It’s that time of year when most of us would give anything to jump into a refreshing swimming hole or stand underneath a beautiful waterfall. Sure you could always jump into a manmade pool, but something natural generally offers a more tranquil, one-of-a-kind experience and the chance to enjoy a deeper connection to nature as well as picturesque surrounding scenery. These swimming holes and waterfalls across the globe provide some of the most ideal spots for doing just that.
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Havasu Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona
Havasu Falls is in a remote area of the Grand Canyon, aptly named “Havasupai,” or “people of the blue-green waters.” Set against fiery red rock canyon walls, the crystal clear cerulean waters take on remarkable hues due to high concentrations of calcium carbonate and magnesium. The waters plunge down into travertine swimming holes below, offering one of the most amazing spots to take a dip on the planet. This place considered sacred by the Havasupai isn’t easy to get to, requiring a ten-mile hike, mule or horse ride to get there, but that just means you’re not likely to run into a huge crowd.
Tinago Falls, Philippines
Tinago Falls, or “Hidden Falls,” is located on Biliran, part of the Visayas islands group of the central Philippines, in the heart of the Caibiran rainforest. It’s the most accessible of the island’s many waterfalls, with a paved access road, requiring a climb 500 steps down what’s known as the “Winding Staircase.” As long as the water isn’t flowing too swiftly, there are two large swimming holes right at the base of the falls. The falls are surrounded by lush trees, vines and other exotic plants, making it a picture-perfect hideaway. Underneath, you can discover another hidden gem, a small cave that can be entered, where you can listen to the rippling waters of the falls.
The Grotto, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
Some call it Cyprus Lake Grotto, some call it The Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park and some call it Georgian Bay Grotto, but whatever you call it, it’s one of Canada’s most breathtaking spots and it also happens to be an amazing place to swim. The park sits on a thin stretch of land between Lake Huron on the west and Georgian Bay on the east. Over time, the water eroded the shoreline’s soft limestone, creating overhanging cliffs and deep sea caves, including The Grotto. It takes a scenic 30-minute hike to get there, passing fields of rare ferns and orchids. When you arrive, you can lower yourself down through a natural rock chimney and into the brilliant blue waters below. If you’re up for an even bigger adventure, hold your breath, dive under and swim through a sunlit tunnel out to the bay.
Jellyfish Lake, Palau
Palau, an archipelago of more than 500 islands, is part of the Micronesia region in the western Pacific, renowned for its scuba-diving and snorkeling sites. While swimming with jellyfish is usually not the best idea, Palau actually offers the rare chance for a fascinating encounter with what some call “friendly jellyfish.” At Jellyfish Lake, the jellyfish lost their ability to sting after evolving trapped inside a cove for some 12,000 years. In fact, it may be the only place on earth where you can swim with hundreds of the graceful marine creatures without worrying about a painful sting. Here, they live on algae, spending their days bobbing up and down, following the sun. Join the jellyfish party, and you can even gently touch one and feel their soft, gelatinous texture for a rather surreal, kind of “Twilight Zone moment.”
God’s Bath, Sonora California
If you like cliff jumping, waterfalls, snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing, you’ll love God’s Bath, located outside the town of Sonora, nestled in a remote wilderness area of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. This cliff-jumper’s dream features towering boulder formations and a combination of deep and shallow crystal clear water, reflecting deep blues and blacks. The granite bridge is a highlight – you can swim underneath and pop out in a hole milled out by the stream. While it’s surely one of California’s best swimming holes, it does require good boots and about a 2.5-mile moderate, unmarked hike to get there.
Pools of 'Ohe'o, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii
The Hana Highway, frequently acclaimed as one of the most scenic drives in America, winds through Maui’s lush rainforests and along the spectacular coastline, though it wasn’t always the popular tourist destination it is today. In order to attract more visitors, a local hotel owner began calling a series of tiered, waterfall-fed swimming holes the “Seven Sacred Pools.” There are actually more than seven pools, and none of them were ever considered sacred, but it sounded good, and despite it being a marketing gimmick, these pools that are a part of Haleakala National Park are absolutely stunning and ideal for a swim when water levels are safe.
Makapipi Falls, Maui, Hawaii
This pristine volcanic pool, located at the base of cascading falls, makes another refreshing rest stop on the Hana Highway. Driving east toward Hana, you’ll see the bridge just past Mile Marker 25. The highway actually crosses over the Makapipi stream right where the lava bed drops into a breathtaking crystal blue lagoon. The hike down to the pool is steep, but it’s definitely well worth the effort – just be extra cautious as you make your way down.
