K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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While trips to the beach are popular for splashing around in the waves, swimming holes are a fun way to enjoy a refreshing dip, often with spectacular views. Mother Nature has carved out some fabulous spots, with everything from cascading waterfalls that plunge into tranquil pools to creeks with natural waterslides. You’ll find options from Hawaii, California, and Arizona to the Midwest, the South, and the East that are all ideal for planning your trip this summer.
Tucked into a remote area of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, a 10-mile trek, mule or horse ride will bring you to one of the country’s most magnificent waterfalls, Havasu Falls. Havasupai translates to the “people of the blue-green waters,” aptly named as the cascades spill into a dreamy aqua-colored pool with incredible hues thanks to the high levels of magnesium and calcium carbonate in the water. To enjoy this bucket list experience, you’ll need to make your reservations well in advance through HavasupaiReservations.com. It requires a permit and a prior reservation at the campground or the Lodge.
Jacob’s Well is one of the most popular swimming holes in Texas for enjoying a cool respite from summer’s heat. Just 40 minutes from Austin, the 30-foot-deep artesian spring offers cool, clear water surrounded by shady trees and rock ledges. It was once a hotspot for diving with natural wonders like unique limestone patterns and bioluminescent algae, but due to the dangers, that’s no longer allowed. Still, it’s well worth taking a refreshing dip between May and September when it’s open by reservation. Hiking, birdwatching, geocaching, and picnicking can all be enjoyed here too.
An extraordinary swimming hole once exclusive to royalty, Queen’s Bath may no longer be a secret, but it’s an unforgettable place to swim. The royal family used it only during the summer months when the water is crystal clear and calm. Today, the state closes it during the winter when it’s far too dangerous to go in. Otherwise, you’ll be able to enjoy the pool that’s carved into a lava shelf while gazing out at breathtaking views of the Pacific. Nearby, you’ll see a small freshwater stream that’s perfect for rinsing off afterward. Getting there is easy, requiring a scenic 10-minute trek that winds by a waterfall leading to lava rock followed by a 5-minute walk over the rocky landscape.
Slide Rock is located in Slide Rock State Park, just a short drive north of Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon. Visitors can enjoy sliding down the 80-foot-long waterway carved out of sandstone, with the smooth, sloped rock leading into deep pools. There are shallow stretches in the creek to splash around in, and boulder jumping can be enjoyed too. In between deeps, the red rock ledges are ideal for soaking up the sun, and there are lots of other things to do in the park, including hiking. Perhaps arrive early for a scenic trek before taking your own leap into the water.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, just a 25-minute drive north of downtown Orlando, is the perfect place to escape the theme park crowds and enjoy a dip in Wekiwa Springs. One of the best natural springs in Florida, the crystal-clear water stays a consistent 72 degrees throughout the year, especially refreshing after a hike on the miles and miles of scenic trails in the park.
Bridal Veil Falls in Tallulah Gorge State Park spills into an eight-foot-deep swimming hole with a natural water slide thanks to the water that cascades over rocks that have been smoothed down over time. Reaching it isn’t easy, requiring a strenuous 3.4-mile round-trip with no pets or kids under 10 years of age allowed. The reward is well worth the effort if you can make it, but you’ll need to get to the park early as a free permit is required, and only 100 are issued daily. The park is also home to three lakes, with Tallulah Falls Lake popular for swimming, boating, fishing, and picnicking along the 3.5 miles of shoreline.
Located just off Highway 120 along the way to Yosemite National Park, Rainbow Pools offer the ideal break before traveling into Yosemite Valley. These inviting swimming holes lie along the south fork of the Tuolumne River, which flows through the northern and eastern parts of Yosemite National Park. While there are some good spots to jump in near Tuolumne Meadows, the Rainbow Pools are much easier to access, and you can watch the courageous jump from the rock-lined ledges into the largest pool. Or, if you’re a thrill-seeker, take the leap yourself. You’ll find them just 15 miles east of the small town of Groveland – while it’s open year-round, swimming is best from July through September. The area is also popular for fishing, hiking, and picnicking.
Enfield Falls is located in Robert H. Treman State Park and has a swimming hole that sits at the bottom of the 115-foot cascades. There are nine miles of hiking trails, including the hike that winds down a cliff staircase providing magnificent views. After any hike, cooling off beneath the falls provides the perfect reward for your effort. During the summer, the swimming area even has a lifeguard, making it ideal for a family outing.
Located on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a 1.5-mile trek on the Big Creek Trail will bring you to a hidden emerald pool tucked into a canopy of trees and encircled by large boulders. The Midnight Hole is a deep, beautiful pool that sits beneath a 6-foot-high waterfall, providing a natural place for swimming during the hot summer. Jumping from the rocks into the water is a popular activity too. It will be jam-packed between about 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. anytime the weather is warm, so you’ll want to arrive early to find a parking spot and enjoy a more tranquil experience.
Located in the Missouri Ozarks about 100 miles south of St. Louis, Johnson’s Shut-Ins is named for shut-ins which occur when the flow of a river is slowed or blocked by boulders or other rock formations. Here you’ll see a maze of whitewater chutes and small pools that developed millions of years ago when ancient volcanic rock blocked the east fork of the Black River. Visitors climb over and along the rocks to find the perfect natural water slides and swimming holes. While it attracts many, there are so many pools that can be reached by scrambling the boulders that it’s almost always possible to find a spot.
Yellowstone National Park is famous for its hot springs (far too hot for soaking in), geysers like Old Faithful, and its wildlife, but most don’t realize that it’s also home to an amazing swimming hole in Firehole Canyon near the west entrance to the park. The rapids of the Firehole River empty into a deep pool surrounded by rock. Despite its name, the water is typically comfortable enough for a refreshing dip on a warm summer day. There are also several shallow areas ideal for little ones who want to wade and splash around, along with a beach to relax on.
Nestled in a remote wilderness area in the Sierra Nevada foothills outside of the gold rush town of Sonora, God’s Bath is one of the best swimming holes in the state. It takes about 2.5 miles to reach it on foot, but you’ll find waterfalls, smooth rocks for sunbathing, and the opportunity to leap into the crystal-clear water in shades of deep emerald. At the granite bridge, you’ll be able to swim beneath before popping out of a hole that was hollowed out by the flowing stream.
Big Canoe is a private residential community which means enjoying the Lake Disharoon Slide requires being the guest of an owner or staying in one of the vacation rental properties. It’s worth it for enjoying this outdoor playground which not only includes a 200-foot-long natural water slide but a sandy beach, hiking trails, golf courses, restaurants, and more. The slide is one of the most thrilling ways to cool offer during a hot summer, and it’s suitable for all ages.