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Beautiful Havasu Falls,Supai, Arizona
Photograph: Shutterstock

The most stunning natural swimming holes in the US

While a trip to the beach may involve a long car journey, a dip in a local, natural swimming hole is a stunning alternative.

Written by Jennifer Nalewicki
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Depending on where you live, a visit to the beach can sometimes require the same level of organization as an expedition across the Sahara. But when you tire of shlepping cargo across sand, a dip in a local swimming hole is a just-as-stunning option for a day at the water – especially if you’re trying to avoid crowds during the hot and sticky summer months.

Thankfully, the US is peppered with spots to swim and soak and spend quality time becoming one with nature. Here are eight places that top our list, from Alaska to Utah. Some do require permits to access and others can only be reached on foot, so plan accordingly, but you’ll find that after dipping a toe in the crystal-clear waters, it was well worth the journey.

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Best swimming holes in the US

Part hot springs, part resort, this soaking haven has been attracting visitors to its healing waters ever since it was discovered by miners in 1905. The composition of the 106°F water contains a medley of minerals said to bring relief to any number of ailments, from muscle strains to arthritis, and an onsite spa can help relieve any additional kinks via a Swedish or deep tissue massage. Come nightfall, it’s possible to spot the aurora borealis mid soak thanks to its location in central Alaska.

Nestled deep within a 55ft-tall volcano-shaped limestone crater, this geothermal hot spring stays at a toasty 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit year round, making it an ideal respite after a hike or a day on the slopes at one of the nearby ski resorts, including Park City and Deer Valley. The caldera formed over a 10,000-year period and was caused by snow melting down the Wasatch Mountains and seeping into the valley floor. The result is a mineral-rich, crystal-clear pool that is not only popular with swimmers but also divers, since it’s the only warm-diving spot in the continental USA, with depths reaching 65ft.

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It’s hard not to take a photo of Havasu Falls and post it to Instagram before dipping a toe into the turquoise waters – it’s that beautiful. And popular. So much so, that in order to access the falls, visitors must first register with the Havasupai Tribe to access the falls, since they’re located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. (Note: The reservation is currently closed to tourists until June 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.) Once registered, it’s a 20-mile roundtrip hike through a red rock canyon but it’s well worth the journey for a dip in spring-fed pools, which get their brilliant color thanks to the water traveling underground and intermingling with minerals, such as magnesium and calcium before reaching the surface.

The soothing sound of a 75ft waterfall is all it takes to lure bathers to this swimming hole via a short half-mile hike from the roadside within White Mountain National Forest. The falls are located near what was once the site of a family-operated sawmill, and is now considered a historic site protected by the US Forest Service. The pools have been frequented by locals for centuries, from the Sokokis Indians who once lived on the land to white settlers, who named them after Diana, a Roman goddess of nature.

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Every day, approximately 43 million gallons of water flow through Wekiwa Springs to the Wekiva River. The springs are part of a 7,000-acre state park and are the perfect opportunity to ditch the crowds at Disneyworld, located a quick 30-minute drive away. While the park has miles of trails to explore and numerous camping sites for overnight visitors, it’s the crystal-clear springs that clock in at a constant 72°F all year round that lures visitors in search of a spot to snorkel or simply soak.

After a short 1.5-mile hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll happen upon an emerald pool hidden by a canopy of trees and ringed by large boulders. (You know you’re going the right direction when you come across a tree trunk painted with a small, white circle.) Known as Midnight Hole, the water at this soaking spot remains chilly even in the summertime, so be warned. Hwever, it is a great place to refresh before heading farther along the Big Creek Trail to Mouse Creek Falls, a cascading waterfall located two miles beyond.

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Located about 120 miles northwest of New York City in Upstate New York, Peekamoose Blue Hole sits within the 30,100-acre Sundown Wild Forest, and is miles from the nearest town. It’s not uncommon for city folk to flock to this secluded spot to take a dip in its jewel-toned waters, which, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, was formed by “sand and swirling gravel in an ancient whirlpool.” What remains is a depression in the streambed rock that, due to popularity, now requires a permit to enjoy as a way to protect the resource for future generations to enjoy.  

It takes an act of courage to plunge into the depths of this artesian abyss, which, from the surface, looks eerily similar to a black hole. In actuality, the spring descends vertically for 30ft before opening up into a series of tunnels that burrow down an additional 90ft. Over the years, numerous scuba divers have embarked on the dangerous journey in an attempt to reach the underwater chambers, leading to a number of untimely deaths. Because of this, diving is no longer permitted, however Jacob’s Well continues to be a one of the state’s most popular spots to take a dunk to escape the Texas heat. 

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