Wild Side: Summer's here and it's time for wild swimming

    Summer solstice was on Monday, bringing the longest and hottest days of the year. After the short reprieve of cooler, wet weather, the forecast is calling for hot and dry weeks ahead.

    It is time to take the plunge and go “wild swimming.” 

    Wild swimming is simply taking a dip in a natural body of water. And there is something special about it. There is nothing wrong with swimming in a pool. But for me, the difference between swimming in a pool and a wild river is same as the difference between walking on a treadmill and hiking in the wilderness. One is boring exercise — the other is close to a spiritual experience.

    Lucky for us, the backyard public lands in Northern California and Southern Oregon boast alpine lakes, wild rivers and tumbling waterfalls in steep drainages — perfect for wild swimming!

    KS Wild’s Outreach Director Jeanine Moy recently put together a list of the top five wild swimming rivers in the region. Here is where Jeanine recommends for wild swimming, focusing on the rivers and streams in Southern Oregon and Northern California (swimming in our high alpine lakes deserves its own special Wild Side column):

    • Middle Fork Applegate River: Shaded by live oaks and evergreens, deep emerald swimming holes upstream of Applegate Reservoir Dam are easy to access. If you want to “double-dip” activities for the day, hike the Middle Fork Applegate trail via Forest Service Road 1035. After you are sweaty from your hike, there is nothing better than taking a dip.

    • Illinois River: Along Illinois River Road, short trails lead down to sandy beaches and deep green pools with great jumping (and lounging) rocks. Wild in character and coveted by paddlers, the mighty Illinois River is also home to rare plant species — and threatened by misuse from visitors. Due to road hazards, excessive littering and other inappropriate offenses, the Forest Service has recently banned alcohol use here. Do the right thing and leave it cleaner than you found it.

    • Smith River: The Smith River is a most special and endangered place. It is the only undammed river of its size flowing through California, yet threatened by industrial nickel strip mining. For a quick stop, access turquoise swimming holes along the Middle Fork of the Smith along scenic Hwy 199 on the way to the Redwood Coast. To get away from the main roads, check out the remote North Fork Smith and the iconic California Cobra Lily on its banks.

    • Rogue River: Bring your own boat, or defer to one of the local raft guide outfitters to head down Southern Oregon’s famed Wild and Scenic Rogue River. Fun swim explorations are to be had in the slot canyons up tributaries Mule Creek or East Creek.

    • Clear Creek: A rare treat for those willing to hike to earn a cold plunge. Wilderness Falls in the high Siskiyou Wilderness is sweet backcountry swimming hole, staying cold all-year-round and popular among backpackers from the Doe Flat or Young’s Valley trailheads.

    Before you go swimming in the wild, check out maps available at the Medford Interagency office, or the friendly folks at the Northwest Nature Shop in Ashland. It is often a good idea to bring some water sandals for negotiating both slippery and rough rocks. If you want to explore more wild places in our region, you can reach Jeanine at jeanine@kswild.org.

    Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.


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