A Few of America’s Best (and Secret) Swimming Holes
Cool off at America’s best swimming holes.
When you need a break from the stale air conditioning and sweltering humidity, take a refreshing trip to one of America’s many kick-ass natural swimming holes. We’ve got a waterfall slide, grotto pools, and deep, cavernous wells. A lil’ something for everyone.
Texas may be notorious for its sweltering summers, but the Lone Star State also has some of the most magical swimming holes. If you happen to be near Austin, take a break from keeping the city weird and head to Barton Springs Pool for a dip. It’s fed by 3 pools of natural, underground springs that have been dammed up to create a massive 3-acre swimming pool.
Barton Springs has been keeping Texans from overheating since before Texas was even a thing. In the 1730s, the springs were revered by the Tonkawa tribe, who used the pools for sacred rituals. Spanish explorers to the area built temporary missions around it, and in the 1830s, the land was purchased by “Uncle” Billy Barton, who saw the area’s potential as an attraction. He also named the three pools after his daughters- Parthenia, Eliza and Zenobia (those definitely sound like mermaid names…just sayin’). In the ’20s, the city of Austin obtained the property and built the dams to create the one huge pool we see today. It only costs $3 for adults ($2 for kids), and a portion of that money goes to a fund to help research and protect the Barton Springs Salamander, so you can cool off for a cause!
Texas certainly has no shortage of swimming holes to explore on hot summer days, but not all of them can also claim to be the longest underwater cave in the whole state– that honor is reserved for Jacob’s Well in Texas’s Hill Country, right smack dab in between San Antonio and Austin in the small town of Wimberley.
This is one of Texas’ longest underwater caves. It’s also an artesanal spring that pumps thousands of gallons of water per minute. It used to be a sacred meeting place for Native Americans, and in recent times it has become one of the most beloved swimming holes in Texas. There’s a pretty strenuous hike. I did it with my 10-month old son in a bjorn and it was pretty rough at parts. But, really fun at the same time.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 people visit each year, but if you want the full experience, then consider taking a tour of the preserve, led by one of Hays County’s Master Naturalists. All you have to do is show up at the Nature Center at 10am on a Saturday and you can get a guided tour, complete with inside information about notorious floods and brave scuba divers who have tackled Jacob’s Well!
Dripping Springs, TX
This historic pool is located just 45 minutes outside Austin. In the summer it can get very busy so best to get there early. Also, you definitely want to call or check to see if it’s open. I visited in September of 2014, drove all the way there and it was closed due to some clean up they were doing.
This popular Texas pool is a summertime staple for a reason– with 32 natural springs plus a man-made pool, there’s tons of space to get your swim on. Plus, the setting is magical– it’s all surrounded by trees and waterfalls and lush, green cliffs. Don’t forget to bring rafts and tubes for floating and relaxing, and definitely don’t miss the rope swing for some major air!
Inks Lake State Park has a gorgeous pink granite waterhole that has awesome kayaking, canoeing, and cliff jumping. It’s a section of lake that’s been almost entirely surrounded by rocks and cliffs. There’s multiple cliffs of different heights, so you can work your way up to high-diving off the tallest one. Plus, the rest of the lake has great boating and fishing, so there’s something for everyone!
Santa Rosa, NM
The small but beautiful town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico has no shortage of pristine swimming holes, heck the place has even been dubbed “The City of Natural Lakes”. But despite all the fantastic bodies of water, one stellar lake sticks out from the rest of the pack. A lake that is simply called Blue Hole.
Reaching deeps of 80 feet, this spring fed swimming hole stays a constant 64 °F no matter what time or year it is. However unlike the rest of the lakes in Santa Rosa, Blue Hole doesn’t do any Fishing, Boating, or Water sports. It’s secluded location in the desert, far away from most deep bodies of water, makes it a popular spot for diving enthusiasts in the southwest.
