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Eight of Our Favorite U.S. Swimming Holes

Who needs swimming pools?

Taking the 20 foot leap in Devil's Punchbowl outside of Aspen, Colorado. (Mark Donoher/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Who needs swimming pools?

When summer temps spike, you need a place to cool off. You might as well make that place a scenic hideaway in a tumbling river away from the crowds. Whether you jump off a cliff or just dip your toes in, here are eight swimming holes around the United States worth dunking into.

Pikes Falls

Jamaica, Vermont

A small waterfall on Ball Mountain Brook ends at an enormous, clear swimming hole called Pikes Falls, in the small town of Jamaica, Vermont. Located about ten minutes from Stratton Mountain ski area, you’ll find ten-foot-long natural water slides, rocks to jump off, and plenty of stone to sunbathe on afterward.

Emerald Pools

Nevada City, California

The South Fork of the Yuba is one of California’s wildest and most striking rivers. Emerald Pools, a gorgeous section of the river with massive swimmable bowls, can be tough to find—you’ll follow an easy-to-lose trail and scramble over granite boulders tucked off Highway 20 between Truckee and Nevada City—but the scenery alone is worth the journey. Cliff jumping is popular here, but also dangerous.

Mill Creek

Moab, Utah

You’ll hike into a sandstone canyon and past ancient petroglyphs to reach the emerald-green bowls of Mill Creek, which flows from the La Sal Mountains. Walk five minutes from your car and take a dip in the cold water, or hike in a little farther to find deep bowls below cascading waterfalls.

Devil’s Punchbowl

Aspen, Colorado

You can find this sunken emerald pool ten miles outside of Aspen, where Colorado’s Roaring Fork River tumbles down Independence Pass. Known as a cliff jumper’s paradise, the Punchbowl features 20-plus-foot leaps into the chilly water.

Diana’s Baths

Bartlett, New Hampshire

Outside North Conway, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, a meandering stream called Lucy Brook flows down the face of Big Attitash Mountain. Near the bottom, it pours over large granite boulders into a swimming area about half a mile from the trailhead. Dogs are allowed at Diana’s Baths, and there’s a $3 parking fee.

Blue Hole

Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee

On the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge, about 20 minutes from Chattanooga, you’ll find a collection of pools that locals call Blue Hole. Hike along the mellow trail that follows the creek and stop for a dip in whatever pool calls to you. And keep your eyes open for rope swings.

Barton Springs Pool

Austin, Texas

Barton Springs is an Austin institution that feels more like a massive, everyone-you-know-is-here pond than a hard-to-reach backwoods swimming hole. The three-acre, man-made, spring-fed pool within Austin’s Zilker Park attracts sunbathers and swimmers year-round. It costs $3 to get in if you’re a local, or $8 if you’re from out of town. Admission is free from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins

Middle Brook, Missouri

About two hours from St. Louis, the East Fork of the Black River gets pinched between big granite rocks, creating natural slides, small rapids, and great gaping pools that are a short walk to reach. If you want a longer hike, there are 45 miles of hiking trails within the surrounding state park.

Filed To: Swimming / Travel / Vermont / California / Utah / New Hampshire / Colorado / Austin / Texas / Missouri / Tennessee
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.