27 Dreamy Swimming Holes

Swimming holes are, by nature, off the beaten path. Often accessible only on foot, these natural pools afford beautiful views and refreshing swims well worth the hike (and far from the tourists). We have curated our favorite places to take a dip, from Croatia to Nevada City, shown to us by locals. Jump in!

Located near the coastal city of Šibenik, Krka National Park is named for the river that runs through its lush forests and feeds its most famous site, Skradinski Buk—a huge, clear pool that starts and ends in waterfalls. The park is home to seven travertine waterfalls, all fringed by pristine woodlands that attract a variety of birds, both common and rare. Take a boat tour to Roski Slap waterfall, which features an old watermill complex that locals used for centuries, or visit the island of Visovac, located in the center of the Krka River. Visovac was first settled by Franciscan monks, who built a monastery on the island in 1445. The island’s current monastery, which dates back to the 18th century, features a small museum and lush gardens full of peacocks.
Poon Hill Marga, Histan Mandali 33711, Nepal
On the second day of our trek to Poon Hill in the Annapurna Sanctuary, my friend Brill and I stumbled upon this absolutely gorgeous waterfall pulsing through a deep, green canyon. It was the early morning—about 7:30 when we first got to the river and it was quite cold outside. About 53 degrees cold. And then we dipped our feet into the water and it was quite cold. About 53 degrees cold. Yet somehow, after much heated discussion, Brill and I established that jumping into this waterfall was quite simply something we had to do. Forget the frigid water, forget the frigid air—we didn’t come to Nepal to stay warm and safe and dry. So I stripped down to my board shorts and hopped up on the little ledge on the right. I dropped to the ground and pumped out 20 pushups—doing whatever I could to jack up my body temperature. And then I jumped. The water was ice. Absolutely freezing. I surfaced immediately and stroked hard for shore. Adrenaline ripped through my veins. After about 20 seconds, I stumbled onto land—swearing loudly, cursing the brutal cold, laughing at my shaking hands. And I felt so darn alive.
Purdon Rd, Nevada City, CA 95959, USA
I just spent the weekend following the 4th of July up near Nevada City. It got over 90 degrees during the day, so we headed to the river. Although lots of people had similar ideas, I was with a local who directed us to this spot and we had it to ourselves. You park near the bridge and hike along the ridge above the river (about 10 minutes - wish I’d had some tennies instead of just flip flops), but it was well worth it. The water was fantastic and the scenery was beautiful. The rocks in the canyon are unusually rounded/smooth.
61 North Entrance Road
Three miles into Yellowstone from the North Entrance and before you reach Mammoth Hot Springs is a small parking lot on your left. Park and walk down the trail (400m). At the confluence of the Gardiner and Boiling rivers is a fun swimming hole. Mostly known by locals, you’ll enjoy the sensation of hot thermal waters from the Boiling River mixing with the icy water of the Gardiner. Take 30 minutes and enjoy.
Nordnesparken, 5005 Bergen, Norway
It was August, so it seemed a perfectly sensible idea. I’m in Norway, land of the fjords—let’s go for a splash in one! Bergen has a lovely little lido that offers you just that opportunity. Sure, you can swim in its heated outdoor pool, but the real attraction is the small roped-off area of (lifeguard patrolled) fjord. Having warmed up—not literally—in the lido, I dipped my toe in the sea and, before I could register how cold it truly was, launched myself in. It was cold. Colder than an ice bath. Colder than locking yourself in a beer cellar (it’s not that far, remember, from the Arctic). And, once my horrified body had recovered from the shock, it became one of the most enlivening experiences of my life. Just don’t stay in there too long.
Manchioneal, Jamaica
Reach Falls is an off-the-beaten-path delight. Located up in the John Crow Mountains on Jamaica’s east coast, this 30-foot jade-colored cascade tumbles into several pools in the surrounding rain forest. You’ll need a bathing suit and a waterproof camera to capture the natural splendor. Local guides are available to help you make your way across the swimming holes and levels, and show you the best spots. Or you can explore it solo. Because of its distance from tourism spots, there are no crowds, no harassment, just an entrance fee to your very own Garden of Eden. On-site changing rooms are available as you exit by the parking lot. Small fun fact: The falls play a minor role in the 1988 Tom Cruise movie Cocktail.