Deep in the Willamette National Forest, amongst old-growth trees, mossy rocks and emerald ferns, you’ll find this enchanting swimming hole, right beneath the Battle Axe Creek bridge. Nearby you can also find an old, 1930’s mining camp to explore, or you can just relax and have a picnic on the rocky beach. They’ve even got a sliding rock that swimmers can slide down a bit further up the trail!
Once reserved exclusively for royalty, this extraordinary swimming hole is a secret paradise. Year-round, it’s the perfect escape! This tide pool is known as Queen’s Bath due to the history of the royal family that used to use this swimming hole during the summers months. Take a dip the way royalty used to in this extraordinary pool.
“‘O’he’o” is Hawaiian for “something special”, and once you get a load of this place, you’ll find out why it earned the name. You’ve also maybe heard it called “the seven sacred pools”, but there are actually more than seven pools along the Ohe’o Gulch Falls. When water levels are safe, you can dive right into them– the perfect way to cool off. A few words of caution about swimming– be careful of falling or loose rocks, watch out for debris going over the waterfalls near the top, and try and keep your head above the water since it might contain some bacteria your system isn’t used to.
You can find them hidden in forests and parks all across America, and one of the country’s coolest is located in South Yuba River State Park. Of course, like most good hidden swimming holes, you’ll have to do a little work to get there, but the hike through the river is worth it– and kind of fun in its own right. The stream is strewn with boulders that make the hike an exciting challenge. These boulders and rocks are what make the swimming holes as well. Even though the park is a local favorite, especially as the dog days of summer hit, there are so many secluded spots, nooks, crannies, and coves, that you’ll feel like you discovered the place yourself!
A few tips for hiking up the river: The best time is summer and early fall– the water will be really high and running very fast in the spring and early summer, making the hike more difficult and potentially more dangerous. Wear sturdy waterproof shoes. You’re going to be trekking through the river and up, down, over, under, and around rocks, and the right footwear can help make the hike more pleasant. You’ll also want to pack water, snacks, and sunblock, since there’s not a ton of shade along the river. And if you’re bringing a picnic, a camera, or anything else you need to keep dry, make sure to bring a waterproof bag. Also, pack as light as possible! You might find yourself regretting bringing along a huge cooler halfway through the hike. And remember to leave yourself plenty of time to hike to a good location, relax a bit, and hike back.
This hidden gem is tucked away in a peaceful pine forest– perfect for a relaxing dip. If you go after a rain, you’ll find a waterfall connecting the two pools of water that make up Paradise Forks. If you’re looking to work up a sweat before jumping in, the basalt cliffs that surround the water make for some top notch rock climbing, provided you know how to rig it all up!
How do you make a swimming hole better? Add a natural waterslide, of course! The main attraction of this apple orchard-turned-park is the stretch of creek that goes down a smooth, gentle slope, allowing visitors to slide down for a fun ride. Bonus: tons of Westerns have been filmed here– the park appears in Broken Arrow (the one starring Jimmy Stewart, not the John Travolta/Christian Slater nonsense from 1996) Drum Beat, Gun Fury and more!
When finding a place to relax, the right setting is super important. Somewhere secluded and serene, with the right lighting, and maybe a nice place to hang out is ideal– and Utah’s Homestead Crater nails all of the criteria– it’s a massive hot spring inside a cave. So how did this magical natural wonder come to be? It all started when pure melted snow began to seep and erode into the Wasatch Mountains ten thousand years ago (give or take). Miles below the Earth’s surface, it was warmed up by geothermal heat and began to percolate back up. As it bubbled over, it picked up all kinds of minerals which were deposited above it– these minerals form the roof of the crater. You know how travertine springs form from minerals around hot springs? Same idea.
The water in the pool, which is usually around a warm 90 degrees, is an impressive 65 feet deep– and that’s not counting the 8-14 foot-deep layer of silt that covers the floor of the crater! The silt is of particular interest to archaeologists; they’re in the process of examing the mud to dig up things that have been tossed or dropped into the crater. They’ve discovered all kinds of things so far, from guns to old coins! The dome itself is 55 feet tall and has a hole in the top, which lets in the perfect amount of sunlight and fresh air.
