It’s easy to assume that travelers need to trek to Thailand or some undiscovered South American waterfall to find the perfect swimming hole. However, many of the world’s most stunning lagoons are located right in the lower 48. Here are five of the most jaw-dropping swimming holes in the contiguous United States.
Havasu Falls (Arizona)
Nothing about the Grand Canyon disappoints and Havasu Falls is no exception. Situated on the 188,000-acre tribal reserve of the Havasupai people — long considered the guardians of the Grand Canyon — the falls provide a unique destination for hikers that’s unlike any other in the U.S. The stunning falls are difficult to get to, requiring a 10-mile hike each way, so the journey isn’t for the feeble. They can be reached on foot or on horseback and it may be best to go with a guide like Wildland Trekking to handle the logistics. The company even offers a helicopter option to cut the hiking down to just two miles.
Hamilton Pool (Texas)
As if you needed another reason to visit Austin, one of the most stunning pools in the Lower 48 is located just 23 miles west of the city. Hamilton Pool is the result of a limestone dome collapse over an underground river some thousands of years ago (travelers familiar with Mexican cenotes will recognize the geological anomaly immediately). It’s one of the easiest pools to reach on this list and, while that guarantees you’ll have plenty of company there, it’s still well worth the drive.
Opal Pool (Oregon)
Given the modest start of this trail along an uninteresting gravel road just outside of Jawbone Flats mining town (interesting in its own right), it’s easy to imagine there’s no real payoff at the end. But a hiking trail soon reveals itself with a bridge that leads across Opal Creek. Follow the path a bit farther, and you’ll reach Opal Pool, an impossibly beautiful emerald green lagoon bookended on both sides by dramatic rock walls and lush, old growth trees.
Carlon Falls (California)
For visitors to Yosemite Park’s Hetch Hetchy, Carlon Falls is an easy diversion just off Evergreen Road. The aptly named Carlon Falls Trail leading to the falls is a mostly level, two-mile amble, much of which is rarely seen by park visitors. The 35-foot falls run year-round and, on most days, you’ll likely have them all to yourself. The idyllic, boulder-laden swimming hole near the falls is surrounded by ponderosa pine trees and brilliant fields of sunflowers.
Little River Canyon (Alabama)
The aptly named Little River Canyon provides 12 miles of idyllic swimming holes for visitors to Alabama’s Lookout Mountain area. The 600-foot-deep canyon offers one of the most dramatic drops east of the Mississippi River. A short drive downriver from the state’s Highway 35 bridge, you’ll find the easiest access lagoon at the base of Little River Falls. Go when water levels are low as high water can prove dangerous. For something a little more adventurous, hike 0.75 miles from Eberhart Point to the floor of the canyon where several cliffs provide ideal launchpads for cliff-diving.