America's Best Swimming Holes

  • Havasu Falls, Arizona

    Photo: iStock

    1 of 22

    Nature’s swimming pools are key to beating the summer heat. Fortunately, you’ll find them everywhere, from New York to California.

    From June 2014 By ,

    Standing in the sunshine on the rocky bank, with rivulets of cool water dripping from your hair and swimsuit, you wait your turn at the base of the old oak. You’re up. You grip the fraying rope, get a running start, swing out over the pool of clear water, and release. Cannonball!

    In summertime, when the mercury taunts the tip of the thermometer like an angry red fist, the best place to cool down is an old-fashioned swimming hole. These often-secluded natural pools are the perfect antidote to crowded pools with zinc-covered teenage lifeguards or water parks with $8 hot dogs. And they offer a dose of not-yet-forgotten Americana, where sunny days are measured by best friends and belly flops.

    Swimming holes are where we shrug off responsibilities and play with the enthusiastic zeal of a child. They’re also places where we come of age. In The Man in the Moon, 14-year-old Dani (Reese Witherspoon) has her first kiss with the gorgeous 17-year-old neighbor (Jason London)—and subsequently learns her first lessons in love—down at the swimming hole.

    Pancho Doll, a former writer for the Los Angeles Times, is something of an aficionado. For his first book, Day Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of California, Doll logged 25,000 miles in his truck searching the state for the best, from the Oregon state line to San Diego County. He has since penned a whole series that chronicles the best freshwater spots across the country. This is a man who knows a thing or two about taking a dip. “The Holy Trinity of swimming-hole quality is height, depth, and privacy,” says Doll. “Surrounding rock provides a sense of enclosure, often a nice slab inclined for summer repose, even a ledge to jump from.”

    And what says “swimming hole” more than an old-fashioned rope swing? At the cypress-studded Blue Hole in Wimberley, TX, two such swings hang from burly tree limbs. Drop in with the Austinites who come to float on inner tubes and picnic on the grassy banks.

    While these natural oases might seem most at home in the South, you’ll find swimming holes across the country. At Peekamoose Blue Hole in New York State’s Catskill Mountains, dappled light bounces off leafy canopies and swimmers submerge themselves in the cool waters like an invigorating summer baptism.

    So grab your swimsuit, a towel, and a pair of water shoes, and jump in at some of our favorite swimming holes. Last one in’s a rotten egg!Alice Bruneau

  • Little River Canyon, Alabama

    Photo: Jon McLean/Alamy

    2 of 22

    Little River Canyon, AL

    In northeastern Alabama, the Little River snakes across the top of Lookout Mountain before plummeting into the 12-mile-long Little River Canyon. Bordered by broad-faced cliffs, with large blocks of sandstone jutting from the water, this canyon—at 600 feet, one of the deepest this side of the Mississippi—is home to a handful of perfect swimming holes. Just downstream from the Alabama Highway 35 bridge, follow the boardwalk to the bottom of Little River Falls for an easy-access dunk when water levels are low. (High water means dangerous currents.) Or start at Eberhart Point and hike 0.75 miles to the canyon floor to Hippy Hole, where a series of cliffs serve as springboards for daredevils.—Alice Bruneau

  • Havasu Falls, Arizona

    Photo: iStock

    3 of 22

    Havasu Falls, Supai, AZ

    There’s off the beaten path. And then there’s Havasu Falls—located a mile and a half outside the Havasupai Indian village of Supai, on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The only way to get here is to charter a helicopter, hike a steep 10 miles, or hire a pack animal. (The U.S. Post Office still uses mules to make mail deliveries to the village.) And you’ll need a permit ($40). But boy, is it worth it. A torrent of water streams across the sunburnt rock face of the Grand Canyon’s south rim, collecting in a pool 100 feet below. The water, so turquoise it looks like it’s on loan from the Caribbean, stays about 72 degrees year-round and is perfect for lazy floating or practicing your belly flop. And with such a schlep to get here, you don’t have to fight the crowds for a prime sunning spot. Yeah, it’s pretty much the best swimming hole ever.—Alice Bruneau

