Cool Off Across America: Where to Swim in All 50 States
Escape the summer heat with a splash in one of the most inviting swimming spots in your state. Some of these top picks are spring-fed, drawing water mostly from pure, deep aquifer sources. In many places, access is free or the price of admission is only a nominal parking fee. But no charge can mean no lifeguard, so play it safe.
This 41,000-acre clear-water reservoir in Wind Creek State Park is a favorite for residents of nearby Alexander City. Fish, swim, boat, or stay and camp: More than 150 of the park's campsites abut the water.
Park at the Kennicott River, then walk five minutes to find this classic swimming hole way off the beaten path near Kennicott Glacier, northwest of the town of McCarthy. When the sun shines, the water warms up enough to take a dip.
Located inside the Grand Canyon, these amazing falls measure more than 100 feet high. Getting there requires a 10-mile hike each way, followed by a 2,350-foot descent. Still, National Geographic named Havasu Falls one of America's best swimming holes.
Passers-by can see this beauty right from the road. A gorgeous little waterfall in Ozarks National Forest spills into a large swimming hole that draws crowds during summer months.
Fans of extreme sports may recognize this swimming hole from the Red Bull World Diving Championships; jumps vary from 5 to 60 feet. A half-mile hike separates the falls from parking along the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Two mountains peaks dubbed the Maroon Bells are among Colorado's most famous and frequently photographed; the lake below produces crystal-clear reflections. Maroon Lake is about 10 minutes outside Aspen, but in addition to a $10 recreational fee, there are severe restrictions on cars. Shuttle buses to the lake run every 20 minutes in summer.
Cool off in this series of waterfalls in Enders State Forest in Granby. All five are worth a plunge, but for a more tranquil experience, head to the last pool. It sits at the base of a 15-foot waterfall and tends to be less crowded.
Thrill-seekers love the super-tall slides at the water park in Killens Pond State Park. Kids like to splash in the interactive water features, and tot pools feature small slides and bubblers. Admission is $4 a person on weekdays and $5 on weekends.
Pack a picnic and head to this pristine swimming hole on the west bank of the Withlacoochee River. The spring-fed pool isn't huge -- about 72 feet by 82 feet -- so go early to avoid the afternoon masses.
Lake Lanier is the refreshing result of damming the Chattahoochee River in the 1950s. An easy drive from Atlanta, it's ringed by nearly 700 miles of shoreline, providing lots of places to swim.
On Oahu, head to the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail to find the path to the pools -- look for spray-painted dots and arrows to guide you. Listen for whales and be mindful of big waves and changing tides as you soak up the surrounding mountain views.
Follow NF-30/Salmon River Road west of North Fork until you cross Cove Creek Bridge. In this remote spot for splashing in the iconic Salmon River, visitors will find a large sandy beach and parking. But beware: The currents can be dangerous.
Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area in Shawnee National Forest serves up clear streams and scenic canyons, linked by eight miles of hiking trails. Watch out for jagged rocks in the stream bottoms.
This elaborate water park has all the bells and whistles for summertime fun, including floating docks for sunbathing, a rope swing, and a zip line. Admission is $12 a person; kids under 6 get in free. Life vests are available to rent, but there are no lifeguards on duty.
The Raccoon River Valley Trail "north loop" runs 56 miles from Waukee to Jefferson. Just north of Redfield, several trails lead to river sandbars perfect for swimming and sunning.
The state tourism department boasts that National Geographic named Scott State Park, which surrounds 100-acre Lake Scott, one of 50 must-see state parks. Natural springs and rocky bluffs create a beautiful setting for swimming. Day permits start at $5.
This spot on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River, in Breaks Interstate Park, is popular for swimming and inner tubing. Take Route 80 east of Elkhorn City until you see signs for the Breaks Interstate Park Recreation Area.
This water playground cuts through sandstone, creating rapids and small cascades. Nature has carved a smooth tubing chute, and sometimes there are rope swings. Downstream, some areas are deep enough for full body submersion.
Just a few miles beyond the Sunday Ski Resort in the town of Newry lies this fantastic swimming hole in Sunday River. Tucked beneath a 10-foot waterfall, it's popular with in-the-know locals, who pack picnics and stay for the day.
Jump in the Chesapeake Bay from its largest public beach, where fresh water from the Sassafras River makes swimming less salty. Public restrooms, picnic tables, and roughly 300 feet of access make this small-town spot a family favorite.
You don't have to be a literary geek to appreciate the calm of Walden Pond in Concord. For a bit of culture between soaks, take a tour of the cabin where Henry David Thoreau wrote "Walden."
This swimming hole has two attractive features: It's very deep, and it's spring fed. Wade into the water from a small, sandy beach and just float, enjoying the variety of birds and wildlife.
Choose from two swimming quarries at this 684-acre park, one 40 feet deep with a sandy beach, the other plunging to 116 feet. Picnic areas and restrooms are available.
If you're looking for a no-frills swimming experience, check out Bluff Creek in Vancleave. It costs a few bucks to get into this privately owned 120-acre campground, but inside there's a small gem of a sandbar with deep, dark (but clean) water and a rope swing. There's also minimal boat activity to get in the way of recreation.
Fast, cold currents draw summer visitors to this swimming hole on the Eleven Point River in the Mark Twain National Forest Area. The river has been called the most pristine in the Ozarks area, and the Riverton West access provides picnic tables and pedestal grills. Across the water at Riverton East are paved parking and a launch used by floaters and boaters.
Hundreds of people visit this family-owned spring about 15 miles north of Lewistown on summer weekends. At 14 feet deep and a constant temperature of 68 degrees, this natural wonder is a must-stop for swimming in Montana. Entrance requires a small fee.
