The Hole Shebang


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There’s something sublime about a dip in a natural swimming hole, be it a lazy oxbow in a cool river, a hillside nook fed by a subterranean hot-spring, or a limestone bowl bored out by a 40-foot waterfall. “The swimming hole is the perfect outdoor experience,” says Pancho Doll, author of four swimming hole guidebooks. “The outdoors is all over you.” So whether you make the swimming hole your reward for bagging a nearby peak or the goal itself, you won’t be disappointed with these national parks splash-downs.

White Oak Canyon, Shenandoah National Park

The many waterfalls between the bottom of White Oak Canyon and the park’s Skyline Drive feature one choice pool, a rocky, waterfall-fed oval 20-feet long. From the town of Syria, Virginia, on the south side of the park, it’s a five-mile drive to the White Oak Canyon Trailhead. From there, follow the blue-blazed trail into the park for about a mile and a half, gaining several hundred feet and passing three impressive waterfalls along the way, until you reach the best hole of the bunch.

Marble Fork, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

A series of cascades, the tallest one about 60 feet high, connects a dozen holes downstream of the Kaweah River in one of the several “forks” that originate in the park. Walk upriver from Potwisha Campground onto the Marble Fork Trail. It’s a steep two miles before you turn left down a gully to reach the deep pools above the main falls. Watch out for poison oak as you descend. Best of all, the pools are framed by rock slabs that are perfect for warming yourself after a dip, which you’ll need to do: Doll describes the temperature as “sphincter-shutting cold.”

Dif EQ, Redwood National Park

The hike to this series of three boulder holes has the added advantage of taking you through the Tall Trees Grove, a magnificent stash of giant redwoods. The swimming hole is no slouch, either, with water-sculpted rocks, a ten-foot-deep pool, and a beach with plenty of seating. From the Tall Trees Access Road off Bald Hills Road, seven miles east of the town of Orick, it’s a mile-and-a-half down to Redwood Creek, and another mile and a half upstream to this hole.

Some of Pancho Doll’s bountiful wisdom on the subject of where to get wet can be found online at his Web site, Also useful is, a compilation of holes and tips posted by enthusiasts from around the country.