  • Carlon Falls, California

    4 of 22

    Carlon Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA

    En route to Hetch Hetchy, pull off winding Evergreen Road at the South Fork Tuolumne River for a mostly flat, two-mile hike to this rare year-round waterfall. Bordered by towering ponderosa pines, with meadows of purple lupine and small bright sunflowers nearby, this secret swimming hole is rarely visited by Yosemite pilgrims. The 35-foot falls cascades over wide granite ledges into a boulder-strewn pool, where, most of the time, the birds in the canopy and the whoosh of rushing water are the only other sounds you’ll hear. Exactly how a good swimming hole should be.—Alice Bruneau

  • Redfish Lake, Idaho

    Photo: George and Monserrate Schwartz/Alamy

    5 of 22

    Redfish Lake, Stanley, ID

    In an area where salmon outnumber people, Redfish Lake, outside Stanley (population: 63), is a jaw-dropping example of why you explore the backcountry. Legend has it, there were once so many sockeye salmon spawning in the lake that it appeared red. Hence the name. Now it’s better known for its vast bird population, including peregrine falcons and songbirds like yellow-flecked Townsend’s warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. Laze on the north-shore beach for staggering views of the snowcapped Sawtooth Range reflected in the pristine waters. Once you’ve been here, the words “untouched wilderness” will have a whole new meaning.—Alice Bruneau

  • Echo Lake, Maine

    Photo: Sona Shah

    6 of 22

    Echo Lake, Mount Desert Island, ME

    On Mount Desert Island, a fingerlike fjards carved by a glacier defines the rugged salt-licked coastline. But in the southwestern interior, the beach at Echo Lake (about 20 minutes from Bar Harbor) slopes gently into deep blue fresh water. At its deepest, the placid lake is only 66 feet. And while it’s warmer than the shockingly cold northern Atlantic, temperatures rarely get above 70 degrees. We recommend working up a sweat on the Beech Mountain hiking trails, with bluffs and overlooks that perfectly frame the lake’s crescent-shaped gravel beach, before taking the plunge. Then hop back into town on the free Island Explorer Shuttle Bus, which makes hourly runs between the lake and the village green.—Alice Bruneau

  • Johnson's Shut-Ins, Missouri

    Photo: National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy

    7 of 22

    Johnson's Shut-Ins, Reynolds County, MO

    The East Fork of the Black River churns through a furrowed channel of rock at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in the Ozark Mountains. The “shut-ins” are areas where the river is blocked by smooth volcanic stone (formed eons ago) strewn throughout the stream, creating a series of small pools. Going from eddy to eddy can be a wet-and-wild obstacle course through cascading streams, deep pools, and shallow pockets. But don’t expect to have it to yourself. With a quarter-mile paved walkway, and located just two hours from St. Louis, Johnson’s Shut-Ins is Missouri’s unofficial state water park.—Alice Bruneau

  • Peekamoose Blue Hole, New York

    8 of 22

    Peekamoose Blue Hole, Sundown, NY

    If this place doesn’t remind you of old Mountain Dew ads, you’re probably part of the Twilight generation. You know the ones—groups of beautiful young people playing in the summer sun, jumping into water, popping open a can of the electric yellow soda, while a singer reminds us that “being cool is a state of mind.” In the middle of a Catskills forest, Rondout Creek pours through a rock gap to create a deep swimming hole worthy of such rowdy camaraderie. Think jackknifes and cannonballs. To find the Peekamoose Blue Hole (and your inner Brad Pitt), follow New York Route 28A to West Shoken.—Alice Bruneau

  • Sliding Rock, North Carolina

    Photo: George and Monserrate Schwartz/Alamy

    9 of 22

    Sliding Rock, Brevard, NC

    Think of this angled rock face as nature’s original waterslide. Smoothed by centuries of flowing water, the 60-foot boulder shoots bathers into the frigid Carolina mountain waters like they have buttered backsides. The well-known playground off Highway 276 in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest attracts everyone from local teenagers and young families to Blue Ridge Parkway road-trippers who line up to slide one-by-one into the cool 50-degree stream from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the height of summer, lifeguards supervise the action. A word to the wise: smooth doesn’t mean perfectly flat. It is a rock, after all. Throw on an old pair of shorts to keep from snagging your swimsuit.—Alice Bruneau

