Using This Guide

The Ratings
Icon Fair
A swimming hole rated as fair just makes the basic requirements of being reviewed -- at least six feet deep and no man-made structures visible. It probably has a low expectation of privacy.
Icon Good
This is a place that, although it has merits, it's also got some liabilities like heavy visitorship or little vertical description.
Icon Excellent
To get an excellent rating a swimming hole must have some compelling vertical feature like a fall or a jumping rock. Privacy is likely, which suggests the most you would expect to find is one other group.
Icon Classic
This is a place that possesses the Holy Trinity of height, depth and privacy. Tall, vertical rock gives a sense of enclosure above the waterline and produces a fat deep end.
The Season

Icon Spring
Smaller or dryer watersheds. The spring swimming holes open as soon as the water's warm enough (April or so) and end when the water gets stagnant. The closing varies greatly, but the Fourth of July is a good benchmark. Just about all of Southern California is a spring thing.
Icon Summer
The Fourth of July through Labor Day. Usually streams and creeks between 1,500 and 4,000 feet elevation. Tributaries to major Sierra rivers and sometimes the rivers themselves depending on how heavy the snow pack is. Some are better earlier in the summer, some later. If the hole has both a spring and a summer designation that means late June through July is best.
Icon Fall
An autumn swimming hole. Often the main stems or major forks of Sierra rivers which are usually still be too high even in early July. Given that they drain elevations as high as 10,000 feet, the water stays cold well into the summer. The good part is you can probably use it on hot autumn days through September, even as late as October at lower elevations. Some steep, narrow swimming holes on smaller streams may receive a fall designation because water is too fast even during the moderate summer flow.
The Approach

Icon Beginner
Suitable for novice hikers. The approach is less than one-half hour with no more than a couple of tricky steps. You can bring kids.
Icon Intermediate
An approach of up to one hour. It may include boulder hopping, bushwhacking amphibious hiking or moderate scrambling during which you might bash a knee or skin an elbow. You'll feel like a kid.
Icon Advanced
The approach will take more than one hour and may include extensive boulder hopping, river fords, route finding or 3rd class scrambling with potentially injurious fall. Leave the kids at home.
Icon Expert
Three-hour approaches over difficult terrain or technical approaches requiring rope. No kidding around.
The Company

Icon Four-Legged Hikers
The "Bowser" icon indicates spots in national forests where dog aren't prohibited and the terrain is suitable.
Icon The Boom Box Brigades
Indicates that crowds are likely. Potential rowdiness. Likely to be evidence of at least one broken beer bottle.
Icon The Family
You're generally safe bringing little dippers of any age to a swimming hole with a beginner's approach. However, short approach holes without a child icon indicates either the rocks are too steep or the water is otherwise inappropriate for junior. On an intermediate approach, a child under seven may tire.
Icon Skinny Dipping!
The Butt indicates one of two things. Either there's a chance you will find skinny dippers (most places in the Motherlode, for instance) or the place is private enough that you and your companion(s) can opt for no tan lines.
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