This public swimming pool in the city of Kearney is popular for its elaborate, waterpark-style slide, diving boards, and activities, including a morning toddler time. Season passes start at $60 a person or $130 for a family of up to four, but day passes start at $2.
Head west from Las Vegas to find cool respite at a spring-fed swimming hole in the stunning Red Rock Canyon area. An easy one-mile hike gets you to this natural spring with two large pools for swimming. The water is clear, the area is fairly well shaded, and bathing suits are optional.
A quick stop off the Kancamagus Highway (or the "Kanc," as locals call it) in Albany, this chain of pools and waterfalls in the White Mountains National Forest is perfect for an impromptu dip. Pack a picnic or something to grill: Facilities are available.
"The Glen" gets busy on hot summer days; cold mountain water has made it a refreshing local favorite. Located off Old Mine Road in Hardwick Township, it's an easy riverside walk to the falls and swimming hole.
East of Santa Rosa, the crystal-blue waters of Blue Hole offer swimmers a steady year-round temperature of 64 degrees, while visibility up to 80 feet and vibrant limestone walls attract scuba divers to the old Route 66 site.
Tucked between the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate bridges, New York City's oldest and largest public pool offers Olympic-size swim lanes and lots of spots to sunbathe. The park also features walking trails, a track, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a handful of playgrounds.
In Pisgah National Forest, near Asheville, a smooth rock waterfall doubles as a waterslide. On a sizzling summer day, nothing is more refreshing than slipping into the falls' frigid waters. Lifeguards monitor the site, and there's a $2 entry fee.
This 88-acre state park on the Missouri River has lots of natural, sandy beaches, along with amenities and options that will please everyone in a large crowd. (It's even pet-friendly.) Strong swimmers can explore the lake's small islands, though the very smallest ones disappear when the lake is high -- and the biggest, dubbed "Alcatraz," is best reached by boat.
Swim, snorkel, or cliff dive into sparkling blue-green water at this privately owned quarry park in Garrettsville (not to be confused with nearby Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park). On non-festival weekends, day passes cost $5 for visitors 4 to 14 and $10 for visitors 15 and up.
Step back in history with a trip to this 1939 Work Projects Administration bathhouse. The city-owned lake and water park offers an abundance of water fun: paddle boats, diving boards, a water slide, and a water trampoline. (Usually it's open Memorial Day through Labor Day; low water levels have delayed the 2015 season.) Admission costs $2 per person; children 3 and under are free.
With steady, warm temperatures and crystal-clear water, Buck Lake is an exceptionally serene swimming hole. It's about two hours from Portland by car and a bit tricky to find, but a short hike rewards swimmers with a wondrous experience.
This mountain stream running down a gorge in the Loyalsock State Forest appears to be one of Lycoming County's best-kept secrets. Three beautiful spots where waterfalls rush into cold, emerald-green pools are accessible via a steep walk down from Rock Run Road.
Visitors to Olney Pond are treated to a sandy beach, concession stands, and kayak rentals. A more tranquil experience awaits during off-hours; it gets busy during summer and on weekends. From Providence, follow signs on Route 126 north to Lincoln Woods State Park.
Swimmers head to Horseshoe Falls on Cedar Shoals Creek for its beautiful 10-foot cascades. Some also come for its history -- the falls played a small role on both sides of the Revolutionary War. Also known as Gordon Mills Falls, this popular spot attracts a boisterous crowd. (Be forewarned: The water isn't always deep enough for swimming.)
A dam built in 1949 created breathtaking views and clear waters. The reservoir's 36 miles of shoreline include plenty of sandy beaches for swimmers. The average summertime water temperature is a comfortable 66 degrees. A state park permit is required for entry to the Angostura Recreation Area.
Travel and Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler magazines have admired stunning, 75-foot Cummins Falls, labeling it one of the 10 best swimming holes in the country. Spend the day at scenic Cummins Falls State Park, splashing under the cool waters and relaxing over a shaded picnic. There are no grills or trash cans, so plan to take out what you bring.
Hamilton Creek spills over into a 50-foot waterfall to create this otherworldly shaded pool. There's a limit on how many people can visit the preserve daily, so expect long wait times. The best bet is to go during a warm weekday. (Also, call ahead to verify that the preserve will be open; flood damage has temporarily closed the pool to swimmers.) The fee is $15 per vehicle.
It requires some effort to get to this magical swimming hole just outside Zion National Park. Brave a bumpy yet scenic drive, about six miles from Toquerville, and you'll be rewarded by a trio of pristine waterfalls.
The emerald pools at Warren Falls on the Mad River in Vermont are drop-dead gorgeous. Casual swimmers flock here for a series of small plunges, while adrenaline junkies come for the cliff jumping.
Swimming, sliding, and (sometimes) rope swinging reign at this classic swimming hole on East Fork Elk Creek. Cool water temperatures and a gradual (read: kid-friendly) slope make this pool a family favorite.
Grab a float, board a boat, or simply jump in and enjoy this urban oasis within Seattle city limits. Madison Park Beach is a popular launching point where lifeguards keep watch. Dog lovers can bring their pets to the off-leash Warren G. Magnuson Park for a treat.
This park in Buckhannon is a West Virginia jewel. Look first for the Middle Fork River swimming basin under the bridge, but there are plenty of pretty places to swim along the river.
Find a secluded spot on the river east of Eau Claire. Park along the road and walk a windy trail to the beach. Clear water and a shallow sandy bottom encourage wading -- water ranges from ankle deep to waist deep in the summer months. Skinny-dipping is allowed (although the sand gets very hot in the sun, so shoes are advised even if you're not wearing anything else).
The 91-mile-long reservoir snakes through Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, providing lots of wide-open spaces for water recreation. Fishing is the main attraction here, but warm summer temperatures attract swimmers, tubers, and water-skiers.