To most people, swimming means a trip to the neighborhood pool. But back in the day, your grandparents headed for the local swimming hole. (Go ahead, ask them — they’ll tell you it was 10 miles uphill, both ways, and they got bit by a rattlesnake once and …) Seriously, swimming in a secluded cove or in a waterfall pool can be a fun adventure. Here are some of the most spectacular swimming holes in the U.S. Some you can visit today, while others might require reservations weeks or even months in advance.
10. Wakulla Springs
As you might expect, there’s no shortage of public swimming holes in the Sunshine State. This spot about 15 miles south of Tallahassee in Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is part of a natural spring. The main portion of Wakulla Springs is the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world.
9. Buttermilk Falls
These falls near Ithaca, N.Y., plunge 165 feet over a series of cascades. There is a $7 per vehicle entrance fee for Buttermilk Falls State Park; there is a nominal fee for most of the swimming holes on this list. Be sure to check ahead before heading to any of these sites for entrance fees, hours, and rules.
8. Little River Falls
Located near Fort Payne, Ala., this site is one of several fine swimming spots in Little River Canyon Natural Preserve, one of the deepest gorges east of the Mississippi. One of the other sites, at Martha’s Falls, is called Hippie Hole. You can probably guess how this swimming hole got its name back in the 1960s.
7. Devil’s Watering Hole
Not sure where the ominous name originated for this swimming spot in Inks Lake State Park in the Texas Hill Country. It’s just a nice spot to take a swim — and to take a leap off some high rocks.
6. Lake Lure
The North Carolina lake where they filmed Dirty Dancing is a popular draw for tourists, but it’s a good spot for a dip, too. Turn a visit here into a weekend getaway with a visit to nearby Asheville.
5. Malibu Creek Rock Pool
Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, this rugged park seems a world away from nearby Los Angeles. The swimming hole in Malibu Creek State Park can get a bit crowded. By the way, many of the park’s visitors come to see the filming site for the hit TV show M*A*S*H.
4. Sliding Rock
Seems like the greatest swimming holes all have a waterfall, and at this popular site near Brevard in Western North Carolina, you can actually slide down the 60-foot waterfall (just as the name implies). Entry is cheap ($2) but this spot is so popular, parking spaces fill up fast.
3. Cummins Falls
The cascading 75-foot falls of the Blackburn Fork River are a spectacular backdrop to this swimming hole. Cummins Falls State Park is located halfway between Nashville and Knoxville just off I-40. The falls are a moderately challenging, 2.5-mile round-trip hike that involves wading through the river in spots.
2. Hamilton Pool Preserve
This Travis County park just outside Austin, Texas, features a swimming pool beneath a 50-foot waterfall, with a cave-like grotto covering part of the site. Not surprisingly, you need a reservation to swim at this scenic spot from May through September, and reservations are often sold out a month or more in advance. There’s a $15 per vehicle charge to enter the preserve.
1. Havasu Falls
This may be the most surreal swimming hole on the planet. Located in the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation, a spectacular 100-foot waterfall feeds the pool. (That rich, turquoise color is caused by dissolved magnesium, calcium and suspended calcium carbonate in the water reflecting sunlight.) The trick is getting there. You need a permit, and they’re difficult to obtain. As of summer 2017, the Havasupai tribe was still developing its online reservation system, so you have to call the tourist office at 928-448-2180, 2121, 2141 or 2237. The permits are relatively costly (the price increased to $50 this year). It’s a 10-mile hike heading down into the canyon, which is obviously much more strenuous on the way out. Or you can take a helicopter ride (about $85 each way).