There is something quintessentially American about a good swimming hole. Pure, unplugged, communal—all these peaceful oases require are some good friends and perhaps a few beers. Here are some of the best stretches of freshwater the country has to offer. Bring your suit.
While this series of dark, private pools spilling over into small, gurgling falls could be mistaken for an open-air Turkish bath, it’s actually just a particularly rocky section of Missouri’s Black River. This natural water park, formed by ancient volcanic stone in the St. Francois Mountains, is surrounded by a state park that’s perfect for camping, hiking, biking, and fishing.
Little River Falls
A beautiful drive through the Little River Canyon National Preserve takes you to this stunning 45-foot waterfall in the southern Appalachians. Spend the day enjoying a blessedly cool reprieve from the Alabama heat with the locals. After drying off, take in the view from Wolf Creek Overlook, or kayak the Class III+ rapids on the namesake waterway when the water is right.
You’ve likely seen photos of this famous desert oasis, with its blue-green waters tumbling into a crystal-clear pool of red canyon rock. The colors alone are mesmerizing, but a picture doesn’t do it justice. What makes this place truly epic is its remoteness: It’s an eight-mile hike through the Havasupai Indian Reservation to reach the falls, an effort that makes soaking in the mystical waters all the more rewarding. Reservations for hiking and camping are required and sell out quickly, so book far in advance.
The Blue Hole
This family-friendly swimming hole is is beloved by locals for its ample cypress tree cover and crystal waters fed by Cypress Creek. Oh, and the rope swing, reservable camping spots, and giant cowboy boot statue. The town of Wimberley (population 3,019) had to implement reservations as the swimming hole’s popularity has grown, but what the Blue Hole lacks in remoteness, it makes up for with nearby food and drink options, like the Hill Country cuisine at the Leaning Pear, just a short walk away.
Madison Blue Springs
Northern Florida is home to some of the country’s finest springs, where manatees, turtles, birds, and alligators cruise the glassy, slow-moving waterways. This natural pool, located in one of Florida’s newest state parks, sits in a limestone basin along the Withlacoochee River, surrounded by magnificent pines and hardwoods, all done up in hanging moss. Along with swimming, kayaking and cave diving are also popular.
When spring arrives in Boulder, residents head to the creek. You’ll know it’s time—usually in April—when gas stations begin selling black inner tubes. Grab one or simply float on your own down this series of small rapids in the middle of town. People set up along the shore with grills, beers, and water guns. While parts of the waterway can feel like a party, the creek is long enough that you can easily secure your own, ruckus-free space. A bike path that follows the stream makes for easy recon.
A 75-foot high waterfall feeds this down-home swimming hole in the 282-acre Cummins Falls State Park. Extra points are awarded for the lifted rock slabs where you can relax above the pools with water raining down like a natural shower. While locals have frequented these falls for more than a century, the closed-in, moss-dappled rock faces that rise like stacks of pancakes make it feel like some kind of never-never land.