Sure, you could spend your vacation lounging by a hotel pool. Or, you could venture into the great outdoors and hike to one of the many beautiful swimming holes in North America. Here are eight of the best au naturel places to take a dip north of the Equator—because why bother building a pool when nature already did a better job?
Havasu Falls, Havasupai Reservation, Arizona
If you like working for your R&R, Havasu Falls is perfect for you. There’s a reason only about 20,000 people visit each year: tucked next to the southwest corner of the Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation, the falls can only be reached by a 10-mile hike or horseback ride, or a short helicopter flight, and word on the street is permits are getting harder to come by.
The journey is worth it, though, for the breathtaking sight of the jewel-toned, mineral-rich waters spilling over the rusty red canyon walls. Set aside a few hours (or days) to relax in the water, then head out to explore nearby sites like Upper Navajo Falls.
Echo Lake Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine
Ringed by picturesque cliffs that lead up to Beech Mountain, Echo Lake sits on the western side of Mount Desert Island, within Maine’s stunning Acadia National Park. Unless you’re used to the frigid North Atlantic, you’ll be happier at this 70-degree lake than in the comparatively icy waves at famous Sand Beach. Echo Lake is accessible and safe for swimmers of all ages and abilities—and just in case, there’s a lifeguard on duty during the summer to yell at teenagers trying to jump off the cliffs.
Cummins Falls, Tennessee
A hidden gem of the Southeast, Cummins Falls pours into a gorge in the rugged terrain of Cummins Falls State Park in north-central Tennessee. The waterfall cascades over a series of natural terraces that look like they were designed for relaxing and sunbathing. If you’re feeling ambitious, hike the 3.4-mile loop trail to the bottom of the falls—but don’t forget your swimsuit!
Madison Blue Spring, Florida
If you’re looking for something more than your average backyard creek, head to the crystalline waters of Madison Blue Spring, by the banks of the tongue-twisting Withlacoochee River. Located in one of Florida’s newest state parks, the 24-foot-deep limestone pool offers visitors a chance to enjoy activities including canoeing, kayaking, fishing and scuba diving in the underwater caves.
The Blue Hole, Texas
The creatively-named Blue Hole has been drawing locals to its cool (and yes, blue) waters for generations. This swim comes with a feel-good story: When development plans threatened the popular spot in 2005, the city of Wimberley launched a fundraising effort that brought in enough money to buy 126 acres for use as a community park. You can celebrate the Hole’s survival by taking a turn on the throwback rope swing that dangles over the water.
Firehole River Swimming Area, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The geysers and bison get all the attention, but the country’s first national park has some top-notch swim spots. Near the west entrance, the Firehole Canyon swimming hole is nearly irresistible after you’ve worked up a sweat hiking nearby. Since the river is fed by Yellowstone’s geothermal springs, swimming can feel more like taking a bath, with temperatures sometimes climbing into the mid-80s.
Sliding Rock, North Carolina
Sliding Rock is exactly what it sounds like: a sheet of rock with a waterfall spilling over it. About 11,000 gallons of water flow over this natural waterslide each minute, carrying gleeful sliders 60 feet before plunging them into an 8-foot-deep pool. This spot, nestled in western North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, promises shorter lines and cleaner water than any man-made water park.
Cenote Ik Kil, Yucatán, Mexico
There are more than 6,000 otherworldly limestone cenotes (sinkholes) across the Yucatán Peninsula, but Ik Kil still stands out. This gorgeous spot is famous for its Instagram-worthy vines that dangle to touch the water below. The 200-foot-wide pool reaches 130 feet deep, so you can jump off the platforms carved into the walls without any fear of hitting the bottom.