I spent four years at Chico State, graduating last May, but I didn't tour nearby Bidwell Park's most elusive swimming holes until I was assigned this story.
I'm kicking myself now for not taking the time earlier to trek among the basalt boulders and pebbled beaches in the upper reaches of the park.
The high canyon walls, deep pools and dancing trees make Salmon Hole's beauty hard to beat. Although you're just 15 minutes from Manzanita Avenue and the drive-through gate into Upper Park, it seems like you're all alone there.
"The water's clearer and cleaner and past where (most) other people swim," said local Justin Blum, who tries to make it to the swimming hole at least four times each summer.
With more than 3,600 acres of diverse landscapes stretching 11 miles from downtown to the Iron Canyon Fish Ladder, Bidwell Park offers a variety of swimming experiences – from mellow wading and a lifeguard-supervised creek pool in Lower Park to secluded, rocky and potentially dangerous spots in Upper Park. If you explore, you'll find territory to call your own.
Thousands of summer swimmers take refuge under the trees, on the banks and atop the rocks of Big Chico Creek, sharing the cool water with deer and playful pollywogs as red-shouldered hawks wheel overhead.
And it's only a 90-minute drive from Sacramento.
ENJOYING BIDWELL PARK
Considering a visit to Chico's 3,618-acre municipal park? Here are some tips.
Vehicle gates open at various times starting at 5:30 a.m. and close one hour after sunset.
Smoking is allowed only from Nov. 2 to April 30.
The tolerance for alcohol is zero.
All dogs must be kept on a leash after 8:30 a.m.
Bring along water shoes if you're unaccustomed to walking around on hot, rough rocks.
If you go to an unsupervised swimming hole, bring life jackets for children.
Bring mosquito repellent, sunscreen and drinking water.
Call the ranger station, 965 Fir St., at (530) 896-7834 to make sure that the area you're visiting is open.
Chico Creek Nature Center offers kids a place to interact with nature. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Want more details? 1968 E. Eighth St.; (530) 891-4671 or www.bidwellpark.org