In the dog days of summer, nothing beats a leap, wild and free, into a good old-fashioned swimming hole. Grab your swimsuit and head for the river. We’ve rounded up 10 refreshing pools where you can float behind plunging waterfalls, swan dive from rocky ledges, ride through chutes, and find skinny-dipping seclusion. C’mon in. The water’s fine.
1. Carlon Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
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.
2. Johnson’s Shut Ins, Middlebrook, Missouri
Part of the Black River just south of St. Louis, Johnson’s Shut In’s is just that- a cerulean blue pool “shut in” by hard volcanic rock. The outcropping rock forces the river to divide into hundreds of winding chutes, waterfalls and deep/shallow pools…need I say more? Spend the day splashing about like a little kid at Christmas.
3. Cummins Falls, Cookeville, Tennessee
If you want a challenging trek with a nice reward, check out the 8th largest waterfall in Tennessee. Finding this paradise involves plenty of hiking, wading, climbing and finally- a rope guide to get you down to the water. The reward as mentioned: Shimmering falls plummet into a cool, heavenly abyss below. And just think- the strenuous journey to reach the pool will probably leave the falls a little less crowded.
4. Sliding Rock, Brevard, North Carolina
Break out your old cutoff jeans shorts for this 60-foot natural waterslide just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. Each minute 11,000 gallons of water pour over a huge, mostly smooth boulder and into a seven-foot plunge pool. If the ride doesn’t take your breath away, the water temperature will. The cool mountain stream that powers this Sliding Rock ride is only about 50 to 60 degrees in summer. Sliders of all ages shriek, grimace, and tiptoe through it but come back for more, even when long lines snake down the entire rock face.
5. Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah
It’s a parched land, Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But the 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls are miraculously resilient, with a year-round flow into a lush oasis and pool. Set out early to beat the desert sun on the five-and-a-half mile round-trip trail. The loop, which starts at the Calf Creek Campground, cuts through a deep canyon and past Anasazi pictographs before coming to the falls. Here the water tumbles down and drenches the mineral-streaked Navajo Sandstone walls that surround a swimming hole too clear, cool, and inviting to pass up.
6. Blue Hole, Wimberley, Texas
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 three rope swings should do it.
7. Enfield Falls,Robert Treman State Park, New York
As this New York college town’s popular green T-shirts proclaim, “Ithaca is Gorges.” No doubt the landscape is stunning, but it also creates a picture-perfect backdrop for swimming holes. There are about 150 waterfalls within 10 miles of downtown, and Robert H. Treman State Park’s Enfield Falls are a favorite among locals and undergrads. You can swim up and sit under a billowy curtain of water or soar from the cliffside diving board.
8. Homestead Crater, Midway, Utah
It’s like swimming in a beehive- but much better. Impress that special someone with this natural “hot tub” open commercially to swimmers and divers year round. Though commercialized, it is definitely worth checking out just because of how unique it is. This ancient crater creates a sheltered dome that allows the pool to stay at a comfortable 90- 96 degrees year round.
9. Little River Canyon, Alabama
Within the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi River is the Little River, which plunges into the canyon and then meanders through it for 12 miles, offering up a number of beautiful swimming holes that are popular with locals in the heat of summer. Swimmers jump off sandstone rocks into the water both at the base of the falls and an area on the canyon floor known as ‘Hippie Hole’.
10. Havasu Falls, Supai, Arizona
This is definitely an oasis in the desert, and if you were lost enough to stumble upon it and think it were a mirage, you’d have well earned a dip in the aqua waters of Arizona’s Havasu Falls. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation just south of the Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls is only accessible by helicopter or a ten-mile hike attended by pack mules. Havasu Creek is fed by a spring, so the water remains at a steady level and is 70 degrees year-round.