Latin America
The water in Mexico isn’t only by the beach. This is Misol-Ha. Located deep in the jungles of Chiapas, the waters of Misol-Ha cascade 35 meters down into a 13.7 meter deep pool of water. The entire area is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. From the parking lot, a path leads through the rainforest, to the falls. The path actually takes you behind the waterfall and you can feel the spray of mist from the water splashing into the pool. The rocks are slippery so be careful as you walk. As you continue walking behind the curtain of water, the stone ledge above has crevices that the water showers down through; we took full advantage to dunk our heads under the natural shower to cool off. You can swim in the pool though there are no lifeguards around so do take a plunge, do it with caution. There is a restaurant on the site as well as facilities to change clothes if you are planning to go swimming. Misol-Ha is located about 20 km south of Palenque so if you want a place to take a dip after wandering around the ruins, here’s the place. If you want to spend the night, there are cabins (with private, attached bathroom) that you can rent as well as basic camping facilities. The restaurant serves up regional cuisine….which in Chiapas, is very yummy!
Waimoku Falls, Hawaii 96713, USA
I used to live in Maui, right at the start of the Hana Highway, and driving the famous road was a weekly ritual. I recently went back to visit and found it still as breathtaking as ever. To avoid the tourist traffic (Mustangs seem to be the tourist car of choice), leave early and take the time to actually get out of the car and explore. My favorite stops are always the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden where they filmed the opening sequence for Jurassic Park (ok, kind of touristy, but totally beautiful and worth a stop if you’re a nature geek); Black Sand Beach where the super adventurous can swim out to the bunny ear-shaped rocks and dive into the ocean; Hamoa Beach for body surfing and Oheo Gulch, where you can do the four-mile round trip hike through a bamboo forest to the 200-foot Makahiku waterfall.
Sarande SHA22, Sarandë 9701, Albania
This place is in the middle of nowhere in Southern Albania. There is no bus stop. You just have to motion to the driver to pull over at the side of the road when you see a promising looking dirt trail. You take that trail off the main road, all the time assuming that you couldn’t possibly be in the right place. And then, almost inexplicably, there is a sign for the Blue Eye and a guard, sitting in a booth along the road. He’ll collect a few coins from you, and then you keep walking. If you’re lucky, a truck driver or local tourist will pick you up along the stretch of windy, dusty road that weaves along the side of a body of water that gets ever clearer as you move along. At the end of the trek, you’ll find the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to eat on the little floating deck they’ve installed in the river that flows out of the Eye. The restaurant serves heaping plates of lamb ribs, grilled over charcoal and big bottles of cold Albanian beer, all for a few dollars. A short walk up a dirt path from the restaurant lies the main destination: a coldwater spring of unknown depth and unbelievable color that bubbles up into a green little grotto. It’s often too cold and fast for a swim, but it’s refreshing to put your feet into and beautiful to hang around. There is also a small hotel for people who want to spend the night or can’t manage to catch a bus onward before nightfall.
Negril, Jamaica
No hotel in Jamaica blends better with its surroundings than the aptly named Rockhouse, a string of villas clinging to the top of a sea cliff at the western tip of the island. Local stone, timber, and thatch are the building materials, and a harmony of design and setting is the result. The feel is rustic, but not rough (the showers might be outdoors, but the rooms are air-conditioned), and the feeling carries over to the pool, which sits on a rock platform halfway down the cliff face, from where sunbathers can don snorkel and mask and clamber down into a usually calm Caribbean. Even the restaurant hangs over the water, adding emphasis to the promise of dishes being fresh from the sea.

As does practically every hotel in Jamaica, Rockhouse has its celebrity stories, going back to the early ‘70s when Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones added their names to the guest register. But it wasn’t until 1994, when a group of Australian owners took over, that Rockhouse began to evolve its reputation as one of the most Jamaican of Jamaican hotels. It happened in part because Rockhouse has none of the formality that some of the island’s best-known hotels, with their British colonial roots, still possess. And in part because of its active role in funding local education projects, it’s a valued, and popular, part of the community. That, and the restaurant’s homemade jerk sausage is legendary.
3901 Packer Lake Rd, Sierra City, CA 96125, USA
My wife, Robin, and I have been camping, fishing, and hiking in the Lakes Basin area, near Sierra City, since we met. These days, our usual home base is a tiny log cabin at the edge of Packer Lake, pictured here. From trailheads around Packer you can hike to many other lakes--Saxonia, Deer, Lower and Upper Tamarack, Young America, Upper and Lower Sardine. Most of the hikes are relatively easy, and on some trails you’ll rarely encounter other hikers. In early October 2007, a brief, unseasonable storm passed through and carpeted the area with an inch or two of snow, which made for an especially invigorating walk along the Pacific Crest Trail to the lookout at the top of the Sierra Buttes.

Supai, AZ 86435, USA
There’s a reason this is one of the most iconic spots along the Grand Canyon. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation and hidden deep within a 20-mile round-trip hike, Havasu Falls’ sparkling turquoise waters are a popular destination for seasoned hikers who come for the amazing views, rock climbing, and swimming. The hike to the falls and back is best enjoyed with a preplanned route and plenty of stops for rest, food, and water. Because tribe members of the Havasupai, which means “people of the blue-green waters,” maintain the trails and work to keep their land as unspoiled and pristine as possible, reservations for campsites are limited and day hikes and drones are not allowed.
4050 Red Rock Loop Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336, USA
The red rocks around Sedona are a trekker’s dream, and if you know where to go, you can jump in a creek as well. Just to the southwest of Sedona, check out Red Rocks State Park. Take a short hike then cool off with a swim below Cathedral Rock. (By late June/early July, afternoon thunderstorms are the norm--come for a short hike in the morning and play in the water before the clouds build up.) For more info: http://azstateparks.com/parks/rero/index.html
Finlayvale Road, Mossman QLD 4873, Australia
Imagine your hotel room looking out into the middle of the rainforest. At Silky Oaks, it’s your reality. Some balconies have hammocks (my favourite feature in the room); other room balconies even have a bed! The restaurant also looks over the rainforest making the delicious food here stand out even more because of the atmosphere. It is the ideal place for honeymooners (though I’d recommend the resort to anyone). There is no wi-fi access in the rooms. Silky Oaks wants you to relax and reconnect but for your convenience they have a lovely living room if you need to get internet connected. The Healing Waters spa is not to be missed. The Thai massage loosened up all of the tight knots I had in my muscles. My friends received the detoxifying ritual and were completely blissed out afterwards. I have to say for the complete experience that the Silky Oaks Lodge is my favourite hotel to date.
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AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks