Swim Back in Time

Rediscover swimming holes and lazy days.

Courtesy of Friends of James River Park

The Whiteoak Canyon Trail

Before the chlorinated sanitation of symmetrical swimming pools, before the relentless roar of neon waterslides, cooling off on a scorching summer day meant heading off to the nearest swimming hole. And it still can. Secluded oases with tree-lined borders and spring-fed water, these cool hideaways scattered throughout the state bring to mind lazy, sun-splashed afternoons when the success of the day was measured in the height of cannonball splashes and the number of tadpoles caught. So pack a bag and come on in; the water is fine.

Belle Isle in downtown Richmond may not be the first location that springs to mind when thinking of rural retreats, but the shallow pools of the James River offer an opportunity to lounge in the cool water while taking in a view of the capital city’s skyline. 804-646-5733, JamesRiverPark.org

Big Mary’s Creek Slide, near Sherando Lake in Staunton, is a naturally formed, moss-lined waterslide. The undulating rock trough, hollowed out by a series of small falls, propels riders down into a pool. 540-291-2188, SherandoLake.com

Cave Springs in Wise is next to one of the largest campgrounds in Jefferson National Forest and possesses what the campground describes as a “small swimming lake” created by the eponymous spring that originates in a cave hidden in the mountains above. $12 per night for camping in the Cave Springs Recreation Area.276-546-4297.

Gooney Creek Campground, located about five miles southwest of Front Royal, hosts campers and swimmers all summer, with a smaller stream for wading and catching tadpoles. Dry off by stretching out on one of the boulders bordering the creek. $3 for day visitors, $20 a day for basic camping.540-635-4066, GooneyCreek.com

Whiteoak Canyon Trail in Shenandoah is a 4½-mile loop with at least five waterfalls and accompanying swimming holes. Several of the falls are hidden from sight of the path, so hikers will have to listen carefully, but the drops are steep enough that the falling water makes plenty of noise. $5 entry fee for Skyline Drive. Rooms and cabins available for rent at Skyland Resort.540-999-3500, NPS.gov/Shen


More places to swim,sun and be happy.

Blowing Springs RecreationArea, Bath – Nine miles west of Warm Springs on Virginia Highway 39. 540-839-2521

High Knob Lake, Wise– Six miles south of Norton on Virginia State Route 619. 276-328-2931

Historic Port of Falmouth Park– Located off River Road near Cambridge Street in Falmouth. 540-373-7909, StaffordParks.com

Moorman’s River, Charlottesville Sixteen miles north of Charlottesville on Barracks Road.800-732-0911, HikingUpward.com/SNP/MoormansRiver

Whitetop Laurel Creek, Virginia Creeper Trail Area, Damascus– Enter trail from Route 58 in downtown Damascus. 276-388-3642, VaCreeperTrail.com

Safety tips for swimming holes: Check local bulletins for news of closings; check water depth before jumping or diving in; assess current by throwing a branch or large stick into the middle of the stream; and always swim with a companion.

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