Top 10 Swimming Spots on the Appalachian Trail

AT thru hikers are getting closer to Katahdin which has me thinking about my time in the northeast. By Maine, I was swimming almost every day. I saw just a fraction of all the places to swim along the trail. If your favorite spot isn’t on here, please add it in the comments!

All swimming on this list is:
– Legal (to my knowledge)
– Close to or on the Appalachian Trail
– Biased to the north. Southern swimming spots surely exist, but I was not paying attention when it was chilly.

Without further ado, here are my personal Top 10 Places to Swim on the Appalachian Trail.

10. Hot Springs, NC, Mile 274.4

Although not quite steaming hot, your legs need it. Photo by C.L. Kunst / CC BY

Get some friends together and make the walk from downtown Hot Springs, NC to the mineral baths. In general, bigger groups get better prices. You’re used to piling together in a shelter or hotel room –  now pile together in a hot tub!

9. Little Rock Pond, Little Rock Pond Shelter, Mile 1670.5

Little Rock Pond Shelter

Way better than a hotel pool. Photo by Charles Chandler / CC BY

It’s hard to beat this. If you stay at the shelter, stay up until the stars come out.

 8. Sage’s Ravine, CT/MA Border, Mile 1506.8

Sage's Ravine

I bet the words “natural pools” intrigue you. Photo by Charles Wohlers / CC BY

I have two regrets from my thru hike. One is not eating raw cookie dough at least once (or regularly). The other is not stopping to swim in Sage’s Ravine. It’s beautiful. I don’t know if the water was nice or not. Unfortunately I was in a hurry at this point so I didn’t find out. Don’t make the mistake I made.

7. Canopus Lake, Clarence Fahnestock State Park, Mile 1423.8, 0.2E

Canopus Lake

Free showers! Photo by TheTurducken / CC BY

It’s a fun 0.2-mile side trail to an enormous body of water with a sandy beach. Free showers and a snack bar (with outlets outside, look high up on the wall) – totally worth it. Anyone interested can also rent rowboats by the hour or by the day.

6. Lonesome Lake, Lonesome Lake Hut, Mile 1813.1

Dock on Lonesome Lake near Hut

The views. Photo by Rebecca / CC BY

You’re hitting some big mountains now and this is the first hut you come to going NOBO in the White Mountains. If you are lucky enough to get a spot for the night, or even if you’re just passing through, go down and check out the water.

5. Rainbow Lake, Mile 2162.9

Bigelow Col to East Flagstaff Road

Final time for a NOBO to reflect before Katahdin. Photo by ems18 /CC BY

We stopped at Rainbow Lake Campsite to leave 21 miles the next day to Baxter Park and Katahdin Stream Campground. It was a perfect way to wrap up the AT. I got sentimental here thinking about how much the trail had changed since Georgia. The early days seemed like a different time, but it was all part of the same experience.

4. Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to, Mile 2129.5

AT Hike (387)

It’s an unexpected surprise when you turn the corner.

This is one of the most picturesque shelters on the entire AT, with a brook, falls, and swimming area right in front. Even if you don’t swim, take a break here, have a snack, and soak in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

3. Lower Jo-Mary Lake, Mile 2137.4

No crowds, just sand, lake and mountains

Proximity to the trail and beautiful water. Photo by ems18 / CC BY

Enjoy this sandy beach and a gradual, clean wade into the water. You might think you’re at Waikiki Beach for a minute. Don’t get too carried away.

2. Dismal Falls, Mile 610.4, 0.3W

AT Hike (133)

Perfect, flat, stair-step rocks to explore and relax on.

By now, it’s hot enough out for most NOBOs to consider jumping in. This should be a mandatory side trail as it is one of the best swimming/waterfall areas on the entire trail.

1. Upper Goose Pond, Mile 1548.5, 0.5W

Upper Goose Pond at sunset

Total embodiment of everything good on the trail. Photo by Rebecca / CC BY

If you have any doubts about the 0.5 mile side trail, you won’t after you get to the cabin. My review in five words: canoe, island, pier, cabin, pancakes. This is almost too nice of a place and it just costs a suggested donation of a few dollars.

A minute to talk about swimming etiquette –

Follow posted rules. Do not swim where prohibited. There are good reasons – safety, wildlife rehab, etc. There are great dangers in serene-looking water. Muscle cramps can be brought on by cold water on tired muscles. Waterfalls can create hidden undertows. We are no match for them, especially with our puny hiker arms.

Practice Leave No Trace, even in the water. Do not shave, bathe, use soap, shampoo, or detergent. Do not wash dishes, don’t pee within 200 ft. Be respectful even if no one is watching. Keep hikers welcome in all these areas. And watch out for leaches in Maine!

Honorable Mentions

If you’re still reading, here are some of my other favorite spots that just didn’t fall in the Top 10. Enjoy!

Fuller Lake, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Mile 1102.6

They say not to go swimming until a half hour after eating. Obliterate that myth by jumping in Fuller Lake just minutes after crushing the Half Gallon Challenge. If you aren’t feeling up for the swim quite that soon, relax on the sand beach. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, there are free showers and a snack bar along with electrical outlets outside.

Shook Branch Beach, Watauga Lake, Mile 421.2

Within eye sight of the trail as it crosses US 321, you’ll be tempted by this beach. Especially if you just went over Pond Flats on a hot day. Although, you may be more tempted to just head to town since this is an access point for Hampton, TN. Camping near here is difficult as well due to bear activity.

Jennings Creek, VA 614, Mile 756.0

If it feels like you’re on a long, hot stretch of the middle of Virginia, it’s because you are. You’re going to love this spot as a mid-day stop.

Tubing down the Potomac, Harpers Ferry, Mile 1023.4

If you’re looking to take a zero day in Harper’s Ferry, one good way to spend it is tubing. More adventurous folks will like the Potomac, and the Shenandoah River offers a more relaxed ride. Tubing companies provide shuttle service along the river, and some have all-day packages where you can go up and down the river as many times as you like.

Hertline Campsite, Mile 1199.0

Set up your tent and head down for a swim. Your feet will appreciate it after the rocks this day.

Lake Wawayanda, Wawayanda State Park, Mile 1361.9, 0.2E

I didn’t try this one out myself but I’ve heard some good things. There’s a side trail to the park swimming area, open 10am-6pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And there’s a beach!

Great Falls, Housatonic River Rd, Mile 1492.8

There are two short trails east to views of Great Falls. Rumor is that this can be hit or miss for swimming depending on algae, but views of the falls should make it worthwhile either way.

Stratton Pond, Stratton Pond Shelter, Mile 1640.4, 0.2W

Great pond just a quick walk from the shelter.

Clarendon Gorge, Mill River, Mile 1683.0

Take a dip before tackling Mount Killington. Even if you’re not in the mood for a swim, you’ll love the geological features. It’s a bit chilly!

The Tubs, Little Bigelow Lean-to, Mile 2016.3

If it’s a hot day, you’ll be glad to get to The Tubs after going over the Bigelows.

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Comments 2

  • Cosmo Catalano : Jul 31st

    +1 for UGPC. Stay away on weekends in July and August, it’s a bit busy. Also in Mass, Benedict Pond, a swimming area in Beartown State Forest a day south of UGP. Also has toilets and showers. Flat .75 walk from AT.

  • Northstar : Aug 7th

    I swam in six of the top ten. Agree with all but would rank Rainbow Lake way higher. It is by far the clearest lake water on the AT!


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