  • Cummins Falls, Tennessee

    Photo: Paul Meacham

    10 of 22

    Cummins Falls, Cookeville, TN

    About halfway between Nashville and Knoxville, Cummins Falls cascades 75 feet over wide stair-stepped rocks into a deep cold-water pool. It was once a hard-earned scramble to the bottom that involved hiking to the overlook, wading across the ankle-deep stream, and using a rope guide to walk down to the water. The path was made much easier in recent years, and the falls more accessible. That said, this is not a swimming hole for lightweights. Rangers ask visitors to tread carefully as rocks can be slippery and recommend children wear life vests at all times. But if you’re agile (and sure-footed), the descent into the cavernous pool is worth the effort.—Alice Bruneau

  • The Blue Hole, Texas

    Photo: Randy Green/Alamy

    11 of 22

    The Blue Hole, Wimberly, TX

    In Texas, swimming holes are synonymous with summer. And the Blue Hole in Wimberley is probably the quintessential example. If Hollywood wanted to cast a swimming hole, it would take its cues from this one. Grassy banks offer prime picnic spots. Old-growth bald cypresses dot the water, casting welcome shade from the blazing southern sun. The cool spring-fed pool hosts a veritable parade of inner tubes on the weekends, when Austinites flock to the hole for an afternoon of lazy floating. Up for a little more action? The two rope swings should do it.—Alice Bruneau

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Meadow Run Natural Waterslide, Ohiopyle, PA

    Photo: David Rice

    12 of 22

    Meadow Run Natural Waterslide, Ohiopyle, PA

    Ohiopyle’s nature-made water park practically calls out for visitors to splash around in the summer heat. But with no lifeguard on duty, officials recommend checking with a ranger before diving in. Once you’ve ensured water levels are safe for swimming, hop on the sandstone slide and let the current whisk you down to the deeper pool below. To access the hole, first look for the Meadow Run Natural Waterslide parking lot alongside Route 381, and then follow Meadow Run Trail to the rushing water. An ADA-accessible observation deck is also easily reached from the parking area. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: The Homestead Caldera, Midway, UT

    Photo: Utah Office of Tourism

    13 of 22

    The Homestead Caldera, Midway, UT

    Known locally as “the crater,” Midway’s 10,000-year-old geothermal spring offers tourists a respite from Utah’s brutal winter with waters that reach up to 90 degrees. For a small fee, guests can enjoy a swim in the caldera’s mineral-rich pool, or indulge in a paddleboard yoga class. Scuba enthusiasts can also rent equipment and explore the only warm-weather diving spot in the continental U.S. Historically, visitors had to earn the right to enjoy these therapeutic waters by rappelling through the top of the 55-foot-tall limestone dome. Homestead Resort, whose property includes the caldera, created a tunnel through the rock wall at ground level for easy access. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AK

    Photo: Denise Ferree

    14 of 22

    Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AK

    From rheumatism-stricken gold miners in the early 20th century to modern-day tourists with arthritis pain, visitors have been traveling to Fairbanks in search of warm, mineral-rich healing waters for more than 100 years. Take a soak in the hot spring–fed lake while enjoying an unobstructed view of the aurora borealis, then cool off with a trip to the igloo-shaped Aurora Ice Museum. The facility features sculptures from world champion ice carver Steve Brice, with the thermometer set to a constant 25 degrees. The museum, resort, and spa are open year-round, but for your best chance to see the northern lights, be sure to visit between September and March. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Brandywine River, Wilmington, DE

    Photo: Leslie Kipp

    15 of 22

    Brandywine River, Wilmington, DE

    During the summer months, there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a lazy float down a slow-moving river. Less than two hours from both New York City and Washington, D.C., this tree-lined stream gently pushes inner tubes (and their riders) from one chilly pool of water to the next. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your own float. Local outfitters can provide everything you need, from canoes, tubes, and life jackets to transportation to and from the waterway. After you’ve had your fill of river life, stick around to explore nearby attractions like the Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Battlefield Park. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Bridal Veil Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

    Photo: Oliver Gerhard / Alamy

    16 of 22

    Bridal Veil Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

    Not unlike a blusher on a bride, the misty Georgia cataract gently slopes down the face of the rock. It’s the only one of the several waterfalls inside Tallulah Gorge that functions as a natural Slip ‘n’ Slide. Keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain a free Gorge Floor Pass to reach the falls. Only 100 are given out per day, so aim to get there before lunchtime (when the park often runs out). Then, throw on a pair of sturdy shorts, and slide away. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: White Rock Park, St. Paul, IN

