Activities

Swimming at Cull Canyon Lagoon, Top Advice from a Local

Note: Cull Canyon lagoon is closed for the 2022 season. We’ll let you know when it opens in 2023–most likely in late April. You can still visit and enjoy the other attractions at the park.

Looking for a fun, beach-like place to swim with your family in the East Bay? Does your toddler love the water, but you don’t love the big waves of a coastal swimming destination like Half Moon Bay?

Take a quick drive down to Castro Valley and you’ll find the Cull Canyon Regional Recreational Area, where you can take a dip in a safe, artificial lagoon with the whole family. The water can be cold at the start and end of the swim season, but it’s still a great place to take your whole family.

Plus, there are lifeguards on duty, so you can relax and enjoy your time. I went there previously with my son for a day of exploring and a bit of wading in the water.

The drive from Lafayette, where I live to Cull Canyon takes about 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic heading down 680. Parking is free, but there’s a big bridge you need to walk down to reach the beach, so keep that in mind.

The bridge into Cu

The swim complex at Cull Canyon Regional Recreation Area is open during the warm weather season. It includes a bathhouse, vending machines, and a lifeguard service. It is ideal for families with little kids, who can splash in the shallows and play on the artificial sand beach of the swim lagoon.

Swimming is only allowed when lifeguards are on duty. Check that the complex is open before heading there!

When Does Cull Canyon Open?

Cull Canyon is officially open “during the warm season.” That varies year to year, but generally means that you can swim at Cull Canyon from around April through May on the weekends, and every day from June through the end of the Summer.

As the days get colder and kids go back to school, Cull Canyon closes for the season. As I write this in October of 2022, the swimming facility has already closed for the season. But don’t worry–it’ll be back next year!

  • You can check the EBRPD website to see what Cull Canyon opens.
  • You can also call the park district’s toll free hotline to see if the facility is open. Call 888-EBPARKS (888-327-2757), then choose option 3, and extension 3076.

Fees and Registration for Cull Canyon Swimming

Before the pandemic, you could usually just show up at Cull Canyon during the warm season. Now, it’s important to register in advance, especially if you’re going on a busy weekend day. You can register by visiting the East Bay Regional Parks District’s website.

The swim facility at Cull Canyon reaches capacity early on weekends and holidays. Once capacity is reached, no new entries are allowed for the rest of the day. Again, plan ahead and make reservations!

The swim facility fee is $4.00 for ages 16-61, $2.00 for ages 1-15, and $2.00 for seniors 62+ or disabled. It is free for those under 1 year old. There is no parking fee, which is a big help! Payment can be made by cash (they don’t accept bills over $20) or check.

  • $4.00 age 16-61
  • 2.00 age 1-15
  • $2.00 seniors 62+ or disabled persons
  • Under 1, swim FREE

No dogs are allowed, so leave your furry companions at home.

What Swimming at Cull Canyon is Like

Cull Canyon isn’t a natural beach, but it’s designed to feel like one. In 1966 around when Cull Canyon opened, it won a design award for its innovative use of a dam to create an artificial swimming lagoon.

The special dam–whose design had never been attempted before–allowed the water level in the swimming area to stay the same year round.

Today, the lagoon looks a bit like a large lake, lined with trees and surrounded by hiking trails through the woods. It reminds me of the classic lake you’d expect at a Summer camp. The consistent water level from its innovative dam means that Cull Canyon is great for little kids, who can wade in the shallow portions easily.

This video gives a great tour of Cull Canyon:

After crossing the bridge and paying admission at the swim complex, you get access to the swimming area. The lagoon itself is lined with an artificial white sand beach. Kids love that, and it makes it easy to enter the water anywhere they’d like.

Using the Swimming Lagoon

The beach isn’t too wide, but many people still manage to bring folding chairs, small tents, beach towels and more. You can bring a picnic, but alcohol, glass containers and portable barbecues aren’t allowed.

Cull Canyon is known for its extremely dedicated lifeguards. Sitting in towers above the beach, they keep a close watch, and won’t hesitate to yell out to swimmers who are going too deep into the water or doing anything reckless.

You can get a life jacket for your younger kids if you need one. Of course, you should still keep them close to you and supervise any children you bring to Cull Canyon.

Like a big Summer camp lake, there is a floating dock in the deeper portion of the lagoon (it gets about 10 feet deep) where kids can jump into the water. The littlest ones will probably be content to play on the beach and do a bit of wading.

When I visited, my son was a bit young to go out into deep water. He still enjoyed hanging out on the beach and dipping his toes in the water, though!

Is the Lagoon Chlorinated?

Yes, Cull Canyon lagoon is chlorinated.

This is one of the coolest things about the swimming lagoon. Although it feels like a natural lake–with all the beauty of surrounding woods and the visual interest of beaches and natural features–the lagoon is fully chlorinated.

That means your little ones can enjoy the experience of swimming in a natural setting, but you don’t need to worry about hygiene. Again, Cull Canyon’s history and its innovative water system make this possible.

Is there wheelchair access at Cull Canyon?

Unfortunately, there isn’t wheelchair access at Cull Canyon. That’s according to info from the East Bay Regional Parks District.

If you need an accessible place for a swim, these other swimming parks in the East Bay offer accessible features:

  • Lake Anza in Berkeley
  • Don Castro in Castro Valley
  • Del Valle in Livermore

Other Things to Do at Cull Canyon

The swimming lagoon is one of Cull Canyon’s signature features, but there are a ton of other things to do there as well.

Take a Hike

Cull Canyon is on the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail, which is being created between the two parks. The trail starts at Heyer Avenue and runs parallel to Alameda County Flood Control property. It then continues through Cull Canyon Regional Recreation area before heading north into East Bay Municipal Utility District property. From there, the Willow View Trail leads into Anthony Chabot Regional Park.

Have a Picnic

In addition to the chance for a beach picnic, Cull Canyon has several larger picnic areas outside the swim area. To reserve a picnic area for your group, call 1-888-EBPARKS or 1-888-327-2757 and press option 2. For groups of 30 or more people, reservations are required any day of the week. Weekends and holidays tend to be very busy, so make a reservation in advance.

See Wildflowers

Cull Canyon is known for its wildflowers. Calflora has a dedicated list of specimens sighted near Cull Canyon.

Conclusion

Especially for families with little kids, Cull Canyon is one of the best swimming lagoons in the East Bay. It’s easy to access, and your kids will love the natural setting. You’ll love that it’s chlorinated, inexpensive, and has a white sand beach where you can relax between swim sessions.

Visit Cull Canyon (during the season!) at:

18627 Cull Canyon Rd. Castro Valley, CA 94552

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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