America's Best Swimming Holes
- Best Cities for Summer Travel
- World's Most Amazing Views
- Most Underrated National Parks
Standing in the sunshine on the rocky bank, with rivulets of cool water dripping from your hair and swimsuit, you wait your turn at the base of the old oak. You’re up. You grip the fraying rope, get a running start, swing out over the pool of clear water, and release. Cannonball!
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.
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!
Little River Canyon
In northeastern Alabama, the Little River snakes across the top of Lookout Mountain before plummeting into the 12-mile-long Little River Canyon. Bordered by broad-faced cliffs, with large blocks of sandstone jutting from the water, this canyon—at 600 feet, the deepest this side of the Mississippi—is home to a handful of perfect swimming holes. Just downstream from the Alabama Highway 35 bridge, follow the short paved path to the bottom of Little River Falls for an easy-access dunk when water levels are low. (High water means dangerous currents.) Or start at Eberhart Point and hike 0.75 miles to the canyon floor to Hippy Hole, where rope swings dangle from trees and a series of cliffs serve as springboards for daredevils.
There’s off the beaten path. And then there’s Havasu Falls—located a mile and a half outside the Havasupai Indian village of Supai, on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The only way to get here is to charter a helicopter, hike a steep 10 miles, or hire a pack animal. (The U.S. Post Office still uses mules to make mail deliveries to the village.) And you’ll need a permit ($20). But boy, is it worth it. A torrent of water streams across the sunburnt rock face of the Grand Canyon’s south rim, collecting in a pool 100 feet below. The water, so turquoise it looks like it’s on loan from the Caribbean, stays about 72 degrees year-round and is perfect for lazy floating or practicing your belly flop. And with such a schlep to get here, you don’t have to fight the crowds for a prime sunning spot. Yeah, it’s pretty much the best swimming hole ever.