Families will love this gorgeous river in Ticino with crystal clear water, a magical spot for swimming and sunbathing on hot summer days. You can splash and swim in lots of places along the river, but the most popular place is at Lavertezzo where you can easily spend several lazy hours, soaking in the sun, splashing in the icy pools, wandering around the rocks, and watching crazy show-offs doing flips off the iconic two arch bridge. It can be a dangerous place as there are some big rapids and swift currents. But there are many small natural pools secluded within the rocks, which are safe for small children. We love this place and hope you do too.
|Car:||2hr30 from Zurich, 30 mins from Locarno
All day parking CHF 10: 46°15’44.1″N 8°49’52.5″E
|Train:||2hr50 from Zurich, Adult with half-fare CHF 72.40
Bus stop: Lavertezzo, Paese
|Trail:||short path to reach swimming area, see also optional hike to this spot|
|Condition:||lumpy dirt path, no strollers|
|Open:||May through October, but swimming best in July and August|
The famous swimming area is located in Lavertezzo, which is a tiny “town” in the Valle Verzasca, a bit northwest of Locarno. You can park next to the river and access the swimming area by foot, a very short walk over the bridge then picking your way through boulders: no strollers.
This is a wild river, not a monitored swimming area. So use caution and watch little children very carefully. The water is icy cold even in the middle of summer, so it’s only good to swim on a very hot day. Some parts of the river are more dangerous than others so pick your swimming spot carefully.
There are cafes and a kiosk in the adjacent town, no grocery. This is a dry region and fires are discouraged outside official fire pits.
We also did a very nice hike from Sonogno (higher up the river) ending at the swimming spot in Lavertezzo, details in this post.
By car: Drive to Lavertezzo. There are 3 hour parking spots near the bridge (CHF 2/hr) and an all day parking lot about 500m up the road from the bridge (CHF 10/day).
By transit: Take a train to Tenero, then a postbus to Lavertezzo. It’s a long trip from Zurich, so probably better to visit while staying in the Locarno area.
On your way up the valley, you pass an enormous dam which was the location of James Bond’s bungee jump in the film Goldeneye. You can do it too or just walk across the dam like we did.
Keep driving to Lavertezzo. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the two arch rock bridge below. In Lavertezzo, there are a couple dozen metered parking spots with a three hour limit. There is a bigger parking area with all-day parking about 500m farther up the road. This meter took change and cards.
You start on the east side of the river on this dirt path.
It’s a short walk to the bridge shown below.
You’ll walk across that bridge, then down to the rocks next to the river. The bridge has very low railings, which makes me nervous. Some people jump off this bridge into the river – not recommended. Most people hang out right next to the bridge, so it initially looks very crowded. But as you make you way farther down the river, there’s lots of room to spread out.
Just walk along the rocks until you find a good spot. Even on a crowded summer day, there’s plenty of room to spread out. Strangely, most people stay close to the bridge, so just keep walking down the river until the crowds thin out.
It’s best to wear river shoes as you may need to dip in and out of little pools as you wander.
This was our home base and picnic spot, next to the rapids. There is almost no shade in this area unless you climb off the rocks into the forest. So we were happy to get this little tree. It’s rocky, not sandy, so it’s best to bring a comfy picnic blanket.
Before I continue, a short warning. You must respect the water. There are signs all over this area reminding people to be very careful in and around the river. Our first time, I was really nervous about bringing my little kids. But once I was there, it was really obvious where it was safe to swim with little kids and where not to go. Stay away from the big rapids and don’t let your kids wander on their own. Also, the water level changes, so when you go, conditions may be very different from what is shown in my photos. Please use common sense and good judgment.
Some sections are rough and fast like below.
But there are lots of calm contained pools for safe bathing.
There are a lot of little shallow pools where little kids can safely splash. It’s cold but on a hot day, it doesn’t bother you too much. Some pools are deceptively deep and slippery, so test them before sending in non-swimmers and remember to bring floaties.
Some pools, like the one below, are ankle deep and a bit sandy, perfect for toddlers.
We dared each other to stand under this icy waterfall.
Some pools are deep enough to swim in, like the one below.
Some rocks form natural water slides, which provided endless fun for my boys.
If you want a little more excitement, there is short section of the river where you can jump in and float down the river for a short distance and exit the river well before the rapids start. The exit point shown above is pretty much enclosed, so you can swim around in this part without being sucked into the main river. But be warned that the river is much colder than the shallow pools in the rocks. Much colder!!! So before jumping in, test out the water. My husband and older son practically flew out of the icy water after jumping in and were a bit in shock.
If nothing else, this area is simply beautiful. The water is crystal clear and the rock formations so interesting.
On the road side of the river, you can walk south (opposite direction of the bridge) to a little park with picnic tables, grill pit, fountain and small playground (the grassy spot at the end of the walkway on the left of this photo).
The park is under those trees below. It has a beautiful view of the river and rapids and could be a good alternative if you want to enjoy the view but don’t want to swim.
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