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10 places to cool off this summer

Natasha Bourlin  |

During those years when Northern Nevada feels as if it has only two seasons — winter and summer, at times in the same week — it’s natural to seek a happy medium, temperature-wise.

The Truckee River isn’t advisable to cool off in this year due to fast river flow, so on those scorching hot days when triple-digit temperatures loom, these 10 area getaways are perfect to escape the heat; all are within about an hour of Reno by car and either free or less than $10 per person to access.

Donner Lake

Just over the hill from the much-touted Tahoe is the smaller Donner Lake. On its east side is the Donner Memorial State Park, a tribute to the renowned struggling party and namesake of the lake and mountain pass. Kayaking, boating, swimming, camping and more can be enjoyed there. Find one of the lengthy public piers on the lake’s west side and set up a day camp. Take exit 184, Donner Pass Road, off Interstate 80 in Truckee.

Frenchman Lake

Less than an hour north of Reno in Plumas County, California, resides a large lake at a refreshing 5,500-foot elevation. Surrounded by gold-country towns like Chilcoot and Vinton, the cool waters of Frenchman Lake are also surrounded by merciful, shade-offering pine trees. Campgrounds are plentiful nearby, because the temperatures may entice you for more than one day. Take Highway 395 north to Highway 70, then to California State Route 284 directly to Frenchman Lake.

Hampshire Rocks

Shhhhh, not many people know of these expansive flat rocks guiding soak-seekers to the South Yuba River. Located just off Interstate 80 near Donner Summit, take the Rainbow Road exit 168 and cross over to the south side of the freeway, and the swimming hole will be in front of you. There may be parked cars, further indicating you’re in the right place. Small waterfalls dot the landscape, with calm, natural pools amidst the boulders to swim in. Hampshire Rocks Campground is next door if an overnight cooling adventure is desired.

Mount Rose Summit

While closer to the sun at high elevation, it can feel remarkably cooler. When the valleys and even Lake Tahoe are in the 80s, 90s or more, Mount Rose itself generally remains in the mild 70s. The hike begins at about 8,900-foot elevation, peaking at 10,778 feet with panoramic views of Tahoe and the surrounding valleys and mountain ranges. Head to the Mount Rose Summit trailhead directly off State Route 431, the Mount Rose Highway. At the highway’s summit, you’ll find a large parking lot, facilities and the trailhead to more reasonable temperatures. After working up a bit of a sweat getting there, of course.

Washoe Lake

In Reno’s backyard is a lake of a size that ebbs and flows like the tides. This year, it is flowing, big time, thanks to the abundant snow and rainfall. While elevation is lower than in some surrounding areas, meaning the temperatures may not be as cool as other nearby locales, the water itself — along with the prevalent winds Washoe Valley is known for — can cool you off nicely. Boating, windsurfing, fishing, hiking and picnicking are options at Washoe Lake State Park, and a handy, downloadable guide is available here. Take U.S. 395/Interstate 580 to the East Lake Boulevard exit.

Boca and Stampede reservoirs

Just outside of Truckee are two neighboring, man-made reservoirs offering some sanctuary from searing temperatures. Both are just about 30 miles from Reno on Interstate 80, give or take a few, and are great for swimming and water recreation. To get to both, take exit 194, Hirschdale Road, off Interstate 80 and follow the signs.

North Valleys Water Splash Park

This national award-winning, aviation-themed splash park celebrates its air racing neighbors in Stead with water-spouting aircraft replicas. Five dozen spray heads and 20 water features entice people of all ages to frolic through the park. Swimsuits are mandatory — even for parents if you need to supervise your kiddos —and it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, through Aug. 6. Cost is $3 per person, unless you are younger than 2 or older than 62. It’s located off of the Lemmon Drive exit from U.S. 395 north.

Bowers Mansion Pool

At Bowers Mansion Regional Park in Washoe Valley, a 44-meter outdoor pool resides in the midst of trees that have existed since the Comstock Lode. The large, Z-shaped pool features a lap-swim lane, one-meter springboard and a wading pool for kids 6 and younger. It’s open through Aug. 6, with varying hours that can be found on their website, but is also available for pool parties prior. Admission ranges from free to $5, based on age. Take exit 50 from U.S. 395/Interstate 580 and follow Old U.S. 395 to Maranatha Road.

Sparks Marina

Fishing piers, playgrounds and beaches, windsurfing, sailing and scuba diving, too. You’ll find all these and more at the Sparks Marina, a man-made, 77-acre lake off exit 19 on Interstate 80 east. Swimming is permitted only in the designated area on the north beach, where lifeguards are on duty between certain hours daily through summer. Their website has more details, including where you can embark on other refreshing activities around the lake. Take exit 19, McCarran Boulevard from eastbound Interstate 80.

Lake Tahoe

Let’s finish with the most recognizable water feature in the area. Cold water, direct from snow melt? Check. Does it feel blissful when it’s 80 to 90 degrees outside? Absolutely. There are many a rock or beach to enter Tahoe from around its 72 miles of shoreline. Some of the closest swim spots to Reno and easiest to access are the frequently packed Kings Beach and Sand Harbor State Park, but check out Commons Beach in Tahoe City, or Hidden and Chimney Beaches on the east side, both requiring easy-to-moderate hikes. In South Lake Tahoe, D.L. Bliss State Park and Camp Richardson offer great sandy spots, while Sugar Pine Point on the west side serves up some sand with a side of Tahoe history. Check out several options here.