Northern California has some of the most beautiful campsites in the country, but the summer heat can make campers lose their cool. Whether it’s a swimming hole carved by granite or in a lake directly outside your tent, these ten campgrounds with swimming options are sure to provide some of the best aquatic adventures in the region.

Pink sunset reflects in Lake Utica, shore is a rocky surface and three canoes are visible on the shore ahead

Fabulous Utica Lake at sunset. Photo © Steven Belcher/8532914@N05, licensed CC-BY SA 2.0.

Note: Each site in this list has a scenic rating of eight or above. Want more suggestions for campsites with swimming? Check out the latest edition of Moon California Camping to find your perfect spot.

Mcarthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park (near Lassen National Forest)

Region: Lassen and Modoc
Scenic Rating: 9/10
Swimming: swimming hole (with waterfall)
Barney Falls plunges into a pool at its base, rocks line the shore.

Swimming in cool (literally) Burney Falls is a dream, especially on hot days. Photo © Asher Jaffe.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park was originally formed by volcanic activity and features 910 acres of forest and five miles of stream and lake shore. The Headwaters horse camp is three miles from the main campground. (Non-equestrian campers may stay at the horse camp, but only tents are allowed.) The campground is pretty and set amid large ponderosa pines. Camping-style cabins were installed in 2008 and have been a hit since.

Burney Falls is a 129-foot waterfall, a beautiful cascade split at the top by a little grove of trees, with small trickles oozing and falling out of the adjacent moss-lined wall. Since it is fed primarily by a spring, it runs strong and glorious most of the year, producing 100 million gallons of water every day. The Headwaters Trail provides an outstanding hike to see the waterfall and Burney Creek, as well as for an easy adventure and fishing access to the stream. An excellent fly-fishing section of the Pit River is below the dam.

Note: For a similarly breathtaking waterfall/swimming hole experience, check out Fowlers Camp (scenic rating 10/10), about a half hour drive north.

Utica and Union Reservoirs (northeast of Arnold in Stanislaus National Forest)

Region: Tahoe and the Northern Sierra
Scenic Rating: 10/10
Swimming: lake
Utica Reservoir at dawn

Utica Reservoir at dawn: the glassy water looks perfect for a dip. Photo © eugevon/Flickr, CC-BY SA.

These twin reservoirs are set in Sierra granite at 6,850 feet. Union is a beautiful and quiet lake that is kept that way with rules that mandate a 5-mph speed limit. Utica does not allow motors of any kind. Most of the campsites provide lakeside views. Fishing is often good—trolling for kokanee salmon—but you need a boat. The setting is great, especially for canoes or other small boats. This area was once a secret, but alas the secret is out and there are now three new, small campgrounds around the water’s edge.

Staying at this hidden gem of a campsite will earn you membership into the 5 Percent Club: pristine, quiet spots that less than 5% of campers visit.

Sulphur Springs (on Elk Creek in Klamath National Forest)

Region: Shasta and Trinity
Scenic Rating: 8/10
Swimming: streams, lake, hot springs

This hidden spot is along Elk Creek on the border of the Marble Mountain Wilderness. The camp is at a trailhead that provides access to miles and miles of trails that follow streams into the backcountry of the wilderness area. It is a 12-mile backpack trip one-way and largely uphill to Spirit Lake, one of the prettiest lakes in the entire wilderness, making this a great spot for backpackers and serious hikers. The nearby hot springs (which are usually around 75 degrees) provide a side attraction. There are also some swimming holes nearby in Elk Creek, but these aren’t hot springs, so expect the water to be cold. Sulphur Springs Camp is at 2,300 feet.

As a bonus, this campsite is also a part of the 5 Percent Club.

D.L. Bliss State Park (on Lake Tahoe)

Region: Tahoe and the Northern Sierra
Scenic Rating: 10/10
Swimming: lake
a boulder shoreline of dark rock and a few trees overlooks the bright blue water in DL Bliss State Park, with blue mountains looming across the water in the distance

“Bliss” indeed! Photo © Kazuho Okui/naan/Flickr, licensed CC-BY.

D. L. Bliss State Park is set on one of Lake Tahoe’s most beautiful stretches of shoreline, from Emerald Point at the mouth of Emerald Bay northward to Rubicon Point, spanning about three miles. The camp is at the north end of the park, the sites nestled amid pine trees, with 80 percent of the campsites within 0.5-1 mile of the beach. The park is named for a pioneering lumberman, railroad owner, and banker of the region, whose family donated this 744-acre parcel to California in 1929. There are two great easy hiking trails: Rubicon Trail and Balancing Rock Trail (for more detailed hiking information, see the book). This camp is so beautiful it has earned a spot in the author’s Top 10 Campgrounds for Hikes with Views.

Note: All water must sometimes be pump-filtered or boiled before use, depending on current water conditions.

