like no other, but to make the most of it, you need to come prepared. Here’s a list of essentials that will make your swimming adventure comfortable, safe, and enjoyable.

  • A comfortable swimsuit, trunks, or swim shorts are a must. For chillier waters, consider a thin wetsuit.
  • Lightweight, quick-drying microfiber towels are great for drying off after a swim and don’t take up much space in your bag.
  • Even on cloudy days, UV rays can be strong. Waterproof, eco-friendly sunscreen is crucial to protect your skin.
  • Many swimming spots require a little hike. Water shoes with good grip protect your feet both in and out of the water.
  • A bag or backpack with a waterproof compartment can keep your essentials dry while you swim.
  • For weaker swimmers or kids, a life vest is advisable for safety.
  • Swimming works up an appetite and it’s important to stay hydrated. Pack light, non-perishable snacks and plenty of water.

Tips for Packing Light Yet Effectively

  • Keep the load light by only packing the essentials for your swimming trip.
  • Carry items like a sarong that can serve multiple purposes such as a towel, picnic blanket, or sun shield.
  • Choose lightweight versions of items where possible to reduce the weight of your bag.
  • Pack travel-sized, biodegradable toiletries to maintain cleanliness and respect the environment.
  • Every item should have a purpose. If an item doesn’t serve a specific need, reconsider packing it.

Restricted Areas To Swim In Yosemite Park

There are some restricted areas for swimming in Yosemite National Park. The following locations are off-limits:

  • Hetch Hetchy Reservoir: As a critical source of drinking water for San Francisco, swimming, wading, or any water contact is strictly prohibited in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Its watershed area is also off-limits for water activities to maintain water quality.
  • Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River: The section from Dana Fork below Tuolumne Meadows Lodge is also closed for swimming due to its use as a public water supply.
  • Emerald Pool and Silver Apron: These areas above Vernal Fall are closed due to dangerous water currents and the risk of being swept over the waterfall.
  • Waterways above and within all waterfalls: These are also restricted due to the dangers associated with swift currents and the risk of falling. These restrictions are in place to protect both the park’s natural resources and the safety of its visitors. It’s essential to observe all signage and respect these restrictions when visiting the park.

Importance of Safety and Precautions

Regardless of where you choose to swim, safety should always be your top priority. Always be aware of your surroundings and the water’s current. Remember, tranquil and shallow water can quickly become deep and fast-moving, especially downstream from waterfalls. Also, keep an eye out for submerged or partially submerged rocks that can pose a hazard. In the more isolated spots, it’s advisable to have a buddy system. It ensures that there’s someone to help if you get into trouble.

While the idea of cliff jumping can be tempting, it’s strictly forbidden due to the risks associated with unseen underwater rocks and the unpredictable nature of the water.

Key Takeaways

  • Yosemite offers varied swimming experiences. Respect the park’s rules to ensure safety and protect the environment.
  • Yosemite boasts unique swimming spots, each with its own accessibility, suitability, and natural beauty.
  • Yosemite’s major water bodies, such as Tenaya Lake and Merced River, offer unique swimming experiences and are home to various wildlife.
  • Accommodations like Yosemite Valley Lodge and Rush Creek Lodge offer excellent swimming facilities and easy park access.
  • Remember to pack swimwear, towels, sunscreen, water shoes, a waterproof bag, a life vest, and refreshments for your Yosemite swim.
  • Pack light and effectively. Consider multi-purpose items, lightweight versions of essentials, and travel-sized toiletries. Make sure every item has a purpose.


1. Which spots are kid-friendly for swimming in Yosemite
Rainbow Pool and Lower Yosemite Fall are great for kids, with calm waters and easy access.

2. How varied are Yosemite’s swimming locations
Quite diverse, from the calm waters of Mirror Lake and Tenaya Lake, to the more adventurous swimming areas along the Merced River.

3. What are the best swimming lakes and rivers in Yosemite
Tenaya Lake, Mirror Lake, and the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers are among the top choices for swimmers.

4. Any endangered species in Yosemite’s water bodies
While the park is home to numerous species, the Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog, an endangered species, can sometimes be spotted near water bodies.

5. What multi-use items are recommended for a swimming trip
A sarong is a good example. It can serve as a towel, blanket, or sun shield.

6. Can I rent a life vest in Yosemite or should I bring my own
While some gear rental services may be available, it’s safest to bring your own life vest to ensure availability and fit.

7. Are food facilities available near Yosemite’s swimming spots
Some spots are near visitor centers with food facilities, but it’s a good idea to bring your own snacks and water.

8. When’s the best time to swim in Yosemite
Summer, particularly June through September, when the waters have warmed up and are safer for swimming.

9. Are there lifeguards at Yosemite’s swimming spots
No, Yosemite’s natural swimming spots do not have lifeguards. Always prioritize safety and never swim alone.

10. What should I do if I come across wildlife while swimming
Maintain a safe distance, do not feed or disturb them, and report any unusual behavior to park officials.

Extra Scoop For You!

For those of you who are intrigued about swimming, we have some extra reading material recommendations for you. Discover the enchanting world of water with these popular books:

  • Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
  • Did Not Finish Misadventures in Running, Cycling and Swimming George Mahood
  • Man vs Ocean by Adam Walker

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