America's Best Swimming Holes
Photo: Slide Rock State Park near Sedona, Arizona
On hot summer days, Sedona's Slide Rock transforms into a literal sea of people, some vying for turns down the sloping 80-foot-long sandstone-carved waterway, others cooling off in the creek's shallow stretches or boulder jumping into its deeper pools. Join them in the action, or instead spend your afternoon catching some rays on the surrounding red rock ledges. Slide Rock is within the larger Slide Rock State Park, home to stunning Oak Creek Canyon and once a favorite filming location for Hollywood westerns.
How to Get Here: Slide Rock park is on N State Route 89A off of Arizona-179 North. There's a fee for parking and if you have more than 4 people (aged 14 and older) in the vehicle you'll pay a nominal amount more per person to enter. Cash, Mastercard, and Visa are accepted. Restrooms, grills, and campsites are available for use.
With its cascading crystal blue waters, red rock backdrop, and secluded location on the Havasupai Indian Reservation deep within Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls is what all swimming holes aspire to be. Bathe in 70-degree, azure blue waters beneath two rushing spring-fed falls, picnic on the surrounding sands, or just sit back and enjoy the scenery. Seeing as it's a 10-mile (though mostly flat) hike through a steep canyon to get here, you've earned it.
How to Get Here: The Havasu Falls trailhead is at Hualapai Hilltop along Indian Road 18, 65 miles north of Route 66. There's a substantial entry fee to get into the reservation. If you'd like to spend the night, there's a lodge within 2 miles of the falls as well as nearby camping. Guided horseback rides to and from the falls are also available.
More Info: www.havasupaitribe.com
Robert H. Treman State Park's beloved swimming hole sits at the bottom of 115-foot-tall Enfield Falls, also known as Lucifer Falls. Explore the 9 miles of hiking trails in the park and see if you can make it to all 12 waterfalls. The view from the cliff staircase is not to be missed, so be sure to snap a few pictures as you hike down into the gorge. Of course, you came here for the swimming hole, so after all of that hiking cool off under the giant falls.
How to Get Here: Robert H. Treman State Park is a short drive from Ithaca. Take NY-13 S to NY-327 and get off at Park Road. Day parking comes with a small fee, campsites and cabins are available for an additional reasonable fee.
More Info: http://nysparks.com/parks/135/details.aspx
Visitors and locals alike flock to this 60-foot-long natural rock slide in western North Carolina, lining up for a slippery trip that ends in a 7-foot-deep swimming hole. Despite the slide's gentle slope, more than 10,000 gallons of water rush down it every minute.
Sliding Rock is part of Pisgah National Forest (where part of The Hunger Games was filmed). Lifeguards are on duty Memorial Day through Labor Day. Onsite facilities include in-season restrooms and a large parking lot above the rock, right beside U.S. Highway 276.
How to Get Here: To reach Sliding Rock, travel north along Highway 276 about 7.7 miles from the intersection of Highways 276, 64 and 280 in Brevard. You'll pay to enter (small fee); a season's pass pays off in about 10 visits.
More Info: www.ncwaterfalls.com
Embark on a snaking, bumpy, and wild ride nearly 100 feet down a sandstone-carved natural slide before landing in a splash pool like a scene straight out of Goonies. While it's some of the most fun you'll have in the water, the already rushing current can get downright dangerous following a heavy storm. Though there are no official lifeguards on duty, one of the patrolling park rangers will let you know if it's all right to swim.
How to Get Here: There's a parking lot for Meadow Run Natural Waterslide along Route 381 within the park. From here, follow the Meadow Run Trail to the slides. There's also an observation deck accessible from the parking area.
More Info: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks
Sunbathers and scuba divers alike head to the Homestead Caldera, a natural hot spring and swimming hole surrounded by a limestone dome that first started forming 10,000 years ago. Originally visitors had to rappel in from an opening atop the dome to access the crater, but Homestead Resort—where the caldera is located—has since blasted out a ground-level entrance, leaving the upper hole to act as a natural skylight and fresh-air dispenser.
This is the only spot for warm-weather scuba diving in the continental U.S., with water temperatures ranging from 90 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with taking a dip and scuba diving, there's also a deck for sunning and an area for soaking. You can even take classes in paddleboard yoga.
More Info: www.homesteadresort.com
Best known for its gushing geysers and gurgling hot springs, Yellowstone National Park also has some perfect spots for taking a dip. Located near Yellowstone's west entrance, the Firehole River Swimming Area has churning rapids that empty into a deep pool surrounded by indigenous rock. There are also several shallow kid-friendly sections, ideal for wading and splashing in the August heat. The Firehole River Swimming Area is fed by some of the park's famous geothermal features—water temperatures can reach as high as 86 degrees.
How to Get Here: To access the swimming area from Yellowstone's west entrance, follow the road to Madison Junction and turn off at Firehole Canyon Drive. There's limited parking along the road and toilets nearby, but no lifeguard.
More Info: www.nps.gov/yell
Krause Springs claims a couple of the most prized swimming spots in Texas—no small feat in a state known for them. The 115-acre, family-owned property is home to 32 springs, but it's the two main pools (one manmade, the other natural) that draw crowds.
The manmade pool is spring-fed and has both a shallow end and a diving board. Water from the pool trickles out and over a cliff, cascading into the lower swimming hole. Though hidden rocks and boulders prevent diving here, there is a rope swing. The surrounding scenery—which includes centuries-old cypress trees and fern-covered cliffs—is unbeatable.
How to Get Here: Krause Springs is 34 miles west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country. There are no lifeguards on duty. A nominal entry fee is charged per person (children pay half what adults do).
More Info: www.krausesprings.net
Despite its reclusive name, Johnson's Shut-Ins is one of the most welcoming spots in Missouri for cooling off when the temperatures heat up. Formed eons ago, the park's rushing rapids carve through hard volcanic rock to create potholes under waterfalls and natural water slides. Be careful—the park doesn’t have any lifeguards on duty and playing in the rapids and slides can be dangerous. However, you can find calm, open swimming holes in many parts of the park if you'd rather take it easy.
How to Get Here: Johnson's Shut-Ins is off State Highway N. Camping is available as are six cabins are available (varying fees for each).
Pay a small parking fee, and you'll gain admission to one of Puerto Rico's best hidden treasures: a twisting and turning natural waterslide called Las Paylas. Accessing this exhilarating chute requires a brief scramble atop some rocks, and then it's a fast-paced, 30-foot-long descent into an invigorating pool of chest-deep water. While many locals opt to go barefoot, shoes with traction are helpful for navigating the slippery surfaces.
For something a little on the tamer side, there's a shorter, slower natural slide nearby. Swimming at both is at your own risk, so bring along a friend for safety.
How to Get Here: Las Paylas is within El Yunque National Forest—the only tropical rainforest on U.S. soil—behind a row of houses in Luquillo, just off Road 983.
More Info: www.puertoricodaytrips.com/las-paylas