    Photo: Courtesy of White Rock Park

    17 of 22

    White Rock Park, St. Paul, IN

    If basking in the sun and working on your tan sounds too tame, consider a trip to this water hole designed for thrill seekers. Practice your swan dive off the 10-meter platform, fly down the zipline, or give scuba diving a try. An old-fashioned rope swing rounds out the park’s offerings. Try your hand at fishing at an adjacent lake that park staff keeps stocked with local species like catfish, bass, and crappie. If you packed your own lunch, grassy shaded areas on the banks of the quarry make a perfect picnic spot. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, WY

    Photo: Thomas Lee / Alamy

    18 of 22

    Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, WY

    Here’s one swimming hole that feels more like a warm bath than a polar bear plunge. Fed by Yellowstone’s famous geothermal springs, water in Firehole River lives up to its name. Warm, but not scalding, currents can reach up to 86 degrees. There’s no lifeguard on duty, so check conditions online before you swim, and resist the urge to cliff dive—it’s not only unsafe, it’s also illegal. After entering the park’s west entrance, look for Firehole Canyon Drive. It’s just off Grand Loop Road. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: The Blue Hole,
 Santa Rosa, NM

    Photo: Sheryl Savas / Alamy

    19 of 22

    The Blue Hole,
 Santa Rosa, NM

    Just off Route 66, this bell-shaped pool helped Santa Rosa earn its title as the Scuba Diving Capital of the Southwest. With pristine blue water and a constant temperature of 61 degrees, the spring-fed pond welcomes divers year round. So next time you’re cruising down “The Great American Highway,” plan a pit stop to cool off from the hot New Mexico sun. You won’t be disappointed. Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Diana’s Baths, Bartlett, NH

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    Diana’s Baths, Bartlett, NH

    This series of small waterfalls and granite-basin pools in the shadow of Big Attitash Mountain once powered a 19th-century sawmill. Nowadays, the waterway is part of White Mountain National Forest and a favorite swimming spot. The gravel path from the parking lot to the falls is just over half a mile and fairly flat, making the trip easily manageable for families with kids. You can even bring your all-terrain stroller. But accessibility comes at a price. On warm days, expect a crowd at this picturesque destination. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Enfield Falls, Ithaca, NY

    21 of 22

    Enfield Falls, Ithaca, NY

    Just below Enfield Falls lies one of the Finger Lakes’ worst-kept secrets: the Robert Treman State Park swimming hole. With a diving platform, multiple pools of different depths, and plenty of lounge space for tanning, it’s a favorite summertime hangout for families and college kids alike. A lifeguard is on duty during peak hours, and the short path to the swimming area from the parking lot is wheelchair accessible. —Caroline Hallemann

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  • Havasu Falls, Arizona

    Standing in the sunshine on the rocky bank, with rivulets of cool water dripping from your hair and swimsuit, you wait your turn at the base of the old oak. You’re up. You grip the fraying rope, get a running start, swing out over the pool of clear water, and release. Cannonball!

    In summertime, when the mercury taunts the tip of the thermometer like an angry red fist, the best place to cool down is an old-fashioned swimming hole. These often-secluded natural pools are the perfect antidote to crowded pools with zinc-covered teenage lifeguards or water parks with $8 hot dogs. And they offer a dose of not-yet-forgotten Americana, where sunny days are measured by best friends and belly flops.

    Swimming holes are where we shrug off responsibilities and play with the enthusiastic zeal of a child. They’re also places where we come of age. In The Man in the Moon, 14-year-old Dani (Reese Witherspoon) has her first kiss with the gorgeous 17-year-old neighbor (Jason London)—and subsequently learns her first lessons in love—down at the swimming hole.

    Pancho Doll, a former writer for the Los Angeles Times, is something of an aficionado. For his first book, Day Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of California, Doll logged 25,000 miles in his truck searching the state for the best, from the Oregon state line to San Diego County. He has since penned a whole series that chronicles the best freshwater spots across the country. This is a man who knows a thing or two about taking a dip. “The Holy Trinity of swimming-hole quality is height, depth, and privacy,” says Doll. “Surrounding rock provides a sense of enclosure, often a nice slab inclined for summer repose, even a ledge to jump from.”