Sliding Rock, North Carolina
This is a fantastic rock waterfall that is so smooth it can be used like a water slide. The cool waters offer a wonderful respite from summer’s scorching sun, though you’ll have to take your turn here, slipping and sliding down this natural mountain waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest. It draws thousands each summer to ride the chilly waters that range from 50 to 60 degrees, flowing down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder before splashing into an eight-food deep pool at the end. Some 11,000 gallons of water flow down the rock every minute, creating an especially exhilarating thrill.
Cenote Ik Kil, Yucatan, Mexico
This magnificent watering hole is a deep natural pit that opens up to the sky. It was formed by the collapsing of a cave, and was sacred to the ancient Mayans, who frequently conducted religious services here. The cenote, sitting about 82 feet beneath the surface, makes a perfect spot on the way to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza and has a store and restaurant on the premises. There is a stairway that’s beautifully lit up and carved into the limestone rock, reaching the swimming platform. The pool itself is nearly 200 feet in diameter, while the waters extend to depths of about 115 feet.
Queen’s Bath, Kauai, Hawaii
Once reserved exclusively for royalty, this extraordinary swimming hole is a secret paradise and one of Kauai’s most unique and refreshing swimming areas on the entire island. The royal family used to swim here during the summer months, when the water is calm and crystal clear. If the surf is pounding, you won’t be able to find it. In fact, the state recently began closing the site during the winter months due to lawsuits from tourists who were injured when attempting to go in. The “pool” is carved into a lava shelf and is the size of several large swimming pools. While you’re inside, you’ll also enjoy spectacular views of the rocky shoreline and the Pacific. A small, freshwater stream flows nearby, offering the perfect place to rinse off after your “bath.”
Jean-Larose Waterfall, Mont Saint-Anne, Quebec, Canada
At the bottom of Mont-Saint-Anne, a beautiful 224-foot waterfall with three cascading falls, at 39-, 62- and 134-feet high, await. You’ll have to climb over 400 stairs down to the bottom of the falls, but there are two viewing platforms along the way to stop, rest and take in the gorgeous surroundings. If you’re adventurous, you can swim directly in the basins or even jump from the ledges that surround them. Before jumping in, you might want to work up a sweat on one of the many hiking trails throughout the area, including everything from gentle walks to steep, technical treks.
To Sua Ocean Trench, Lotofaga, Samoa
To Sua literally means giant swimming hole. This natural, nearly 100-foot deep pool is in a lava field in Lotofago village on the south coast of Upolu island, renowned for its idyllic beaches and unspoiled nature. Swimmers use a ladder to climb down into the hole and enjoy refreshing, crystal clear waters that are fed by the ocean. The To Sua Ocean Trench is surrounded by picturesque gardens and a white sandy beach. Cooling off in the pool provides an excellent respite from midday heat, but in the early morning or evening hours when temperatures are more tolerable, you may want to check out the colorful food market, Maketi Fou, to stock up on delicious fruit like little ladyfinger bananas or pawpaws. Just a few steps away is the flea market, offering everything from kava bowls to authentic Samoan music, jewelry, baskets and lava lavas, the Samoan sarong.
Enfield Falls, Ithaca, New York
Enfield Falls is part of Robert H. Treman State Park, which also features nine miles of hiking trails. You can camp here too, so this swimming hole makes an ideal summer vacation destination. The swimming hole sits at the bottom of the 115-foot falls, and the view as you hike down from the cliff staircase is absolutely magnificent. There are a total of 12 waterfalls in the park, so after a day of hiking, cooling off under Enfield Falls feels heavenly. The swimming area has a life guard on duty during the summer too, making it perfect for families with children.
Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is best known for its colorful hot springs, gushing geysers and abundance of wildlife, but it also has some incredible spots for taking a dip. Located near the west entrance of the park, the swimming hole in Firehole Canyon is not hot, despite its name, though the waters are generally comfortable enough to enjoy a refreshing swim on a hot summer day. There is also a roomy beach where you can watch swimmers if you don’t want to go in yourself. The churning rapids of the river empty into a deep pool surrounded by indigenous rock. You’ll also find a number of shallow, kid-friendly areas, great for wading and splashing around too.
