Maybe it’s not so secret, given that it’s a marked hiking trail in Calaveras County, but I like to think of it as my secret swimming hole all the same. The place is known as Natural Bridges and is one of my most favorite places of all time. You get there by hiking about a mile down a dusty, rocky path. It’s a short distance to go to arrive at one of the coolest swimming spots you’ll ever find.

At the end of the path you arrive at what just looks and sounds like a babbling brook, but when you look along the stream to see where it goes, you see that the side of the hill next to you actually opens up to a cave that you can swim through. The water is freezing, but the swim is well worth it to see the cave opening up above you as you swim through. In the spring, there are wildflowers all along the hiking path and the opening of the cave has a constant trickling down of water from the roots of trees growing from the top of the cave, creating a sort of waterfall. In the summer, the water is more bearable, but the grass has been scorched by the California sun and the surrounding hillsides are the light brown you see throughout the Central Valley this time of year.

Todd Swimming Deeper Into the Cave (photo courtesy of Danielle Best)

Once you swim through the cave, you come to large slabs of rock that have been carved by water over time and are perfect for sunning yourself as you steel yourself for the swim back to the other side. Alternatively, if you don’t like swimming in open water or can’t stand the chill, you can hike over the cave and around to the other side (hence, the natural bridge name). Either way it’s a relaxing and lovely way to spend a day and I highly recommend it. I’m so grateful for my friends who went down there with me yesterday so I could hang out there one more time before I leave on my big trip.

If you go, I highly recommend getting out there on a weekday if you can as I’m sure it gets more crowded on weekends. We only saw two families out there while we were enjoying our lunch and a swim. There are plenty of places to spread out and you can move your way down the creek if you want more privacy, but the inside of the cave echoes and I imagine it can get loud if there are too many people there. There are also picnic benches along the hiking path and near the water if you prefer not to sprawl on the rocks. I recommend going during the warmest part of the day so the water feels refreshing rather than just plain cold. The link above is to the spot on Google Maps. Here are the directions from my friend who introduced me to the spot:

While driving South through Angels Camp, on Hwy 49 (lower/historic main street portion)
turn Left onto Hwy 4 East towards Murphys /Arnold/Bear Valley
drive 4.5 miles on Hwy 49, turn Right onto Parrots Ferry Rd just past Vallecito (and before Douglas Flat)
drive 3.7 miles on Parrots Ferry Rd, look for brown federal land sign on right of road and a sharp U-turn access road
If you get to the bridge you went a little too far. the Natural Bridges turn off is maybe a quarter mile before the top of the hill down to bridge.

When you hike down, the trail splits where you’ll see a path to your right or stairs to your left. I prefer to take the stairs to the left and then swim through the cave to the warm spot. The path to the right goes over the cave and brings you to the sunny side.