America’s Best Swimming Holes
If it’s not the coarse sand finding its way into the most unholy of body crevices, it’s the sheer amount of people and seaweed that make a day at the beach on a summertime weekend more of a punish than driving there in the first place.
Not to mention the fact that even the most secluded beaches are often shadowed by McMansions. And hell, what’s the adventure in all of that anyway? Well, outside of homeowners chasing you away from “their” high waterline.
As such, we surveyed our staff and contributors from across the country to uncover the finest remote swimming holes, where getting there is an adventure in and of itself. No resorts, no cave spas, no traffic—just natural swimming holes and jump rocks in some of the most beautiful and or desolate parts of America.
Jacob’s Well, Austin, Texas
Austin has as many natural swimming holes as it does barbecue joints and choosing just one is like being limited to a single flavor at Baskin Robbins. But as rad as Barton Springs and Hamilton Pool are, our pick is Jacob’s Well. It’s less populated on account of the hike it takes to get there. Better yet, it’s the deepest underwater cave in the state and a natural spring that means fresh water daily and ideal scuba, free-diving and rock jumping conditions.
Blue Hole of Santa Rosa, New Mexico
Eighty feet deep and spring fed, the Blue Hole is a south-west desert gem far enough away from the crowds that it’s almost safe to go skinny dipping. At a constant 64 degrees year round, the hole is more consistent than that those weird white summer skin spots on your back. And diving —scuba and free—is not just welcomed but encouraged.
Paradise Forks, Arizona
It’s the Looney Toons desert oasis you’ve pictured in your head ever since you were a little kid. But better. Half-hour west of Flagstaff, Sycamore Canyon is effectively a forest that feels purpose-made for rock climbing and rappelling with three 90-foot climbs within walking distance of two waterfalls and rock pools. The hike there’s fun itself and the fact you can also camp nearby makes it the ultimate adventurer’s day out.
Slide Rock State Park, Arizona
OK, so it’s not a “swimming hole” per se, it’s a motherlicking natural waterslide into a swimming hole complete with the gloriousness of myriad cliff jumps. Smooth rock caressed by the long running river form the slide into one of many swimming holes along the river. Situated by an old apple orchard, the place has more charm than George Clooney circa 2007.
Boiling River, Montana
Montana is quickly becoming one of our favorite places, what with its rivers, gorges, canyons and slice of Yellowstone. And as far as swimming holes go, nothing compares to the boiling river. If you feel a warm patch by your leg, it’s more likely the hot spring that dances with the cooler waters of the Gardiner River. Steam peels off the surface like a hot tub in the snow. Better yet, it hasn’t been corporatized by a resort. There are some rock pools, but to escape your fellow adventurers, head out into the river itself.
Cummins Falls, Tennessee
One look at the 75-foot Cummins Falls and you’ll quickly understand why Johnny Cash and June Carter were goin’ to Jackson (aside from the whisky). It’s a hike through the sycamore forest of Cummins Falls State Park to get to the top of the falls before wading across the stream and lowering yourself by guide rope to the swimming role below. By the time you get to the pool at the bottom, you’ve earned it.
Cedar Creek Falls, Southern California
Of all on the list, Cedar Creek Falls are the most difficult to get to and the most punishing to return from. In fact, in the height of summer it’s safe to say the return five-mile hike is the most difficult stretch you’ll ever cover. In the barren hills behind San Diego, the steep desert descent seems easy enough (although completely devoid of shade). But the return is a killer—literally. Chopper rescues are a daily occurrence and park rangers actively dissuade even the fittest of hikers from doing it in anything over 80 degrees. But the swimming hole? It’s worth the effort.