Chlorinated pools and water parks may offer relief from the summer heat, but they’re no match for a freshwater swimming hole. Some of these natural oases even have their own slippery- rock waterslides; others come with “hot tubs” and wading areas—further proof that anything we can make, Mother Nature can make better. Here’s a list of some favorites around the country.
Fed from underground springs that pump out 27 million gallons of water a day, this 3-acre pool has played an important role ever since Native Americans harnessed its supposed healing power and 18th-century Spanish friars built missions on its banks. Today, Zilker Park’s Barton Springs is synonymous with summer in Austin, as tourists, locals—and plenty of dogs—come to swim, fish and picnic. Despite the chilly 68-degree water, resident adults shell out $180 for a summer pass (a single visit is $3) .
Cedar Lake, MN
This spot on the eastern shore of Cedar Lake in Minneapolis has a bit of a reputation. “Hidden” down a short path through a wooded area, it’s clothing-optional and chock-full of drum circles and tie-dye. Recent renovations have turned it into a more family-friendly urban swimming hole, perfect for an afternoon picnic and rock skipping. Colorful visitors still roll around in the legendary “mud pit” before rinsing off in the lake, however.
Yosemite National Park, CA
This waterfall on the south fork of the Tuolumne River is accessible from the trailhead off the road to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Stanislaus National Forest. Follow the path just over 2 miles through old-growth pine and fir forest to a 35-foot drop, where water pours over big slabs of granite into pools below. The area is rarely crowded and there are big flat rocks to dry out on.
Reynold's County, MO
Set in the Ozark Mountains, just 2 hours from St. Louis, this vast collection of large volcanic rocks creates a maze of “shut-ins”—small pools, eddies and water passages. Each is like a private little water lounge, but the Black River rushes quickly through these pockets, so clamberers need to keep a steady footing and a good grip.
Pike County, PA
Located in the Delaware Water Gap, this is the smallest and most intimate spot on our list—with warmish water, since the falls are fed by surrounding lakes. The high-canopy old pine grove makes an excellent picnic spot. You can’t jump in from the cascading stair-step falls, but there’s a rock ledge used for diving.
Near Brevard, NC
Every minute, 11,000 gallons of water rush over a smooth 60-foot rock incline in the Pisgah National Forest. In summer months, a lifeguard keeps watch as sliders cruise into the 8-foot-deep plunge pool below, emerge and climb back to the top with the aid of handrails. The water’s frigid even in summer, but that doesn’t deter families eager to pay the $1 admission to enjoy the country’s preeminent natural Slip ’n Slide.
Near Heber, UT
If this hourglass-shaped subterranean swimming hole looks familiar, that’s because it had its Hollywood debut in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Unfortunately, you can’t plummet into the water from a slot canyon the way James Franco does in the film (that was a composite shot), but the pool is accessible by tunnel. With a dive area about 60 feet wide and a depth of 65 feet, it’s an excellent place to sharpen your scuba skills or just splash around in the geothermally heated waters (usually about 90 degrees). You’ll pay a fee to swim here: $11 on weekdays, $16 on weekends.
Near Heber, UT
Those willing to sweat it out for 4 miles on the Bell Trail at an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet are rewarded with some of the best red-rock cliff jumping in the country, plus Native American petroglyphs along the trail. Wet Beaver Creek deepens considerably at its intersection with the Bell Trail, allowing for plunges from 25-foot boulders beneath the shade of cottonwoods, sycamores, willows and ash trees.
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