Rainbow Pool – A Great Swimming Hole on the South Fork of the Tuolumne

photo by adam blauert

photo by adam blauert

A cool place to cool off

If you’re looking for a place to cool off in the water, many areas will be more dangerous than usual. 

One of the places that you can go for some reliable water recreation on a summer afternoon is the ever-popular Rainbow Pool on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River.

A short waterfall drops into the pool, providing a beautiful backdrop and keeping the water fresh.

The parking area has been repaved, and access has been improved.  Restrooms are provided and you can enjoy a picnic lunch between dips in the water.

Rainbow Pool isn’t the kind of place where you are going to find a lot of solitude, but that’s part of what makes it a great place for families.  There are generally plenty of people around should any kind of emergency occur. 

Your kids are likely to find others to splash and swim with.  It’s lose to Highway 120 and easy to find – no wandering around on confusing dirt roads way back in the forest.

How to find the location

To get to this swimming hole, drive 15 miles east of Groveland on Highway 120.  Watch for signs on the right side of the road. 

Signs for Cherry Lake Road on the left side are another indicator that you are there.  Turn right into the day use area and find a parking spot beneath the trees.  The swimming hole is just a few steps down the hill. 

Traffic is routed through the parking lot in a one-way loop.

Don’t be alarmed when the road takes you under the highway bridge and parallel with the highway on your way out of the lot.  It will connect with the highway at the Cherry Lake Road.

Located so close to Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance, it’s a great place to stop on a Yosemite vacation.  You can extend your trip by camping at a nearby campground.  In fact, one of the best ways to enjoy a multi-day trip to Yosemite is to camp outside the park in one of the nearby campgrounds.

While campgrounds inside the park are booked almost the moment that reservations become available and non-reserved sites are hit-or-miss, campgrounds outside the park boundaries are much better bet.

Campgrounds near Rainbow Pool

Lost Claim


Lumsden Bridge

The Pines

South Fork


Diamond O.  

You can check current conditions by clicking on each campground above.

Or calling (209) 962-7825.

Watch for brown and white signs with tent icons along Highway 120 to find the campgrounds. 

All are operated by the US Forest Service and generally charge less than $25/night.

Diamond O can be reserved in advance through www.recreation.gov, the federal government’s reservation service.

I saw an angler catch a rainbow trout on nearly his first cast into the river above the swimming area.  The Department of Fish and Game regularly stocks this part of the river.

Safety First

Now that I’ve gotten you excited about swimming here, remember that all outdoor recreation carries certain risks with it.  Swimming is safest in protected pools without strong currents.

Currents may not always be visible to the naked eye, so investigate carefully.  Only jump into water if you have carefully ascertained that there is enough depth to do so, and never dive off a rock or cliff.  If you are not a strong swimmer, wear a life vest to help you float.

“Water wings” and other flotation devices for children are also strongly recommended, even if they have strong swimming skills.

Most people enjoy swimming in natural pools without any real danger, but every year a few people die from making bad choices. 

I write all of these warnings because my goal is to help people make fun memories in the great outdoors and to prevent further tragedies.

The outdoors provides millions of opportunities for recreation, relaxation, physical challenges, and bonding among family members and friends.

Get out and have a great time, just don’t forget safety in the process. 

Swimming in developed, popular areas like Rainbow Pool provides an added degree of safety and a bit more peace of mind for Mom!