Summertime swimming holes and fishing poles – that is what makes a lazy summer afternoon. Do you know where your local swimming hole is? You probably have several, as do I, so let’s swap swimming hole stories. I’ll tell you all the ones that I know of in the lower valley, and you email me and tell me about all the ones I’ve missed. Deal?

At the south end of Gold Creek Loop is a small parking area with a steep footpath down to a rocky beach and a sandy swimming hole. Great big cottonwoods provide cooling shade on large boulders perfect for sitting on or jumping off. Small kids will enjoy small side streams and shallow areas perfect for floating toy boats and building rocky dams.

The sandy beach at McFarland Creek gives way to a sunny, circular current surrounding the swimming hole. Hop on an inner tube and follow the flow round and round the edge of the pool, dipping over one small but exciting rapid. The parking lot has grill gates, a restroom, and interpretive signs. Nearby, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a rotary style fish trap used to estimate the number of Chinook and summer steelhead in the Methow River Basin. A Discover Pass is required for use of the McFarland Creek Recreational Area.

Interpretive signs placed by the Okanogan National Forest and Methow Valley Water Planning Pilot Project tell the geologic story of “The River’s Work,” explaining how glaciers carved out this valley and how to read the history in the lines of the rocks and the bends of the river.

McFarland Creek even has poetry! “From the Wild People” by William Stafford captures the heart of Methow Valley:


Time used to live here.

It likes to find places like this

And then leave so quietly

That nothing wakes up.

They say there was a time when

Rocks liked to dance. You can see

Where that happened – great piles

Of old partners that got tired of each other.


Alta Lake has beaches and a view. And pizza. Photo by Joanna Bastian

Alta Lake has beaches and a view. And pizza. Photo by Joanna Bastian

Alta Lake State Park is a hidden gem in the lower end of Methow Valley. This alpine lake is two miles long, half a mile wide and has a large sandy beach with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. A pleasantly cool and grassy picnic area has covered tables, restrooms and showers. The snack shack serves up Polish hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pizza, ice cream and cold beverages. Hiking trails line the lake, and there is horseback riding and boat rentals. The park requires a Discover Pass or you may purchase a $10 day pass.

While I was there a few days ago, an Eastern European family was enjoying the sunshine and I was enjoying listening in to their conversation, none of which I could understand, but I enjoyed the deep musical rolls of U, R and SH. I did catch one identifiable phrase: “I love the smell of these pine trees.” And that is what you get at Alta Lake: the refreshing smell of ponderosa pine, crisp alpine water, and sunscreen – which you should slather on before visiting any swimming hole.