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Jesse Weber | 05.30.2017

There may be no summer activity more timeless than taking a dip in a swimming hole, a classic recipe for satisfaction on a hot weekend. And there is no better way to spice up the fun than by sprinkling in some adrenaline and jumping off cliffs.

Cliff jumping is, of course, a dangerous activity that should be enjoyed responsibly, and swimming holes are special places that can be easily damaged by irresponsible use. Here are some quick tips for keeping yourself safe, keeping the swimming holes safe, and some suggestions of where to go.


Here are some basic safety tips, but these are no substitute for using good judgment and common sense. If it doesn't feel good, don't jump!

1. ALWAYS check the depth first, or only jump if you can see/be told by others with 100% confidence where the safe places are.

2. Unless you are already an experienced diver, always land feet first. Improper diving technique can cause head and neck injuries or loss of consciousness.

3. Jump up and out, don't just drop with single step, and land straight. This is harder than it sounds if you are new to high cliff jumps. While in the air, look down at the water to spot your landing and orient yourself. Don't close your eyes. It's fine to wave your arms and legs a bit to right your body and stay straight, but tuck them in just before hitting the water. The instant before splashdown, you can close your eyes and lift your chin to avoid the water smacking your face.

4. Keep your legs and back straight, but don't tense up and lock your knees. They should work as shock absorbers, but without bending so much that you land in a seated position or on your back. Tensing up too much or too soon is the easiest way to land sideways. Try to hit the water with your toes slightly pointed to streamline entry. As soon as you've hit the water, let your arms and legs go to catch a lot of drag in the water and avoid going too deep.

5. Don't hold your nose. This is the best way to get a bloody nose or a black eye. The impact on the surface will cause you to punch yourself the face. The best place for your arms is firmly at your sides, but you can also hold them crossed over your chest. To avoid too much water jetting up your nostrils, exhale forcefully from your nose as you hit.

Each of these techniques on their own seem simple, and they are, but remembering to combine them all perfectly in a split second is hard. Practice on low jumps and slowly work your way up, but avoid getting overconfident. An overzealous liftoff from the cliff edge can quickly launch your body into a position that is difficult to correct, so get into a rhythm and stick to it.

If your own sense of self preservation isn't enough to discourage unnecessary risk, keep in mind that accidents can have repercussions for all. Depending on who manages the land, swimming holes can easily get shut down permanently after someone gets hurt, so poor decisions can ruin the fun for everybody.


Natural zones around water sources are fragile, especially in arid climates like much of the American West. If you trample, pollute, deface, or otherwise trash an area, it may take a long time to recover. This hurts the environment, damages the experience for other visitors, and can ruin all future use if the place gets shut down. To be responsible, be sure to tread lightly and try to stick to established trails and solid rock when you walk around. Pack out all your own waste, pick up litter when you see it, and obey all posted rules.

And finally, here are some suggestions for places to get out and enjoy the water. These are all on public land or in some cases private land that permits access. Always be sure you have permission before swimming, jumping, or even walking across someone's property if you go find your own watering holes.



Northern California

Southern California






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