Boiling River: Unlike the other hot springs on this list, there isn’t a resort built around the Boiling River—it’s completely natural. It’s located in the small portion of Yellowstone National Park that’s in Montana, and it gets its name from a hot spring that enters the Gardiner River. The hot and cool water mix to create a perfect temperature for bathing. There are several pools made of stone for relaxing, but if you venture out into the river (carefully, carefully!) you can feel how varied the water temperatures can be as the river flows along!
A gorgeous waterfall requires absolutely no hiking. In fact, you can see it right from the road. This natural wonder is located in the Richland Creek area, in south Newton county in northern Arkansas. The falls spill onto a large swimming hole that’s pretty popular in the summer months.
BONUS: Here’s an amazing Canadian swimming hole! Some call it Cyprus Lake Grotto, some call it The Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park and some call it Georgian Bay Grotto. Whatever you call it, this is one of the most beautiful spots in Canada. The hike to Cyprus Lake Grotto is one of the park’s most popular. The cave is stunning, with cool, clear turquoise water, perfect for escaping from the summer heat.
The Mad River is full of swimming holes just waiting to be discovered! Warren Falls is a particularly awesome one– you can jump off the prehistoric boulders of varying heights and into the pools, or just bask in the refreshing spray of the falls. The water in the pools ranges from 1 to 10 feet deep, so people who want to wade can splash around, and those who are bold enough to take the leap of faith into the water can do so safely!
Cummins Falls State Park is home to Tennessee’s 75-foot Cummins Falls, the state’s 8th largest waterfall. But, it’s not just an incredible sight, it’s also a refreshing oasis for swimmers during the warm summer months, and is frequently listed as one of America’s best swimming holes. You can pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it at one of the park’s primitive picnic areas, which are also shaded. Be warned there are no grills or trash cans so prepare accordingly.
There are several spots to swim at this state park, but none are more epic than the plunge pool beneath Fall Creek Falls itself. It looks like something out of The Land Before Time! Its a 256-foot waterfall– the tallest free fall waterfall East of the Mississippi. The hike down to the base of the falls is a bit steep, but really gorgeous, and you can dry off and catch some rays on the big rocks after swimming under the waterfall.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowded beaches in Florida, the hidden swimming hole at Madison Blue Springs State Park is the spot for you! It’s tucked away in a shady forest, along the banks of the Withlacoochee River, making it the perfect place to cool off on a steamy Florida afternoon. It’s one of the states’ newest state parks, having been established in 2000. The park itself has picnic tables, bathrooms and even a shower that swimmers can use to hose off after a nice dip in the spring. They’ve even got a dock that you can jump off of– cannonball! It also makes for amazing scuba diving– you can.
The limestone basin is 82 feet long, 25 feet deep, and totally filled with refreshing, crystal clear spring water. In fact, it’s bottled-water-level refreshing; Nestle uses water from nearby springs on adjoining land for its bottled water brands. The water comes from a first-magnitude spring, which means it discharges at least 2800 liters of fresh H2O every second– and it always stays around 72 degrees all year round!
Silver Springs, FL
Juniper Springs Recreation Area, which has camping and cabins, canoeing/kayaking, a scenic millhouse, and, yes swimming. Fern Hammock Springs feeds Juniper Springs, so you’re still getting those crystal clear, blue-hued mineral waters!
This is a fantastic rock waterfall that is so smooth you can use it as a water slide. However, be warned, the water is very chilly. Though that’s probably a welcome respite from the scorching summer sun. Recently, these North Carolina summers have been crazy hot.
These swimming holes are a much more fun and whimsical way to cool off than simply heading to a public pool or overcrowded waterpark. So grab your swimsuits, pack a picnic lunch, and hit the road to visit these picture-perfect, all-natural swimming pools!
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