Swimming pools are great, but nothing beats the beauty of an outdoor swimming hole. Next time the temperatures start to rise, forget about the public pool and turn to nature instead. There’s no chlorine, no crowds, and no screaming kids. Sure, you won’t get the wave machines and the tube slides, but who needs manufactured attractions when you can get the real thing instead? If the idea of bathing beneath a cascading waterfall or plummeting down a natural rock slide floats your boat, here’s everything you need to know about swimming holes and where to find them.
What is a Swimming Hole?
Pop ‘swimming hole near me’ into your search engine and you’ll soon be flooded with helpful hints about where you should head for some outdoor water fun. But what exactly is a swimming hole? And why should you care anyway? Per Wikipedia, a swimming hole is a place in a natural body of fresh, moving water (think rivers, streams, creeks, and springs rather than oceans and lakes), that’s large and deep enough for a person to swim around in. So essentially, it’s nature’s version of your local public pool… just without the accessories.
The History of Swimming Holes
Swimming holes have a long and storied history in the UK, thanks in no small part to the likes of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas de Quincey, who spent a large portion of the 1800s waxing lyrical about the joys of the mountain pools in the Lake District. Pretty soon, artists like Turner and Constable had joined the party; their paintings of the tarns and ponds in Cumbria and Yorkshire proved so inspiring to 19th-century thrill-seekers, they all gave up their summer tours of Tuscany and started splashing around in the rivers and streams of the South Wales Valleys instead. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the tradition made its way overseas, where it found particular favor in both the US and Australia. “Wild swimming,” as it’s known, is now a major thing, with convents claiming it offers everything from relaxation and therapeutic benefits to a ton more fun than you’ll ever find at a public pool.
Are Swimming Holes Safe?
Swimming in a swimming hole is a very different experience from swimming in a public pool, or even at the beach. For a start, there are rarely any lifeguards, meaning that if you get in trouble, you’re on your own. Currents can be swift, hidden, and occasional treacherous; if you’re not a strong swimmer, you’ll need to pick your swimming hole wisely and make sure you go with someone who knows a thing or two about water safety. Diving can be dangerous, particularly in holes with hidden rocks or where the depths vary by season. However, as with most things, a bit of common sense goes a long way. To avoid getting into any unnecessary bother, take the advice of nhmagazine.com and apply the following safety precautions:
- Don’t go alone and always let a friend know where you’re headed.
- Favor water shoes or sneakers over bare feet to protect yourself from rocks.
- Always obtain permission beforehand if the swimming hole is on private property.
- Don’t drink – alcohol and swimming holes are a marriage made in hell.
- Bring supplies – very few swimming holes come with a handy snack bar.
- Always check the depth and current before jumping in.
- Don’t use rope or swings to cross the hole without testing their strength first.
- Check for any underwater dangers like debris, rocks, or tree limbs before diving in.
- Be considerate to others – that means no rowdy behavior and no leaving anything behind when you leave.
- If the current sweeps you away, don’t panic or try to fight it – float feet first on your back until you reach a spot you can paddle to safety.
Barton Springs Pool, Texas
Texas might or might not do everything bigger and better than everyone else, but they certainly do a great line in swimming holes. Barton Springs Pool is a giant, year-round swimming hole in Ziker Park that’s been drawing locals and tourists for decades. Spread over three acres and fed from underground springs, the pool maintains a pleasant temperature of 68-70 degrees, making it an ideal destination regardless of the season. Open from 5 am to 10 pm daily, the first two hours are “swim at your own risk” but for the rest of the day, lifeguards are present. If you’re a resident, expect to pay $3 for a day pass. If you’re not, the price goes up to $8.
Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs in Florida has some of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, not to mention some of the most diverse wildlife – expect to spot manatees, alligators, and more besides from the top of the diving platform. Surrounded by ancient cypress trees and boasting water that stays a steady 70 degrees year-round, it’s a must-visit for anyone interested in a very different swimming experience from the norm. While you’re there, be sure to check out the colorful decor and period furniture at the 1930s Spanish Style lodge that borders the water.
Cummins Falls, Tennessee
There are bigger swimming pools than the one at Cummins Falls, but few that manage to be quite so beautiful. Spend a couple of hours splashing around under the cascading waterfall and you’ll never go back to public pools again. Once you’re ready to dry off, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the 200-acre park that surrounds the pool.
Slide Rock State Park, Arizona
Named as one of the best swimming holes in the US by jetsetter.com, the swimming pool in Slide Rock State Park is a natural wonder. Consisting of a 0.5 mile stretch of Oak Creek, it boasts a natural slide of worn, algae-covered sandstone that promises tons of fun for all ages.
Blue Hole, New Mexico
If you’re in the vicinity of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, don’t miss a visit to Blue Hole. The pool used to be a fish hatchery, but these days, the nets and cages have moved out and the swimmers have moved in. With a depth of 81 feet and a width of 60 feet, it’s perfect for scuba diving, swimming, and splashing around in the sun.