There are plenty of reasons to hop in a car and head out to a remote wilderness spot to spend the night — the s’mores, the hugeness of trees, the bushels of stars, the belting of pop favorites into loud wind — but none as compelling as the option to swim in a natural body of water. After all, what is summer without a dip in a swimming hole? That’s right, just a sweaty armpit. Camping out near a lake or river also means that you can maximize your time on the water. Whether you want to dip your toes, jump from a waterfall, float on a blow-up donut, or maybe even paddle a bit, we’ve got the prime camp locations for you.
South Yuba River State Park, Nevada City, CA
Tucked into Northern California’s Gold Country, the South Yuba River is admittedly a longish three to four hour journey from the Bay Area, but it’s well worth the drive. The hot temperatures mix perfectly with the cool, aqua river water. Large outcroppings of granite boulders make for an exciting — if occasionally harrowing — scramble around and through the river, and also provide a sense of privacy when you find your pool of choice. Equally beautiful camping in the surrounding forest is available through the South Yuba Campground and at private sites.
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME
Between the lush forest and rocky seaside cliffs, getting your outdoors on is very easy to accomplish at Acadia National Park. There are tons of options for camping, rock climbing, boating, beach swimming, and mind-blowing hiking. But if you’re looking for a swimming hole that’s a little more out of the way, check out Lake Wood and Fawn Ponds at the northern tip of the park for calm, glassy waters that are asking to be rippled.
Cummins Falls, Cookeville, TN
Located about an hour and a half east of Nashville, you have to descend a few rocky slopes to get to Cummins Falls, so bring some sturdy shoes. Upon arrival, however, you’re confronted with cascades, like layers of a giant wedding cake, that fall elegantly into a deep pool perfect for swimming. While you can’t camp at the Cummins Falls State Park, there are cabins and campsites available at the nearby Standing Stone and Edgar Evins State Parks.
Inks Lake State Park, Burnet, TX
About an hour outside of Austin, in Texas Hill Country, Inks Lake State Park, is the lake that gives you everything: kayaking, swimming, fishing, scuba diving, you name it. Explore Devil’s Waterhole, where you can walk through the spring-fed waterfalls or hike the wooded trails. Plus you can spend the night in the park at a tent campsite or cabin.
Moulton Falls, Yacolt, WA
Moulton Falls State Park, on the East Fork Lewis River, is a series of deep pools surrounded by waterfalls, lava rock formations, and a picturesque wooden bridge in the middle of a gorgeous forest. It’s all of your Pacific Northwest dreams come true. Located only about an hour north of Portland, it’s a popular place for cliff jumpers and all manner of swimmers, but if you camp nearby in at the Sunset Falls Campground, you might be able to score a more private dip early in the day.
Cyprus Lake Grotto, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
The water might be cold here, but that doesn’t stop the hardiest of swimmers. These caves on the pristine Georgian Bay were scooped out by waves, leaving perfect, turquoise blue pools for swimming. You’ll have to do a little hiking to get there, and use caution as you shimmy alongside the walls of the caves, but you’ll be rewarded with a great spot to dip. Camping is available at the nearby Cyprus Lake Campground, but be forewarned that you’ll likely need a reservation in the summer.
Sliding Rock, Pisgah National Forest, Nebo, NC
While natural beauty and swimming opportunities abound in the Pisgah National Forest, the main swimming attraction is Sliding Rock: a 60 ft natural waterslide that sends you flying down a slick rock face and plunges you into a pool of water. The hike there isn’t merely a walk in the park, but if you’re after a thrilling way to chill out in the heat, this is your answer. Plus, campgrounds and cabins are scattered all over the park!
Cliff River Springs, La Madera, NM
For those who prefer straight-up pampering to the effort of glamping, Cliff River Springs has got you covered. While many people enjoy the stunning Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, or the well-known mineral pools of the Ojo Caliente spa down the road, Cliff River Springs offers a tranquil alternative. This set of seven casitas scattered around a spring-fed pond along the Ojo Caliente River, offers splendid swimming, paddling, hiking, and all of the bathroom/kitchen amenities you’d miss in a tent.