Active Outdoors: Taking a dip in swimming holes off the beaten path

  • You don’t have to get far off the road to find public swimming holes like this one. If you want more privacy, you’ll have to explore a little more. TIM JONES PHOTO

  • Walking an easy trail along a river in a sundress makes sense if you have a swim suit underneath and are ready to jump in on a warm day. TIM JONES PHOTO

For the Monitor
Published: 8/18/2019 6:44:43 PM

Let’s imagine you are out hiking or mountain biking on a sunny, warm afternoon in late August or early September. Though it’s not oppressively hot, you are definitely sweating. No matter how much water you drink, it feels like your cells are starved for moisture.

Your route drops into a little valley and you hear it: the sound of water flowing over rocks. The water is low, barely more than a trickle but a little exploring leads you to a pool deep enough to cover most of your hot, tired body with cool, clean water. What luxury! After a few minutes of soaking, you are back on the trail, feeling like you are floating along instead of plodding.

The entire northeast is blessed with thousands of brooks, streams and rivers, and most of them have a place you can soak. The farther you’ve pedaled or hiked, the better they feel when that cool water flows over your tired body.

Everybody knows about the public swimming holes. There’s one not far from my home called Diana’s Baths on the White Mountain National Forest. On warm summer weekends there’s usually a long line of cars waiting for parking spaces. Traffic problems at Diana’s Baths regularly show up in stories in the local newspaper. The Basin in New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park is a similar situation – too many people wanting to enjoy a cool moment on a hot day. There are similar spots in the hills of Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The irony of these very public, very busy spots to cool off is that there are dozens of similar places nearby that don’t attract the crowds. You just have to go find them.

So, the next time you’re enjoying yourself outdoors, and you find water, go ahead. Wade in! – (don’t jump or dive!) Here’s a hint: when you are out hiking or mountain biking and you see a little blue line cross the trail, be prepared. Always carry a lightweight swimsuit and a pair of flip-flops or Crocs in your pack. The swimsuit protects your modesty where others might happen along and the footgear protects your feet from the inevitable rocks.

There is nothing more refreshing than cooling off and letting your body soak where the water flows over clean gravel or rocks. Relax awhile and enjoy it before you continue on your way. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.

New Saco River guide

One of the clearest, cleanest swimming holes in all of New England is the Saco River and some of its tributaries: Sawyer, Rocky Branch, Ellis, East Branch, Swift, Ossipee and Little Ossipee. With the exception of two small dams, one on the Saco and one on the Ellis, the Saco and it’s upper tributaries are free flowing from Crawford Notch all the way to Swans Falls in Fryeburg, Maine. On any warm summer day you will see lots swimmers and sunbathers especially along Route 302 from Crawford Notch to Bartlett and on the Swift alongside the Kancamagus Highway. But there are many places where, if you walk away from the road, you can have a pool all to yourself.

The Appalachian Mountain Club recently published a comprehensive Saco River Map and Guide that I think is worth having along as you explore this fabulous river system.

East Coast Greenway addition

When it’s completed, the East Coast Greenway ( will be a continuous walking and biking route stretching more than 3,000 miles from the far eastern tip of Maine, all the way to Florida. Imagine being able to walk or bike all that way without having to hike or ride on any roads!

The state of New Hampshire just agrees to purchase 9.6 miles of unused seacoast railroad corridor to develop into the next segment of the trail. Once completed, the New Hampshire Seacoast Greenway section will be a 17-mile off-road, multi-use path connecting seven communities from Portsmouth to Seabrook. Eventually it will connect to Maine’s Eastern Trail in the north and the Old Eastern Marsh Trail and proposed Border-to-Boston Trail to the south. The first stretch will run from Portsmouth to the Hampton town center. Before long, you’ll be able to pedal from Portland to Boston.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel, and can be reached at

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