There’s no need to trek to Thailand or seek out a Mexican cenote when travelers right here in the U.S. can dive into any one of nature’s own picture-perfect pools. That is, if you know where to find them. While some are hidden away in the hills of Arizona and others accessible only by campground, we promise that a venture to any of these secret (and often secluded) swimming holes will be all the more worthwhile. So skip the Customs line, put away your passport and get ready to conquer your globe-trotting cravings close to home.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Don’t let the Grand Canyon backdrop fool you, the main attraction amongst the red rocks is the Havasu Falls. The crystal blue waterways come together at the bottom to form a swimming hole that rivals the clearest of all Caribbean seas. What makes this swimming spot so special is that it taps into the adventurer in you because to access the falls, one must undergo a strenuous 10-mile hike, each way. There are of course alternatives, but they’ll cost you. A helicopter ride for those who can swing it or you can saddle up and ride horseback. As part of the Havasupai American Indian Reservation, once you reach the falls you’ll be miles and miles from civilization but all that closer to an otherworldly oasis.
Hamilton Pool Preserve
Dripping Springs, Texas
Texas hill country is a treasure trove for undiscovered swimming holes, which rightfully serve as a summertime staple down south. Our favorite is Hamilton Pool, which emerged naturally when an underground river collapsed thousands of years ago. Today, the “pool” more so resembles a grotto because of its limestone awning which gives it a cave-like appearance. In recent years, Hamilton Pool has been officially named a nature preserve that houses Texas’ native birds, fish and plants. For this reason, if you plan to swim at Hamilton Pool you’re going to need a reservation.
Ocala National Forest, Florida
Situated on one of the East Coast’s most popular campgrounds, you can find the Juniper Springs swimming hole nestled inside of Ocala National Forest. A quick trip through the wilderness will lead you straight to crystal-clear streams which runoff into freshwater pools that you can actually swim in. Visitors have even been known to bring snorkeling equipment to spot local fish and marine life. With a subtropical climate and foliage to match, the forest itself will make you forget all about your Floridian vacay and instantly stir up visions of Southeastern Asia.
While the beaches of Hawaii are some of the best in the world, we encourage you to avoid the crowds and wash away your stress with a dip in the Queen’s Bath. Surrounded by turquoise water and charred igneous rock, it’s hard to believe a geological formation could be carved as perfectly as this one. The descent down the rocks into the pool can be steep and more importantly slick, so goers have been warned to exercise caution. We suggest summer as the prime time to visit because once the weather changes, the swell can be unpredictable.
McArthur–Burney Falls Memorial State Park, California
Northern California doesn’t get nearly the same attention that SoCal does but the swimming hole at Burney Falls has the power to attract even the most discerning of visitors. It is not the highest or largest waterfall in the area but many people (including us) consider it the most beautiful. President Theodore Roosevelt even called it the Eighth Wonder of the World. To find it, Burney Falls is at the center of a popular California state park and at its base sits an iridescent swimming pool which gets fed daily by the falls. What keeps the water secluded, however, is its temperature which clocks in at about 48 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Just upstream from Jawbone Flats—which we promise isn’t the name of a new country band—lies Opal Pool, an emerald wonder of the Willamette National Forest. It sits at the foot of Opal Creek which stretches about three miles long, an average hike for most. Opal Pool is considered one of Oregon’s most scenic swimming spots because of its sparkling jewel-toned water, 500-year-old trees, nearby abandoned ruins and active wildlife. The Willamette National Forest has a rich history as an old mining area and today is considered to be the most diverse and productive throughout the National Forest System.