Lake Siskiyou Resort and Camp (near Mount Shasta)

Region: Shasta and Trinity
Scenic Rating: 9/10
Swimming: lake
Lake Siskiyou reflecting snow-capped mount Shasta under beautiful sky after sunset

Mount Shasta reflects in glassy Lake Siskiyou. Photo © Chanya Kaya/iStock

This is a true gem of a lake, a jewel set at the foot of Mount Shasta at 3,181 feet, the prettiest lake on the I-5 corridor in California. The lake level is almost always full (because it was built for recreation, not water storage) and offers a variety of quality recreation options, with great swimming, low-speed boating, and fishing. The campground complexes are huge, yet they are tucked into the forest so visitors don’t get their styles cramped. The water in this 435-acre lake is clean and fresh. There is an excellent beach and swimming area, the latter protected by a buoy line. A good boat ramp and boat rentals are available, and a 10-mph speed limit is strictly enforced, keeping the lake pristine and quiet. The campgrounds often fill on weekends and summer holidays.

There are also cabins available, along with other amenities such as restrooms with flush toilets and showers, boat rentals, volleyball, a playground, gift shop, and coin laundry—putting Siskiyou in the list of Top 10 Campsites for Families. A free movie also plays every night in the summer, so parents can get some personal time.

Note: If you can’t get a spot here, Kangaroo Lake and Toad Lake Walk-In are nearby backup campsites.

Lake Oroville Boat-In and Floating Camps

Region: Sacramento and Gold Country
Scenic Rating: 10/10
Swimming: lake
The top of a railing overlooks Lake Oroville and the dusty hills in the background

View from one of the floating campsites on Lake Oroville. It doesn’t get much better than that! Photo © cleftclips/Flickr, licensed CC-BY.

It doesn’t get any stranger than this, and for those who have tried, it doesn’t get any better. We’re talking about the double-decker floating camps at Lake Oroville, along with the great boat-in sites. The floating camps look like giant patio boats and sleep 15 people. There are also dispersed boat-in camps around the lake, which are particularly excellent in the spring and early summer, when the water level at the lake is high. In late summer, when the lake level drops, it can be a fair hike up the bank to the campsites, and, in addition, if the water drops quickly, your boat can be left sitting on the bank; it can be quite an effort to get it back in the water. Oroville is an outstanding lake for water sports, with warm water and plenty of room, and also with excellent bass fishing, especially in the spring. Keep in mind that there is no drinking water at this site, so you’ll have to pack your own.

Note: If you’re in the market for warm lakes, Collins Lake Recreation Area is another potential spot.

Seacliff State Beach (near Santa Cruz)

Region: Monterey and Big Sur
Scenic Rating: 10/10
Swimming: ocean
A sandcastle on the beach on a clear day with a pier and the shipwreck in the background

Make sandcastles or visit the mysterious shipwreck on Seacliff Beach! Photo © ddebold/Flickr, licensed CC-BY.

Here is a very pretty spot along Monterey Bay – so pretty that is in the list of Tom’s Top 10 Scenic Campgrounds. Beach walks are great, especially for dramatic sunsets on clear evenings, as is swimming and sunbathing on the long stretch of sand backed by coastal bluffs. A visitors center is open in the summer. This is a popular layover for vacationers touring Highway 1 in the summer, but the best weather is from mid-August to early October. A structure many call the “old cement ship” nearby provides some fascination, but for safety reasons visitors are no longer allowed to walk on it. It is actually an old concrete freighter, the Palo Alto. Fishing is often good adjacent to the ship.

Memorial County Park (near La Honda)

Region: San Francisco Bay Area
Scenic Rating: 8/10
Swimming: swimming hole
Trail at Memorial County State Park, a footbridge sits between two tall trees.

Lots of shade and spacious grounds make this the perfect campsite for families. Photo © Buddha Dog/Flickr, licensed CC-BY SA.

If you’re looking for a quick escape from the city, this beautiful 500-acre redwood park is on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, tucked in a pocket between the tiny towns of La Honda and Loma Mar. The park is known for its family camping areas and Tan Oak and Mount Ellen nature trails. The campground features access to a nearby network of 50 miles of trails, with the best hike along the headwaters of Pescadero Creek. A swimming hole on Pescadero Creek next to the campground is popular during the summer. The camp is often filled on summer weekends, but the sites are spaced, so it won’t cramp your style.

Indian Springs (near the Yuba River)

Region: Tahoe and the Northern Sierra
Scenic Rating: 8/10
Swimming: stream, pools, nearby lakes

Easy to reach from I-80, this camp is in a beautiful setting at 5,600 feet along the South Fork Yuba River. There is a gorgeous stream, running deep blue-green and pure through granite, complete with giant boulders and beautiful pools for cliff jumping. Trout fishing is fair. A small swimming beach is nearby, though the water is cold. There are also several lakes in the vicinity.

Open June through September, weather permitting.

Madrone, Huckleberry, and Dawn Redwood (in Richardson Grove State Park)

Region: Redwood Empire
Scenic Rating: 8/10
Swimming: swimming holes
Sitting feet are pictured on the rocky shore of the Eel River, in the background people are swimming in the river.

Happy feet at the Eel River swimming hole. Photo © ultimateslug/Flickr, licensed CC-BY SA.

On the highway right through Richardson Grove State Park, everyone slows to gawk at the tallest trees in the world, one of the most impressive groves of redwoods you can drive through in California. There are several campgrounds available at the park, as well as a network of outstanding hiking trails. The Eel River runs through the park, providing excellent summer swimming holes and thus making reservations a necessity from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend.

10 Great Northern California Campgrounds with Swimming Options


Excerpted from the Twentieth Edition of Moon California Camping.