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    Hidden Gems for Summer Nature Getaways

    By John Chen–

    Summer is in full swim, I mean swing, and the temperature is only going to get hotter. Many of you, like me, are on the lookout for fun, outdoor hiking and swimming adventures to beat the heat, but don’t want to fight crowds of tourists and selfie takers. We want to enjoy the great outdoors and all of its beauty, glory, serenity and tranquility in peace and quiet. Fear not, I am here to share with you a few stunningly beautiful hidden gems that only locals know.

    Coyote Creek Cave

    This beautiful destination is located in Calaveras County at the foot of the Sierras where Coyote Creek runs through a limestone cave full of mystery and intrigue. Locals enjoy swimming or floating into the dark cave where the water is pristine and cool, but pitch black until they reach daylight on the other side. It is rumored that an unidentified and never seen creature, much like the Loch Ness monster, resides in the deep dark waters.

    Last year we took a day trip to swim in the cave and perhaps to shed some light on this mystery swim hole. Armed with a couple of floaties, dry bags full of food, drinks and towels, and, of course, my camera, we proceeded to the one-mile Natural Bridge Trail from the trail head to Coyote Creek. Just as the locals had described, the cave was beautiful even in dim lighting. The water was cool and crystal clear, but dark with the depth unknown. And just as importantly, we did not encounter any mysterious creature lurking in the dark water.

    Opal Pool (Opal Creek Trail)

    True to the name, Opal Creek and Pools in Oregon are crystal opal in color and breathtaking! This nearly eight-mile, easy-to-moderate roundtrip hike alongside the creek is full of natural swimming holes and a few waterfalls. The trail also takes you through an ancient rainforest as well as an historic, but now defunct, mining town called Jawbone Flats. At the end of the trail, you are rewarded with a beautiful opal babbling creek running through a narrow gorge cascading into a calm, deep opal pool. Here, locals jump from several heights as high as 30 feet into the pristine and somewhat cold pool. For the jumpers and swimmers, the trip is very much worth it. And I wholeheartedly agree because we recently made the journey, swam and jumped into Opal Pool.

    Although it is located 30 miles east of Salem, Oregon, Opal Creek Trail and Pool is an excellent and drivable destination choice for those looking for a more lush and exotic location.

    Yuba River

    Yuba River swim holes are fairly well known to Northern Californians, but I am including these beautiful places because there are secluded natural pools for those willing to hike and scale rocks. Located approximately 70 miles northeast of Sacramento, Yuba River has three major swim holes located at three different bridge crossings: Hwy 49, Purdon and Edwards. Each crossing has roadside parking and either stairs or trails leading down to the large pools immediately under the bridges. While the vast majority of the people, especially families with small children, are stationed right at the bridges, those who are more adventurous and looking for privacy can hike either upstream or downstream and discover a plethora of large jumping rocks, clear emerald pools and natural water slides.

    At Hwy 49 Crossing, we took a minute to admire the beauty of Yuba River and the jewel-like swim hole beneath the bridge, then proceeded to hike one mile to a lesser well-known and clothing-optional pool at Hoyt Crossing. Hoyt Crossing is mainly for adults and has an easy access open shallow swim hole followed by a larger, more spectacular and deeper granite rock pool just around the river bend. A little bit more upstream where we had to swim to lies a series of natural water slides for the more adventurous.

    Plan for Your Trip

    Since all three locations are easily searchable, just Google them for directions. In the case of Opal Pool Trail, please note that you should get a parking permit online a few days before your trip.

    When traveling to all three destinations:

    • Make sure that you pack lots of water, sunscreen, bug spray, sustenance and a trash bag. Nothing ruins a trip more than being dehydrated, burnt, hungry and seeing trash that other people left behind.
    • Get to your destinations relatively early, no later than 11 am, due to limited parking, especially on weekends.
    • There is no cell service, so make sure that someone knows where you are going.
    • Be careful of poison oak along the trails.
    • A dry bag is recommended to keep all of your essentials from getting wet.
    • Water shoes are recommended due to slippery rocks.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.