America’s Best Swimming Holes for Ditching the Pool Crowds

Meadow Run Natural Waterslide
Meadow Run Natural Waterslide

The Meadow Run Natural Waterslide in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. (Photo: David Rice)

By Alice Bruneau and Caroline Hallemann

In summertime, when the mercury taunts the tip of the thermometer like an angry red fist, the best place to cool down is an old-fashioned swimming hole. These often-secluded natural pools are the perfect antidote to crowded pools with zinc-covered teenage lifeguards or water parks with $8 hot dogs. And they offer a dose of not-yet-forgotten Americana, where sunny days are measured by best friends and belly flops.

Swimming holes are where we shrug off responsibilities and play with the enthusiastic zeal of a child. They’re also places where we come of age. In The Man in the Moon, 14-year-old Dani (Reese Witherspoon) has her first kiss with the gorgeous 17-year-old neighbor (Jason London)—and subsequently learns her first lessons in love—down at the swimming hole.

So grab your swimsuit, a towel, and a pair of water shoes, and jump in at some of our favorite swimming holes. Last one in’s a rotten egg!

Meadow Run Natural Waterslide, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

Ohiopyle’s nature-made water park practically calls out for visitors to splash around in the summer heat. But with no lifeguard on duty, officials recommend checking with a ranger before diving in. Once you’ve ensured water levels are safe for swimming, hop on the sandstone slide and let the current whisk you down to the deeper pool below. To access the hole, first look for the Meadow Run Natural Waterslide parking lot alongside Route 381, and then follow Meadow Run Trail to the rushing water. An ADA-accessible observation deck is also easily reached from the parking area.


The Homestead Caldera (Photo: Utah Office of Tourism)

The Homestead Caldera, Midway, Utah

Known locally as “the crater,” Midway’s 10,000-year-old geothermal spring offers tourists a respite from Utah’s brutal winter with waters that reach up to 90 degrees. For a small fee, guests can enjoy a swim in the caldera’s mineral-rich pool, or indulge in a paddleboard yoga class. Scuba enthusiasts can also rent equipment and explore the only warm-weather diving spot in the continental U.S. Historically, visitors had to earn the right to enjoy these therapeutic waters by rappelling through the top of the 55-foot-tall limestone dome. Homestead Resort, whose property includes the caldera, created a tunnel through the rock wall at ground level for easy access.

Related: My “Black Stallion” Moment: Swimming With Horses on Mustique

Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs

Chena Hot Springs (Photo: Denise Ferree)

Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, Alaska

From rheumatism-stricken gold miners in the early 20th century to modern-day tourists with arthritis pain, visitors have been traveling to Fairbanks in search of warm, mineral-rich healing waters for more than 100 years. Take a soak in the hot spring-fed lake while enjoying an unobstructed view of the aurora borealis, then cool off with a trip to the igloo-shaped Aurora Ice Museum. The facility features sculptures from world champion ice carver Steve Brice, with the thermometer set to a constant 25 degrees. The museum, resort, and spa are open year-round, but for your best chance to see the northern lights, be sure to visit between September and March.

Brandywine River
Brandywine River

Brandywine River (Photo: Leslie Kipp)

Brandywine River, Wilmington, Delaware

During the summer months, there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a lazy float down a slow-moving river. Less than two hours from both New York City and Washington, D.C., this tree-lined stream gently pushes inner tubes (and their riders) from one chilly pool of water to the next. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your own float. Local outfitters can provide everything you need, from canoes, tubes, and life jackets to transportation to and from the waterway. After you’ve had your fill of river life, stick around to explore nearby attractions like the Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Battlefield Park.

Related: Who You Calling a Sea Cow?! Swimming With The Manatees of Mexico

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls (Photo: Oliver Gerhard / Alamy)

Bridal Veil Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

Not unlike a blusher on a bride, the misty Georgia cataract gently slopes down the face of the rock. It’s the only one of the several waterfalls inside Tallulah Gorge that functions as a natural Slip ‘n’ Slide. Keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain a free Gorge Floor Pass to reach the falls. Only 100 are given out per day, so aim to get there before lunchtime (when the park often runs out). Then, throw on a pair of sturdy shorts, and slide away.

White Rock Park
White Rock Park

White Rock Park (Courtesy: White Rock Park)

White Rock Park, St. Paul, Indiana

If basking in the sun and working on your tan sounds too tame, consider a trip to this water hole designed for thrill seekers. Practice your swan dive off the 10-meter platform, fly down the zipline, or give scuba diving a try. An old-fashioned rope swing rounds out the park’s offerings. Try your hand at fishing at an adjacent lake that park staff keeps stocked with local species like catfish, bass, and crappie. If you packed your own lunch, grassy shaded areas on the banks of the quarry make a perfect picnic spot.

Firehole River Swimming Area
Firehole River Swimming Area

Firehole River Swimming Area (Photo: Thomas Lee / Alamy)

Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Here’s one swimming hole that feels more like a warm bath than a polar bear plunge. Fed by Yellowstone’s famous geothermal springs, water in Firehole River lives up to its name. Warm, but not scalding, currents can reach up to 86 degrees. There’s no lifeguard on duty, so check conditions online before you swim, and resist the urge to cliff dive—it’s not only unsafe, it’s also illegal. After entering the park’s west entrance, look for Firehole Canyon Drive. It’s just off Grand Loop Road.

The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole

The Blue Hole (Photo: Sheryl Savas / Alamy)

The Blue Hole, Santa Rosa, New Mexico

Just off Route 66, this bell-shaped pool helped Santa Rosa earn its title as the Scuba Diving Capital of the Southwest. With pristine blue water and a constant temperature of 61 degrees, the spring-fed pond welcomes divers year round. So next time you’re cruising down “The Great American Highway,” plan a pit stop to cool off from the hot New Mexico sun. You won’t be disappointed.

Related: 8 Hotels with Amazing Private Plunge Pools (Some Are Actually Affordable)

diana's baths
diana's baths

Diana’s Baths (Photo:

Diana’s Baths, Bartlett, New Hampshire

This series of small waterfalls and granite-basin pools in the shadow of Big Attitash Mountain once powered a 19th-century sawmill. Nowadays, the waterway is part of White Mountain National Forest and a favorite swimming spot. The gravel path from the parking lot to the falls is just over half a mile and fairly flat, making the trip easily manageable for families with kids. You can even bring your all-terrain stroller. But accessibility comes at a price. On warm days, expect a crowd at this picturesque destination.

Enfield Falls
Enfield Falls

Enfield Falls (Photo: Kristian Reynolds)

Enfield Falls, Ithaca, New York

Just below Enfield Falls lies one of the Finger Lakes’ worst-kept secrets: the Robert Treman State Park swimming hole. With a diving platform, multiple pools of different depths, and plenty of lounge space for tanning, it’s a favorite summertime hangout for families and college kids alike. A lifeguard is on duty during peak hours, and the short path to the swimming area from the parking lot is wheelchair accessible.

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