Opal Pool, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
While the water in Opal Pool is rather brisk to say the least, hovering around 42 degrees even in the summertime, it makes for an unforgettable, refreshing dip after working up a sweat from the 3.5-mile hike through old-growth Douglas firs along the river to get there. The deep emerald hues of the pool make it absolutely stunning to gaze at, and while you might think it was named for its striking color, it was actually named after a park ranger’s wife.
Johnson's Shut-Ins, Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
This colorful term coined by the people of the Ozarks perfectly captures this beautiful area found about 100 miles south of St. Louis. A “shut-in” occurs when the flow of a river is blocked or slowed by boulders or rock formations. Here, this labyrinthine series of whitewater chutes and small pools developed more than a billion years ago when ancient volcanic rock blocked the east fork of the Black River. It’s an obstacle course through cascading streams, deep pools and shallow pockets, which means that even though the area attracts lots of visitors looking to cool off, there are so many perfectly Jacuzzi-sized offshoots that can be reached by scrambling boulders, you’re just about guaranteed to find one of your own.
Kuang Si Falls, Laos
Located south of Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is a multi-tier waterfall with water that collects in a number of vivid cerulean pools as it flows downstream. There are also trails to climb to the top of the falls where there are more natural pools for swimming. The falls that begin in shallow pools atop a steep hillside lead to the main fall which has a 200-foot cascade. They’re a favorite attraction with tourists to Luang Prabang, and a must see even if you don’t want to swim. Locals charge a nominal fee to visit the site, but it is well maintained, featuring walkways and bridges to help you get there. Other highlights of Luang Prabang, the capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos, include exploring the temples and bustling markets that reflect its rich culture, visiting magnificent Buddhist monasteries, watching the dawn procession of hundreds of monks and they collect alms and visiting the historical Royal Palace Museum.
Sooke Potholes, Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, British Columbia
The Sooke Potholes formed during the last ice age, roughly 15,000 years ago, as a result of melting ice and boulders that scraped deep holes in Sooke River’s bedrock. Located just 25 miles west of Victoria on Vancouver Island’s southernmost tip, they’re easy to get to yet they feel as if they’re worlds away from the chaos of the city. While this is a popular place to swim, there is plenty of room, and potholes, for all. Further upstream along the creek there is a beautiful photo-op spot, complete with a waterfall, mossy rocks and shallow pools of clear water. As most don’t make it here, there’s a good chance that you can enjoy the waterfall all to yourself. And, if you’re up for hiking another couple of miles along the Galloping Goose Trail, you’ll find even more private pools with the possibility for skinny dipping. Along the way, watch for bald eagles, Roosevelt elk and black bear.
Slide Rock, Sedona, Arizona
Slide Rock, located within Arizona’s Slide Rock State Park seven miles north of Sedona, is a popular place on a hot summer day. Here, visitors take turns sliding down the sloping 80-foot-long sandstone-carved waterway, while others cool off in the creek’s shallow stretches or enjoy boulder jumping into its deeper pools. Just spending the afternoon soaking up the sunshine and watching swimmers from the surrounding red rock ledges can make for a good time. You can also fish, hike and watch for wildlife in the park that’s also home to picturesque Oak Creek Canyon, once a favorite filming location for Hollywood westerns.
Peekamoose Blue Hole, Catskills, New York
The Peekamoose Blue Hole offers an ideal summer escape from the concrete jungle, with New York City and a number of other major east coast cities less than a three-hour drive away. It gets extremely hot and humid in this region during the summer, and this cool, deep blue basin nestled in the woods near the border of Ulster and Delaware Counties is perfect for escaping it and even working on your favorite dive. In the deepest part of the hole, there’s a rope swing where you can perform a double-backflip pencil dive, if you dare.
Carlon Falls, Yosemite National Park, California
This cold water pool offers the chance to relax beneath a waterfall in Yosemite National Park, a destination renowned as the home of some of the most beautiful waterfalls on earth, along with magnificent scenery, hiking and rock climbing opportunities as well as an abundance of wildlife. You’ll have to take a 2-mile trek up the South Fork Tuolumne River, but it’s mostly flat and certainly well worth the journey during the summer months. The 35-foot waterfall that cascades over the wide granite ledges into the swimming hole offers the ideal ambiance. You’ll be surrounded by soaring ponderosa pines, and most of the time, all you’ll hear are the birds watching from above and the soothing sounds of the water.