Forget the water parks, ditch the public swimming pools, and bid farewell to your sprinkler. These 11 waterfalls and swimming holes are some of the best spots to cool off the way Mother Nature intended. Grab your beach towel, slip on a swimsuit, and get going.
1. Havasu Falls // Grand Canyon
If you’re looking for a swimming hole that’s convenient and easy to get to, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a swimming hole that comes with unparalleled beauty and earns you bragging rights for even locating it, Havasu Falls is where you need to be.
There are only three ways to get to this 90-foot waterfall in the Grand Canyon. If you’re really splurging, you can helicopter in. If you’re really athletic, you can hike a challenging 10-mile trail. The third option: Hire a pack mule to ferry you down. Whichever way you take, you’ll be rewarded with vivid blue-green pools and a stunning waterfall with a hidden rock shelter behind it.
2. Hamilton Pool // Texas
Thousands of years ago, the dome of an underground river collapsed, giving a little skylight to this previously hidden pool in Texas. These days, the site is so picturesque that several movies have been filmed there. And with its 50-foot waterfall, jade green pool, limestone slabs, and stalactites, it’s easy to see why.
3. Firehole River // Yellowstone
This Yellowstone swimming hole is a bit like a sauna thanks to runoff from geysers and distant hot springs. After you enjoy a warm soak in nature’s hot tub, don’t miss nearby Firehole Falls, a 40-foot cascading waterfall.
4. Warren Falls // Vermont
It’s certainly not a secret swimming hole—Warren Falls is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, and with a nearby parking lot that’s less than a quarter of a mile away, it’s easy to access. That convenience means you’ll almost always be sharing its deep pools, multiple waterfalls, natural water slide, and interesting rock formations with others, but the site is so dazzling that you won’t notice.
5. Johnson’s Shut-Ins // Missouri
The Missouri State Park Department refers to the shut-ins as “Mother Nature’s hydraulics,” so you know you’re in for a treat at this sweet swimming spot. “Shut-ins” is an Ozark term for a channel of water that is naturally restricted due to narrowness of the passageway and rock that’s difficult to erode. In these areas, water tends to pool up between rock formations to form natural swimming holes. Like Warren Falls, this is not a place where you’ll get to convene with nature alone, but you will get to experience a water park designed by Mother Nature.
6. Pewit’s Nest Gorge // Wisconsin
Though nearby Devil’s Lake gets more hype, the lesser-known Pewit’s Nest has it all: sandy beaches, a series of waterfalls, bedrock ledges, mossy cliffs, a sandstone gorge, deep pools, and cascades. It even has a picture-perfect downed tree in the middle of one of the pools, so swimmers can perch on it to take a break from swimming and catch a few rays.
7. Sliding Rock // North Carolina
Located in Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock is a smooth rock formation that has eroded into the perfect natural waterslide. Every minute, 11,000 gallons of water rush down Sliding Rock, helping passengers sail 50 feet downstream to ultimately drop into a pool that’s seven feet deep.
8. Dick’s Creek // Georgia
Dick’s Creek’s calm, clear, shallow water at the bottom of a waterfall means there are no sudden currents or hidden obstacles lurking beneath the surface, which makes it an ideal destination for a relaxing swim. Locals report that there are hidden gems and swimming holes located all around the falls, as well as some smooth rocks that serve as small waterslides. Dick’s Creek is also well known for its trout fishing, so when you get done cooling off, you can catch some dinner.
9. Aztec Falls // California
One of the best cliff jumping and diving spots in the U.S., Aztec Falls has got everything from easy jumps (five feet) to death-defying dives that should only be left to the pros (60 feet). For the less adventurous, there are large, flat slabs surrounding the pool that are perfect for lounging
10. “The Crater” // Utah
For centuries—even millennia—the only way to enter this 10,000-year-old geothermal spring in Utah was in through the top, 55 feet up. There’s a tunnel that leads down into the caldera these days, and visitors can enjoy warm, relaxing soaks in water that’s 90 degrees year round.
11. Opal Pool // Oregon
Accessing this picturesque swimming hole requires a gorgeous hike through a little more than three miles of canopied old growth forest, but it’s worth the trek. Dip into an invigorating stream of cold mountain creek water edged by beautiful bluffs, a small falls, and rocky, wooded edges.