10 of the Best Swimming Holes in the United States
America’s swimming holes are national treasures. When temperatures begin to climb, jumping into these refreshing oases is more than just a great way to cool off: It’s a beloved summertime ritual that’s equally sweet in its simplicity—all you really need is a swimsuit and a bit of insider savvy to find the best spots. Fortunately, the country is sprinkled with an abundance of natural swimming holes, from far-flung plunge pools to rapid-rippled natural waterslides to serene springs for soaking. Grab an inner tube, pack up a picnic, and seek out one of these idyllic spots for a must-do summer experience. Here are our favorite swimming holes from east to west and everything in between.
1. Emerald Pool, New Hampshire
Spread over western Maine and eastern New Hampshire, the White Mountain National Forest is sprinkled with sylvan swimming holes. One backcountry jewel well worth the hike is the Emerald Pool, located near the town of Chatham. The deepwater swimming hole is about a mile hike from the trailhead for the Baldface Circle Trail, a 9-mile circuit over both the North and South Baldface summits. The secluded pool is also easily accessible from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s historic Cold River Camp, a longstanding mountain retreat.
2. James River, Virginia
The James River wasn’t always an inviting place to swim. The river was once counted among the most polluted waterways in America, with water toxic enough to strip the paint from boats. But over the last half-century, targeted conservation efforts have helped transform the waterway, and these days the James River is dotted with inviting swimming holes and sunbathing spots. For swimmers and rock-hoppers, the Richmond area offers easy public access courtesy of the James River Park System. Some of the best places for splashing around are Texas Beach and the Pony Pasture Rapids, which is also a popular spot for tubing.
3. Meadow Run Natural Waterslides, Pennsylvania
Spread over Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, Ohiopyle State Park is probably best known for the Youghiogheny River’s churning whitewater. The park is also home to one of the state’s best natural swimming spots, formed by Meadow Run. On the way to meet the mighty Youghiogheny River, the scenic stream rushes over a series of perfectly sculpted sandstone chutes near the bridge on Route 381, creating a swift-flowing natural waterslide. If the water level in Meadow Run is low, there are also swimming beaches dotting the Youghiogheny River Lake, located just outside the state park.
4. Sliding Rock, North Carolina
Western North Carolina is blessed with an abundance of waterfall-fed swimming holes, and one of the region’s most idyllic spots is the aptly named wonder dubbed Sliding Rock, tucked away in the Pisgah National Forest. Nearly 11,000 gallons of water per minute rush over the gently sloping boulder adorning the swimming area, creating a 60-foot natural waterslide that ultimately deposits revelers into a bracing plunge pool (the water temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees in the summer, so you won’t linger long). The swimming hole is a popular spot—and the water is even monitored by lifeguards between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For road-trippers, the flume is easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and there are campsites nearby at Davidson River Campground.
5. Madison Blue Spring, Florida
Florida is an oasis for swimmers, and not just because of the miles of stunning coastline: Its interior is dappled with sublime natural springs. One of the Sunshine State’s most inviting natural pools is Madison Blue Spring, nestled along the west bank of the Withlacoochee River. The limestone lagoon is the centerpiece of Madison Blue Spring State Park, located just outside the town of Madison. Shaded by moss-draped hardwoods, the crystalline water reaches a depth of about 25 feet and hovers around 72 degrees year-round. In addition to swimming, there’s also access to the Withlacoochee River for anglers and paddlers, and the park’s extensive underwater cave system also draws recreational divers.
6. Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Missouri
In southeastern Missouri, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a mecca for swimming hole aficionados. Nestled in the St. Francois Mountains region of the Ozarks, the park is threaded by the East Fork of the Black River, which over time has forged an epic natural waterpark. In the craggy gorges cradling the East Fork of the Black River, erosion-resistant rocks impede the river’s water flow, helping to create a group of flumes and pools that are perfect for splashing around. On the way to the iconic “shut-ins,” visitors are also treated to more than a billion years of geological history along the approximately two-mile Shut-Ins Trail.
7. The Blue Hole, New Mexico
The middle of the desert may seem like an unlikely place for scuba divers, but the town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, boasts one of the country’s most unique dive sites. Just off iconic Route 66, about halfway between Albuquerque and Amarillo, lies an enticing geological wonder dubbed the Blue Hole. The sapphire-hued natural pool is actually one of seven interconnected lakes, linked by a vast subterranean water system. The pristine swimming hole maxes out at approximately 130 feet in diameter—and the Blue Hole is deep, too, serving as a portal to an extensive network of underwater caves. For swimmers, the water is perpetually 62 degrees, and the Blue Hole is edged with ledges ideal for leaping.
8. Boiling River, Montana
Yellowstone National Park is home to more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, the largest collection on the planet. But boiling hot temperatures make the park’s hot springs off-limits to swimmers and soakers. However, near the park’s north entrance, not far from Mammoth Hot Springs, the melding waters of the Gardner River and the Boiling River hot spring form an inviting place to take a dip. A half-mile trail paralleling the Gardner River deposits swimmers at the sanctioned soaking spot, accessible from the parking area along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the park’s north entrance.
9. Havasu Falls, Arizona
The aquamarine lagoon formed by Havasu Falls is not just an unforgettable swimming hole—it’s also a life-list destination. Deep in the Grand Canyon, located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation about two miles from the village of Supai, Havasu Creek tumbles nearly 120 feet into a crystalline plunge pool. Rich in lime, the water’s of Havasu Creek are intensely turquoise in color, providing a vivid contrast with the clay-red cliffs of the Grand Canyon. Reaching the idyllic, cottonwood-shaded pool is also an adventure. From the trailhead at Hualapai Hill, it’s an 8-mile hike to the village of Supai. Note that reservations are required for a trip to Havasu Falls, and while you can get lucky on certain dates, those reservations can fill up several months to nearly a year in advance. Plan ahead and find out more info through the Havasupai Tribe.
10. Cleo’s Bath, California
Perched above Pinecrest Lake, Cleo’s Bath is a sweet reward for hikers in California’s Stanislaus National Forest. The backcountry pool is approximately 60-feet wide and can be as deep as six feet. The water level in the swimming hole is determined by seasonal snowpack, so the best time for swimmers to make the trek is during the spring or early summer. From the Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail, the 1.5-mile trek to Cleo’s Bath follows the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. In addition to the secluded swimming spot, the rugged route also treats hikers to panoramic views of Pinecrest Lake.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products.
Featured image provided by John Strother