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!
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesOhiopyle’s nature-made water park practically calls out for visitors to splash around in the summer heat. But with no lifeguard on duty, officials recommend checking with a ranger before diving in. Once you’ve ensured water levels are safe for swimming, hop on the sandstone slide and let the current whisk you down to the deeper pool below. To access the hole, first look for the Meadow Run Natural Waterslide parking lot alongside Route 381, and then follow Meadow Run Trail to the rushing water. An ADA-accessible observation deck is also easily reached from the parking area. —Caroline Hallemann Photo: David Rice
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesKnown locally as “the crater,” Midway’s 10,000-year-old geothermal spring offers tourists a respite from Utah’s brutal winter with waters that reach up to 90 degrees. For a small fee, guests can enjoy a swim in the caldera’s mineral-rich pool, or indulge in a paddleboard yoga class. Scuba enthusiasts can also rent equipment and explore the only warm-weather diving spot in the continental U.S. Historically, visitors had to earn the right to enjoy these therapeutic waters by rappelling through the top of the 55-foot-tall limestone dome. Homestead Resort, whose property includes the caldera, created a tunnel through the rock wall at ground level for easy access. —Caroline Hallemann Photo: Utah Office of Tourism
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesFrom rheumatism-stricken gold miners in the early 20th century to modern-day tourists with arthritis pain, visitors have been traveling to Fairbanks in search of warm, mineral-rich healing waters for more than 100 years. Take a soak in the hot spring–fed lake while enjoying an unobstructed view of the aurora borealis, then cool off with a trip to the igloo-shaped Aurora Ice Museum. The facility features sculptures from world champion ice carver Steve Brice, with the thermometer set to a constant 25 degrees. The museum, resort, and spa are open year-round, but for your best chance to see the northern lights, be sure to visit between September and March. —Caroline Hallemann Photo: Denise Ferree
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesDuring the summer months, there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a lazy float down a slow-moving river. Less than two hours from both New York City and Washington, D.C., this tree-lined stream gently pushes inner tubes (and their riders) from one chilly pool of water to the next. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your own float. Local outfitters can provide everything you need, from canoes, tubes, and life jackets to transportation to and from the waterway. After you’ve had your fill of river life, stick around to explore nearby attractions like the Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Battlefield Park. —Caroline Hallemann Photo: Leslie Kipp
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesNot unlike a blusher on a bride, the misty Georgia cataract gently slopes down the face of the rock. It’s the only one of the several waterfalls inside Tallulah Gorge that functions as a natural Slip ‘n’ Slide. Keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain a free Gorge Floor Pass to reach the falls. Only 100 are given out per day, so aim to get there before lunchtime (when the park often runs out). Then, throw on a pair of sturdy shorts, and slide away. —Caroline Hallemann Photo: Oliver Gerhard / Alamy
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesIf basking in the sun and working on your tan sounds too tame, consider a trip to this water hole designed for thrill seekers. Practice your swan dive off the 10-meter platform, fly down the zipline, or give scuba diving a try. An old-fashioned rope swing rounds out the park’s offerings. Try your hand at fishing at an adjacent lake that park staff keeps stocked with local species like catfish, bass, and crappie. If you packed your own lunch, grassy shaded areas on the banks of the quarry make a perfect picnic spot. —Caroline Hallemann Photo courtesy of White Rock Park
See More of America's Best Swimming HolesHere’s one swimming hole that feels more like a warm bath than a polar bear plunge. Fed by Yellowstone’s famous geothermal springs, water in Firehole River lives up to its name. Warm, but not scalding, currents can reach up to 86 degrees. There’s no lifeguard on duty, so check conditions online before you swim, and resist the urge to cliff dive—it’s not only unsafe, it’s also illegal. After entering the park’s west entrance, look for Firehole Canyon Drive. It’s just off Grand Loop Road. —Caroline Hallemann Photo: Thomas Lee / Alamy
--Alice Bruneau and Caroline Hallemann
See All of America's Best Swimming Holes
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