    And what says “swimming hole” more than an old-fashioned rope swing? At the cypress-studded Blue Hole in Wimberley, TX, two such swings hang from burly tree limbs. Drop in with the Austinites who come to float on inner tubes and picnic on the grassy banks.

    While these natural oases might seem most at home in the South, you’ll find swimming holes across the country. At Peekamoose Blue Hole in New York State’s Catskill Mountains, dappled light bounces off leafy canopies and swimmers submerge themselves in the cool waters like an invigorating summer baptism.

    So grab your swimsuit, a towel, and a pair of water shoes, and jump in at some of our favorite swimming holes. Last one in’s a rotten egg!Alice Bruneau

  • Little River Canyon, Alabama

    Little River Canyon, AL

    In northeastern Alabama, the Little River snakes across the top of Lookout Mountain before plummeting into the 12-mile-long Little River Canyon. Bordered by broad-faced cliffs, with large blocks of sandstone jutting from the water, this canyon—at 600 feet, one of the deepest this side of the Mississippi—is home to a handful of perfect swimming holes. Just downstream from the Alabama Highway 35 bridge, follow the boardwalk to the bottom of Little River Falls for an easy-access dunk when water levels are low. (High water means dangerous currents.) Or start at Eberhart Point and hike 0.75 miles to the canyon floor to Hippy Hole, where a series of cliffs serve as springboards for daredevils.—Alice Bruneau

  • Havasu Falls, Arizona

    Havasu Falls, Supai, AZ

    There’s off the beaten path. And then there’s Havasu Falls—located a mile and a half outside the Havasupai Indian village of Supai, on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The only way to get here is to charter a helicopter, hike a steep 10 miles, or hire a pack animal. (The U.S. Post Office still uses mules to make mail deliveries to the village.) And you’ll need a permit ($40). But boy, is it worth it. A torrent of water streams across the sunburnt rock face of the Grand Canyon’s south rim, collecting in a pool 100 feet below. The water, so turquoise it looks like it’s on loan from the Caribbean, stays about 72 degrees year-round and is perfect for lazy floating or practicing your belly flop. And with such a schlep to get here, you don’t have to fight the crowds for a prime sunning spot. Yeah, it’s pretty much the best swimming hole ever.—Alice Bruneau

  • Carlon Falls, California

    Carlon Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA

    En route to Hetch Hetchy, pull off winding Evergreen Road at the South Fork Tuolumne River for a mostly flat, two-mile hike to this rare year-round waterfall. Bordered by towering ponderosa pines, with meadows of purple lupine and small bright sunflowers nearby, this secret swimming hole is rarely visited by Yosemite pilgrims. The 35-foot falls cascades over wide granite ledges into a boulder-strewn pool, where, most of the time, the birds in the canopy and the whoosh of rushing water are the only other sounds you’ll hear. Exactly how a good swimming hole should be.—Alice Bruneau

  • Redfish Lake, Idaho

    Redfish Lake, Stanley, ID

    In an area where salmon outnumber people, Redfish Lake, outside Stanley (population: 63), is a jaw-dropping example of why you explore the backcountry. Legend has it, there were once so many sockeye salmon spawning in the lake that it appeared red. Hence the name. Now it’s better known for its vast bird population, including peregrine falcons and songbirds like yellow-flecked Townsend’s warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. Laze on the north-shore beach for staggering views of the snowcapped Sawtooth Range reflected in the pristine waters. Once you’ve been here, the words “untouched wilderness” will have a whole new meaning.—Alice Bruneau

  • Echo Lake, Maine

    Echo Lake, Mount Desert Island, ME

    On Mount Desert Island, a fingerlike fjards carved by a glacier defines the rugged salt-licked coastline. But in the southwestern interior, the beach at Echo Lake (about 20 minutes from Bar Harbor) slopes gently into deep blue fresh water. At its deepest, the placid lake is only 66 feet. And while it’s warmer than the shockingly cold northern Atlantic, temperatures rarely get above 70 degrees. We recommend working up a sweat on the Beech Mountain hiking trails, with bluffs and overlooks that perfectly frame the lake’s crescent-shaped gravel beach, before taking the plunge. Then hop back into town on the free Island Explorer Shuttle Bus, which makes hourly runs between the lake and the village green.—Alice Bruneau

