Warm weather brings a natural call to tangle toes in rivers, lakes or beachfront waters along Puget Sound and Tacoma. It’s a good thing that a swimming hole is never far away, no matter where you are in the South Sound.

But first, the warnings. Warmer weather doesn’t equate to warm water temperatures. Most of the waterways in Puget Sound still have a temperature only in the upper 40s to lower 50s, even during the late summer months, making cold-water shock a genuine concern for swimmers of all abilities. Sudden exposure to cold water causes higher risks of drowning and cramps, making swimming difficult. Natural waterways like rivers, lakes and ocean beaches have their own issues, such as algae blooms and currents, so it is always a good idea to check to see if a particular waterfront location has an alert.

Tacoma swimming holes
Lake Meridian offers one of the coolest swimming areas in the South Sound since it comes complete with a musical stage for summer concerts. Photo courtesy: City of Kent

South Sound and Tacoma Freshwater Swimming Options

The first tip for lake swimming is to rinse off after taking a dip since swimmer’s itch, caused by a parasite, is an increasing issue, particularly in urban lakes. Exposure to contaminated water can lead to an allergic reaction that causes rashes, itching and pimple-like blisters. Also, natural waterways aren’t often monitored by lifeguards, so keep that in mind and check before you go, especially if you are not a strong swimmer. Cautions aside, give it a shot.

Tacoma has 20 lakes within its city limits, but most are left natural for walkers and anglers. There is, however, a designated swimming area at Wapato Park, which has all the water-access amenities one would expect. The 85-acre site has wooded trails, playground and off-leash areas, fishing spots, a picnic area with grills, horseshoe pits, restrooms, a spray ground, and historic signs. The swimming area has been plagued with closures in recent years as it battles algae blooms, so it is closed for the foreseeable future. This lake is left to boaters and toe dabblers until the situation changes.

Tacoma swimming holes
Harry Todd Park is popular with boaters, anglers and swimmers. Photo courtesy: City of Lakewood

As the name implies, Lakewood is home to a fair share of swimming holes on its lakes. The most popular among them is Harry Todd Park in the city’s Tillicum neighborhood just off Interstate 5. The 17-acre park sits along American Lake, the biggest and deepest in the city. The park has a bit of everything, from basketball courts to picnic shelters to a roped-off swimming area and fishing holes. Elsewhere on American Lake is another park, aptly named American Lake Park, a five-acre park with a roped-off swimming area closer to central Lakewood. The city’s park on Steilacoom Lake is called Edgewater Park. It has limited parking, but there is access to water for wading and fishing without crowds.

Another freshwater option for wading and waterway frolicking can be found at Kobiyashi Park in nearby University Place, which offers a riverside walking path for getting feet wet. The park sits at the junction of Leach and Chambers creeks and ultimately leads to Puget Sound at, waiting for it, Chambers Bay. Parking areas located near the fish ladder between Chambers Creek and the namesake bay are just a short walk away from the creek, where swimmers and skimboarders often find themselves during the summer months.

Less urban swimming holes can be found at Nolte State Park on Deep Lake, just outside Enumclaw and a half hour from Federal Way and Auburn. The 111-acre park offers some of everything for everyone, from swimmers to paddlers to hikers and anglers to picnickers and sun worshippers.

Tacoma swimming holes
Steel Lake in Federal Way offers swimmers an ocean beach experience on a freshwater lake. Photo courtesy: City of Federal Way

Closer to the Sound is Steel Lake, a 52-acre park in Federal Way with a dedicated swimming area and a concession stand, launch for non-motorized boats, a playground and volleyball areas. One feature that makes this park stand out is its home to the nation’s first Ability Whirl, a wheelchair roundabout that allows two kids in wheelchairs and their attendants to spin. Nearby, Auburn has Five Mile Lake Park. A lovely sandy beach surrounds this spring-fed lake and spans 32 acres of park, offering play areas, picnic spots and fishing areas. Kent’s Lake Meridian is another rural swimming spot, and it has a dock surrounding its swimming area that is also home to summer concerts.

Spanaway Lake has two designated swimming areas, a fishing pier, picnic areas, and a boat launch in a 135-acre park complete with trails and sports fields.

Bonney Lake’s North Lake Tapps Park offers public access to one of the most popular lakes in the area, particularly because of its amazing views of Mount Rainier. The south side of the lake has Allan Yorke Park, which offers a playground, trails, fishing spots, tennis courts, stage performances during the summers, boat rentals, and swimming areas.

Tacoma swimming holes
Owen Beach is one of the most popular waterfront areas in Tacoma. Photo courtesy: Metro Parks Tacoma

South Sound Saltwater Swimming Options

All cities and towns along Puget Sound have at least one park that lines their particular strips of the waterway, so finding one should not be that difficult. But some stand out more than others.

Federal Way, for example, has Dash Point Park, which is becoming particularly popular with skimboarders. Tacoma’s Owen Beach was recently renovated to update its facilities and amenities. The beach offers play areas, concessions, and boat rentals. Further south is Steilacoom’s Sunnyside Beach, which has all the small-town waterfront amenities one could imagine.

Tacoma swimming holes
Sunnyside Beach offers plenty of space to sit under the sun and dangle your toes in the water to cool off. Photo courtesy: Town of Steilacoom

So safety briefing and localized alerts aside, go out and have some waterborne fun with swimming holes in and around Tacoma and South Sound.

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