Cool Off in Chico: A Guide to the Best Water Recreation Spots

You don’t have to go far to chill out in Chico. Whether you’re jumping into Big Chico Creek at Bear Hole or laying out at the Washout with your toes in the Sacramento River, you’ll be ready to beat the summer heat at Chico’s best water recreation spots.

Big Chico Creek

Featuring half a dozen urban swimming holes, Big Chico Creek is perhaps the most popular water recreation spot in Chico! 

In Lower Bidwell Park, One Mile Recreation Area’s Sycamore Pool is a unique concrete basin filled with the naturally flowing water of the creek. This urban swimming pool has been around for generations and is definitely an iconic Chico experience! It’s also so easy to get to, at only a mile upstream from Downtown Chico and Chico State, so it’s particularly perfect for families. The Five Mile Recreation Area is another fun, family-friendly stop for those wanting to splash around while picnicking under a canopy of trees. The rest of Big Chico Creek in Lower Bidwell Park is usually pretty shallow during the warm season and lined with dozens of cozy picnic sites. 

Once you’re in Upper Bidwell Park, the swimming holes along Big Chico Creek get wilder! 

The tamest swimming holes in this part of the park are Alligator Hole and Day Camp. Featuring small sand and gravel beaches for lounging, mellow and shallow waters in the summer, and easy access from the Yahi Trail, these two swimming holes are popular with families bringing young children. The cool waters of the creek are especially refreshing after a long hike!

For a splashier adventure, head to Bear Hole and Diversion Dam. Jump in (feet first!) to the deeper waters, or catch some rays on the prominent basalt rocks here. You can park at Bear Hole Tuesdays through Saturday, but it’s less than two miles away from Horseshoe Lake if you want to hike in. You’ll be hiking for sure if you want to make it to super scenic Salmon Hole or remote Browns Hole, but the pristine and remote settings will make the trek worth it.

Late afternoon at Upper Bidwell Park's Bear Hole, with people hanging out on the rocks and swimming in the swimming holes
Upper Bidwell Park’s Bear Hole

Sacramento River

Just west of Chico, the Sacramento River is another classic location for water recreation, from tubing and boating to shoreline fishing and sunbathing. 

There’s perhaps no more quintessentially Chico way to experience the Sacramento River than with an inner tube float, a popular tradition for college students and locals alike, especially around holiday weekends like Labor Day. The classic river float starts at Irvine Finch Boat Launch and takes you downstream to Pine Creek or the Washout. Plan on the float from Irvine Finch to Pine Creek Access (or Pine Creek to Washout) to take about an hour and half to two hours, depending on the flow. Give yourself extra time to find a gravel bar to relax at along the way! 

Irvine Finch Boat Launch, Pine Creek Access, the Washout, and an additional small boat launch near the mouth of Big Chico Creek are all part of Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park. These are all great places to start a kayak adventure, a fishing trip, or a cruise on your stand-up paddleboard. Even if you don’t have a boat, gravel bars and beaches along the Sacramento River remain a hot spot to chill out in Chico!

Water recreation on the Sacramento River: a classic summertime inner tube float
Floating the Sacramento River (Photo courtesy Explore Butte County)

Water Recreation Tips

  • Waters can run cold and swift early in the season.
  • A day-use fee is required to park at Irvine Finch.
  • Be aware of other boats and obstacles in the water while floating downstream in the Sacramento River
  • Make sure to wear water shoes while in Big Chico Creek.
  • Remember to bring plenty of water and sun protection!