  • Johnson's Shut-Ins, Missouri

    Johnson's Shut-Ins, Reynolds County, MO

    The East Fork of the Black River churns through a furrowed channel of rock at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in the Ozark Mountains. The “shut-ins” are areas where the river is blocked by smooth volcanic stone (formed eons ago) strewn throughout the stream, creating a series of small pools. Going from eddy to eddy can be a wet-and-wild obstacle course through cascading streams, deep pools, and shallow pockets. But don’t expect to have it to yourself. With a quarter-mile paved walkway, and located just two hours from St. Louis, Johnson’s Shut-Ins is Missouri’s unofficial state water park.—Alice Bruneau

  • Peekamoose Blue Hole, New York

    Peekamoose Blue Hole, Sundown, NY

    If this place doesn’t remind you of old Mountain Dew ads, you’re probably part of the Twilight generation. You know the ones—groups of beautiful young people playing in the summer sun, jumping into water, popping open a can of the electric yellow soda, while a singer reminds us that “being cool is a state of mind.” In the middle of a Catskills forest, Rondout Creek pours through a rock gap to create a deep swimming hole worthy of such rowdy camaraderie. Think jackknifes and cannonballs. To find the Peekamoose Blue Hole (and your inner Brad Pitt), follow New York Route 28A to West Shoken.—Alice Bruneau

  • Sliding Rock, North Carolina

    Sliding Rock, Brevard, NC

    Think of this angled rock face as nature’s original waterslide. Smoothed by centuries of flowing water, the 60-foot boulder shoots bathers into the frigid Carolina mountain waters like they have buttered backsides. The well-known playground off Highway 276 in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest attracts everyone from local teenagers and young families to Blue Ridge Parkway road-trippers who line up to slide one-by-one into the cool 50-degree stream from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the height of summer, lifeguards supervise the action. A word to the wise: smooth doesn’t mean perfectly flat. It is a rock, after all. Throw on an old pair of shorts to keep from snagging your swimsuit.—Alice Bruneau

  • Cummins Falls, Tennessee

    Cummins Falls, Cookeville, TN

    About halfway between Nashville and Knoxville, Cummins Falls cascades 75 feet over wide stair-stepped rocks into a deep cold-water pool. It was once a hard-earned scramble to the bottom that involved hiking to the overlook, wading across the ankle-deep stream, and using a rope guide to walk down to the water. The path was made much easier in recent years, and the falls more accessible. That said, this is not a swimming hole for lightweights. Rangers ask visitors to tread carefully as rocks can be slippery and recommend children wear life vests at all times. But if you’re agile (and sure-footed), the descent into the cavernous pool is worth the effort.—Alice Bruneau

  • The Blue Hole, Texas

    The Blue Hole, Wimberly, TX

    In Texas, swimming holes are synonymous with summer. And the Blue Hole in Wimberley is probably the quintessential example. If Hollywood wanted to cast a swimming hole, it would take its cues from this one. Grassy banks offer prime picnic spots. Old-growth bald cypresses dot the water, casting welcome shade from the blazing southern sun. The cool spring-fed pool hosts a veritable parade of inner tubes on the weekends, when Austinites flock to the hole for an afternoon of lazy floating. Up for a little more action? The two rope swings should do it.—Alice Bruneau

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Meadow Run Natural Waterslide, Ohiopyle, PA

    Meadow Run Natural Waterslide, Ohiopyle, PA

    Ohiopyle’s nature-made water park practically calls out for visitors to splash around in the summer heat. But with no lifeguard on duty, officials recommend checking with a ranger before diving in. Once you’ve ensured water levels are safe for swimming, hop on the sandstone slide and let the current whisk you down to the deeper pool below. To access the hole, first look for the Meadow Run Natural Waterslide parking lot alongside Route 381, and then follow Meadow Run Trail to the rushing water. An ADA-accessible observation deck is also easily reached from the parking area. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: The Homestead Caldera, Midway, UT

    The Homestead Caldera, Midway, UT

    Known locally as “the crater,” Midway’s 10,000-year-old geothermal spring offers tourists a respite from Utah’s brutal winter with waters that reach up to 90 degrees. For a small fee, guests can enjoy a swim in the caldera’s mineral-rich pool, or indulge in a paddleboard yoga class. Scuba enthusiasts can also rent equipment and explore the only warm-weather diving spot in the continental U.S. Historically, visitors had to earn the right to enjoy these therapeutic waters by rappelling through the top of the 55-foot-tall limestone dome. Homestead Resort, whose property includes the caldera, created a tunnel through the rock wall at ground level for easy access. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AK

    Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AK

    From rheumatism-stricken gold miners in the early 20th century to modern-day tourists with arthritis pain, visitors have been traveling to Fairbanks in search of warm, mineral-rich healing waters for more than 100 years. Take a soak in the hot spring–fed lake while enjoying an unobstructed view of the aurora borealis, then cool off with a trip to the igloo-shaped Aurora Ice Museum. The facility features sculptures from world champion ice carver Steve Brice, with the thermometer set to a constant 25 degrees. The museum, resort, and spa are open year-round, but for your best chance to see the northern lights, be sure to visit between September and March. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Brandywine River, Wilmington, DE

    Brandywine River, Wilmington, DE

    During the summer months, there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a lazy float down a slow-moving river. Less than two hours from both New York City and Washington, D.C., this tree-lined stream gently pushes inner tubes (and their riders) from one chilly pool of water to the next. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your own float. Local outfitters can provide everything you need, from canoes, tubes, and life jackets to transportation to and from the waterway. After you’ve had your fill of river life, stick around to explore nearby attractions like the Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Battlefield Park. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Bridal Veil Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

    Bridal Veil Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

    Not unlike a blusher on a bride, the misty Georgia cataract gently slopes down the face of the rock. It’s the only one of the several waterfalls inside Tallulah Gorge that functions as a natural Slip ‘n’ Slide. Keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain a free Gorge Floor Pass to reach the falls. Only 100 are given out per day, so aim to get there before lunchtime (when the park often runs out). Then, throw on a pair of sturdy shorts, and slide away. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: White Rock Park, St. Paul, IN

    White Rock Park, St. Paul, IN

    If basking in the sun and working on your tan sounds too tame, consider a trip to this water hole designed for thrill seekers. Practice your swan dive off the 10-meter platform, fly down the zipline, or give scuba diving a try. An old-fashioned rope swing rounds out the park’s offerings. Try your hand at fishing at an adjacent lake that park staff keeps stocked with local species like catfish, bass, and crappie. If you packed your own lunch, grassy shaded areas on the banks of the quarry make a perfect picnic spot. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, WY

    Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, WY

    Here’s one swimming hole that feels more like a warm bath than a polar bear plunge. Fed by Yellowstone’s famous geothermal springs, water in Firehole River lives up to its name. Warm, but not scalding, currents can reach up to 86 degrees. There’s no lifeguard on duty, so check conditions online before you swim, and resist the urge to cliff dive—it’s not only unsafe, it’s also illegal. After entering the park’s west entrance, look for Firehole Canyon Drive. It’s just off Grand Loop Road. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: The Blue Hole,
 Santa Rosa, NM

    The Blue Hole,
 Santa Rosa, NM

    Just off Route 66, this bell-shaped pool helped Santa Rosa earn its title as the Scuba Diving Capital of the Southwest. With pristine blue water and a constant temperature of 61 degrees, the spring-fed pond welcomes divers year round. So next time you’re cruising down “The Great American Highway,” plan a pit stop to cool off from the hot New Mexico sun. You won’t be disappointed. Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Diana’s Baths, Bartlett, NH

    Diana’s Baths, Bartlett, NH

    This series of small waterfalls and granite-basin pools in the shadow of Big Attitash Mountain once powered a 19th-century sawmill. Nowadays, the waterway is part of White Mountain National Forest and a favorite swimming spot. The gravel path from the parking lot to the falls is just over half a mile and fairly flat, making the trip easily manageable for families with kids. You can even bring your all-terrain stroller. But accessibility comes at a price. On warm days, expect a crowd at this picturesque destination. —Caroline Hallemann

  • America's Best Swimming Holes: Enfield Falls, Ithaca, NY

    Enfield Falls, Ithaca, NY

    Just below Enfield Falls lies one of the Finger Lakes’ worst-kept secrets: the Robert Treman State Park swimming hole. With a diving platform, multiple pools of different depths, and plenty of lounge space for tanning, it’s a favorite summertime hangout for families and college kids alike. A lifeguard is on duty during peak hours, and the short path to the swimming area from the parking lot is wheelchair accessible. —Caroline Hallemann

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