It’s easy to assume that travelers need to trek to Thailand or some undiscovered South American waterfall to find the perfect natural swimming hole. However, many of the world’s most stunning and jaw-dropping lagoons are located a lot closer. Here are the best 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 23 miles west of the city. Hamilton Pool Preserve 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 National Preserve 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.
Cummins Falls (Tennessee)
Locals have known about the 282-acre Cummins Falls State Park for more than a hundred years. However, thanks to the internet, the “secret” of the park’s namesake falls is out. Hikes to the falls are relatively short — between one to 1.5 miles, depending on which route you take — but steep with significant elevation changes along the way. The payoff for more adventurous travelers, however, is a 75-foot waterfall that’s the eighth-largest in the state by volume. At its base lies a spectacular, Instagram-worthy swimming hole.
Blue Hole (New Mexico)
The Santa Rosa Blue Hole is no secret — it’s been a popular spot for decades. However, the natural New Mexico aquifer is most fascinating because of its location in one of the driest states in the U.S. Its unique, bell shape means it’s only 80 feet wide at the surface, but it expands to 130 feet wide at the bottom. The one-time fishing hatchery has evolved over the years as a public-use swimming hole. Due to its clear water and constant 61-degree Fahrenheit temperature, it’s also among the most popular spots in the country for scuba diving and dive training.
Madison Blue Spring (Florida)
One of Florida’s best natural swimming holes is surprisingly situated in one of the state’s newest parks. Located not far from the Georgia line, on the west bank of the Withlacoochee River, is Madison Blue Spring State Park. The 150-foot by 82-foot lagoon boasts 25 feet of gin-clear water that’s ideal for casual swimming or full-on cave diving. The only downside: plan to go early. All this beauty means you’ll have plenty of company during your visit.
Hali’i Falls (Hawaii)
Hawaii is home to many of the most stunning natural wonders in the country, so it’s no surprise the island chain boasts some of its most incredible swimming holes as well. Hali’i Falls (which translates to “spread out,” an apt description of the layout of the falls) is a spectacular cascading series of falls on the island of Kauai. They’re tucked into a remote part of the island only accessible via a long hike through washed-out marshes and dense bamboo forests. It’s a trek even for adventurous travelers, but the payoff is like something out of Lord of the Rings.
- 9 Best Hot Springs Around the World
- In the Money: 7 Mansions to Splurge on When You Win the Lottery
- Far Off the Beaten Path: 3 Most Remote National Parks in the United States
- Weird and Wonderful: 10 Most Bizarre Roadside Attractions in the U.S.
- 5 Amazing All-inclusive Resorts for Anyone Who Hates All-Inclusive Resorts