To many people, the best part of summer is diving into a swimming hole on a hot, sunny day.

To many people, the best part of summer is diving into a swimming hole on a hot, sunny day.

Not to bad-mouth swimming pools, but let's face it — chlorinated, concrete or Fiberglas ponds just aren't the same as a mountain lake.

If you're new to the area, finding a swim-suitable piece of pond, lake, river or creek can seem daunting, but living in the Rogue Valley means a cool pool of water to dip in is never more than 20 minutes away.

At most low-elevation lakes in the area, water temperatures don't get comfortable for swimming until mid- to late June — so the outdoor swim season isn't a long one. High-elevation lakes take until mid-July to warm up — unless you're a polar bear or don't mind swimming in a wetsuit. It would be wise to save most streams for especially hot summer days, because they don't warm up as much as lakes.

Here is a partial list of mostly muck-free bodies of water perfect for a summer swim. There are many other small lakes in the national forests and wilderness areas, but this will provide a starting point.

Remember before swimming to check for lake and stream health advisories related to E. coli and toxic algae blooms.

There is a large swimming area adjacent to the day-use area at the Howard Prairie Lake Resort. The swim area is near the resort's convenience store, restaurant and boat ramp.

The reservoir is about 25 miles east of Ashland off Hyatt Prairie Road. Day-use fee is $4 per vehicle. For information, call 541-482-1979 or see

The best swimming spot at this 33-acre park, with nearly a mile of river access, is a slow-moving pool between the Highway 62 bridge over Elk Creek and the mouth of the Rogue River. Access is through Rogue Elk County Park campground, where there is a $4 day-use fee. For information, call 541-774-8183 or see

A large swim area inside the Hyatt Lake Recreation Area is the best place to take a dip at Hyatt Lake. There is a sandy beach, plenty of picnic tables and parking spaces inside the recreation area's gate. The day-use fee at the recreation area is $3 per vehicle. The reservoir is about 25 miles east of Ashland off Hyatt Prairie Road. For information, call 541-618-2200 or see

Watch out for algae-related health advisories here, but when the water is clear, Willow Lake offers one of the most picturesque settings for a summer swim in Southern Oregon. Tucked into the Cascades near the base of Mount McLoughlin, the Jackson County-owned reservoir is a popular place to swim, boat and fish for a $3 day-use fee. Showers cost $1, and concessions are available on site. Willow Lake is about 45 miles northeast of Medford. Take Highway 62 to Butte Falls/Fish Lake Road. The lake is 7.5 miles east of the city of Butte Falls. For details, call 541-560-3900 or see

This county park offers almost two miles of Applegate River frontage, and most of the water is shallow. Cantrall-Buckley is located along Highway 238 just past Ruch. The park's stretch of river — between a small bridge over Cantrall Road and a downstream bend in the river — makes for a leisurely 20-minute float. Day-use fees are $3. For information, call 541-774-8183 or see

This is the upper Rogue's premier swimming hole, and it's just a 15-minute drive from downtown Medford. A former boat ramp here was decommissioned, and the area has been discovered by swimmers and waders. To get there, take Table Rock Road to TouVelle and enter the lower area. Take an immediate left and park at the river's edge. Bathrooms and picnic tables are available. There is a $3 day-use fee for vehicles.

When the reservoir is full, Emigrant Lake is a quick and popular way to cool off during the summer. Local masters swimmers have long used the lake for long, early-morning swims. Once the water begins to recede, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for health advisories. The lake has a water slide with its own pool-style water supply. The water slide park requires a $3 day-use fee, which includes access to concession stands, lockers, showers and a playground with water misters that kick on when temperatures get too warm. For information, call 541-774-6324 or see

Fed by Ashland Creek, the swimming reservoir is located in the southern tip of Lithia Park, near the intersection of Granite Street and Glenview Drive. If the reservoir is crowded, walk a few hundred feet upstream and take a chilly dip in the Fairy Ponds, a pooled, slow-moving section of Ashland Creek. There is a well established trail to the Fairy Ponds that leaves Granite Street. For information, call the city of Ashland at 541-488-5340.

There is a large swim area at Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area on the southeast shore of Lost Creek Lake. The recreation area provides picnic areas, restrooms, convenience store and marina. The lake seems to be plagued by toxic algae blooms every year, which can make it unsafe to swim, so watch for advisories. Lost Creek Lake is about 35 miles northeast of Medford on Highway 62. Day use and parking are free. For information, call 541-560-3334 or see

This is one of the cleanest, most swimmer-friendly reservoirs in the area, with many miles of secluded or bustling shoreline to enjoy. The lake has a large designated swimming area, but several coves around the lake, such as where Manzanita Creek enters the reservoir, are popular for swimming. The large designated swim area is located inside the Hart-Tish Recreation Area, located off Upper Applegate Road, along Highway 238. It requires a $5 day-use fee and is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Restroom and picnic facilities are on-site. Applegate Lake is about 30 miles southwest of Medford. For information, call 541-899-9220 or see

Located about nine miles east of Applegate Lake, Squaw Lakes offer just as pure of a swim as Applegate Lake, but with an out-of-the-way feel. Big Squaw lake, at 50 acres, and Little Squaw Lake, at 12 acres, both offer a calm, quaint setting. The hike-in reservoirs are located off Forest Service Road 1075, which can be accessed by crossing Applegate Dam on French Gulch Road and taking a right about one and a half miles from the dam. For information, call 541-899-9220 or see

Many of the more than 200 natural pools and lakes in this 116,300-acre wilderness area offer great swimming. Depending on which lake basin you choose and the trailhead you start from, you'll have a lengthy walk, so pack a map, and don't shy away from investing in a Pacific Crest Trail guide book for mile-by-mile notes on which trails access which lakes. Some of the best for swimming are Blue Lake, Wizard Lake, Heavenly Twins Lakes (north lake), Isherwood Lake, Lake Elizabeth, Lake Notasha, Dee Lake and Badger Lake, but you'll come across several other chest-deep and deeper lakes on the way to these spots.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or