On a sizzling day in August, swimming laps in the Calgon-blue community pool can't compare to splashing around in a brisk, freshwater spring. Even briny ocean waves aren't quite as refreshing as naturally silky, quarry waters or the rush of a cold creek so clear you can drink it. And diving from a low cliff into a deep, freshwater pool can be the ultimate way to whoop it up while cooling down.
If you're not fortunate enough to live in a community with a swimming hole of its own, the trouble is finding these places -- especially if you're on a summer road trip, on the other side of the country, in an unfamiliar state. But what better way to end a day spent in a hot car or air-conditioned truck than a skinny dip under a secluded waterfall?
Swimming Holes (www.swimmingholes.org) is a free, Internet-only compendium of more than 750 natural creeks, rivers, springs, and waterfalls, in more than 30 U.S. states and British Columbia, where you can take a dunk on a dog day. The site is easy to navigate; you simply click on your region from a big map of North America, and the search engine calls up scores of moving, freshwater swim spots -- including creeks, rivers, springs, and waterfalls (many of them isolated). They also throw in a few special lakes, quarries, bays, and what they call "road trip dips" -- natural swim spots within 20 miles of major U.S. highways. Click on a swimming hole icon, and you'll get a complete description of the spot, peak features, safety instructions particular to the venue, and detailed directions. The site content includes general safety tips for swimming in unguarded waters, a list of places where the regulars skinny-dip without fear of arrest, and the places where your pooch can doggie paddle beyond the reproach of the local pound.
Day Trips with a Splash (tel. 619/839-3973; www.running-water.com) is a fabulous website and guidebook series that focuses on swimming holes along hiking trails throughout the United States. The options are more limited, but the destinations are more secluded and pristine -- each of them no more than three miles or fewer off a hiking trail. Day Trips with a Splash gives you featured destinations as well as brief descriptions of alternate venues, with lines of longitude and latitude to help you find them. For each featured swim spot, you'll get a painstaking description of the venue, a rating, and photos. (You'll feel less hot and bothered just by exploring some of these venues online!) The site also includes helpful information on where you can swim in the buff, where your dog is welcome, whether it's safe for kids, and whether the location is romantic or otherwise snug for couples.
The four books in the series focus on swimming holes in four U.S. regions. They're all called Day Trips with a Splash, with varying subtitles: Northeastern Swimming Holes, Swimming Holes of California, Southwestern Swimming Holes, and the new Southeastern Swimming Holes. The website and series are slick and widely endorsed, by National Geographic Adventure, The Los Angeles Times, ABC News, and other major media outlets. The books are available at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon for about $19. Much of the content is also available online, but to access the digital maps, you have to register for a one-time fee of $9.95. If you've bought the book, you can register online for free, with proof of purchase.
If you have kids and or don't care whether you're swimming amidst deep nature, check out the website of the World Waterpark Association (www.waterparks.com). The site lists hundreds of parks throughout the world where you can ride water slides, surf machines, inner tubes, and uphill water coasters without setting foot in a natural body of water. The site works like the swimming hole sites, except you get to do your clicking from a map of the world. The site offers general tips on water and slide safety, links to more particular information on safety for children, sun protection, and swimming tips from the Red Cross. You'll get a history of water parks, a list of the best ones in the U.S. -- Schlitterbahn Water Park in New Braunfels, Texas, is number one, surpassing even Disney World's Blizzard Beach -- and other related trivia.
Where's your favorite place to get wet? Join the discussion on our Outdoor and Adventure Message Boards today.