7 Great American Swimming Holes
On a sweltering summer day, sure, a pool is nice. Jumping into the ocean, or a lake, is pretty okay, too. But there’s something that feels just so summer about stumbling upon a good old-fashioned swimming hole, stripping down and cooling off under the shade of a forest canopy.
And when it comes to finding these pristine natural pools in the U.S., Tom Hillegass is the man. Not only has he visited near 400 across the country, but for the past 16 years, he’s run a SwimmingHoles.org, dedicated to chronicling more than 1,100 of these safe and (usually) legal places to splash around and cool down. We tapped his expertise to bring you seven swimming holes worth the trek to take the plunge.
Blue Hole, Wimberley, Texas
Blue green waters, big overhanging trees, a few trickling waterfalls and, of course, the iconic swinging rope. “It’s like a scene from a classic movie,” Hillegass says.
Oleno State Park, Florida
A word for the wise: “Swim during the daytime, don’t swim at dawn, dusk or night, stay away from the reeds and make a lot of splashing noise,” Hillegass advises. Why? While this state park swimming hole is considered safe, when you jump into this dark, tannic river, you might be sharing the territory with a gator or two. But without cliffs to jump from, you need to get that adrenaline rush somehow, right?
Buffalo Point, Arkansas
The Buffalo River is long, lazy and beautiful—the first-ever nationally declared scenic river, in fact. Large gravel beaches make up its banks, and rock bluffs stand above some of the deepest parts of the water, making them a perfect jumping point. Head downstream to Rush landing, then keep going—along the way, you’ll hit more places for taking a dip, and thanks to the remote wilderness area, go ahead and lose the suit.
Sculptured Rocks, New Hampshire
Clean, cool pools sit inside the twisting caverns and narrow passages of this New Hampshire river, and the carved-out rock formations at every turn give this swimming hole its name. Test out the depth, then scramble onto the top and jump into the chilly waters.
Treman State Park, New York
Don’t be afraid to pack up the kids—this all-natural pool is as safe as they come, complete with a lifeguard and even a diving board. Don’t miss the chance to play near the waterfall and soak in the natural beauty. “Natural, family-oriented, safe—all-around, number one on my list,” Hillegass says.
Granite Hot Springs, Wyoming
Unlike the chilly spring water that’s common in a swim hole, geothermal activity from the Pacific Rim heats the underground water in the pools of the Teton National Forest. Soak in the summer with 93 degree temps or visit during the winter for even warmer waters.
Before you jump right in: Check out SwimmingHoles.org for a complete list of safety guidelines that will help stop you from doing something…well, really stupid. The highlights: Never swim drunk (that jump looks a lot more dangerous without beer goggles), beware of strong—sometimes invisible—currents in rivers and don’t even think about diving headfirst, even if you think it’s deep enough. And if you plan to make a camping trip of your swimming hole experience, check out USCAmpgrounds.info—another of Hillegass' sites dedicated to chronicling (you guessed it!) campgrounds—to plan your trip.