For summer pleasures, nothing beats an old-fashioned, “secret” swimming hole
By Thomas Hillegass
Some years ago I was hot and sweaty hiking up the Whiteoak Canyon trail in Shenandoah National Park off Route 211 near Sperryville. Hiking down toward me was a happily soaking-wet group whom I envied. Asking how they got so cool, I found that there are several great swimming places under waterfalls on this trail.
Yes, there is hope of escaping from the chlorinated, concrete pools that have come to pass for swimming places hereabouts.
Have you ever taken a shower under a waterfall? Have your kids ever squealed as they bravely dropped from a rope into a deep place in a creek? How about immersing your tired body in a natural Jacuzzi — a swirling, bubbling pool in the middle of a river rapid? You don’t have to go to Barbados or Aruba. Just read on!
There are many beautiful, natural swimming places in rivers, waterfalls, and springs not more than an hour from cities and towns in the Piedmont area of Virginia. Because these waters drain mostly from Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest, they are quite clean and all are on public lands. For detailed information and map, please visit my website www.SwimmingHoles.org/piedmont. (Some of these locations are located a bit outside the strict boundaries of the northern Piedmont, to the west and south.)
Old Rag Area: If you look at the SwimmingHoles.org map, you will see a cluster of many swimming holes southwest of Route 211 at Sperryville in the Old Rag area of Shenandoah National Park. Several trails go up and down the mountain and feature many cold swimming holes at the bottom of numerous waterfalls. The Whiteoak Canyon Trail (WHIT on the map) is one of the most popular and leads to several swimmable waterfalls.
Potomac Wayside (POTO on the map): Near Harper’s Ferry, a little creek called Piney Run empties into the Potomac River. Boaters and tubers use it mostly, but it is a fun place to play and swim in the river too. Follow the directions carefully; miss it and you will be in West Virginia before you know it.
Keep Loudoun Beautiful Park (KEEP on the map): Next to Goose Creek, this Loudoun County park near Leesburg has a boat launch, fishing, and (unofficial) wading/water place to play in the creek.
Staunton/Rapidan Rivers in Madison County (STAU on the map): An easy hike along the Staunton River Trail to three swimming places.
Falmouth Riverside Park (FALM on the map): A long-time family swimming place in the Rappahannock River just across the bridge from downtown Fredericksburg. Sometimes the city leaves a pile of life jackets on the gravelly beach to help children swim safely.
Sugar Hollow near Charlottesville (SUGA on the map): Hikes of various lengths lead to several spectacular swimming favorites of University of Virginia students.
Rip-Rap Hollow near Waynesboro: (RIPR on the map): On the west side of the mountain, just across from Sugar Hollow, is a nice one-mile hike to a big pool fed by a small falls in Rip-Rap Hollow.
There are no lifeguards at any of these swimming holes, so safety is your own responsibility.
Never dive headfirst into these waters and don’t even jump unless you have verified for yourself that it is deep enough and that there are no underwater obstacles below. Never swim alone. Never swim at night or after drinking alcohol. Always wear old sneakers or reef runners.
Never swim or try to stand up in rapidly moving water that is above your knees. Instead, float on your back, feet-forward, with the current until you can safely stand in very shallow water.
About the Author:
Tom Hillegass, a retired engineer and a dabbler in idle pursuits far and wide: in the East, canoeing, hiking and camping; in the West, exploring deserts, mountains, river rafting and soaking in hot springs. He started keeping track of swimming holes as he traveled from his home in Alexandria, Virginia, and now has a popular website with information on swimming holes all over the country and in Canada www.SwimmingHoles.org. (For similar guides to campgrounds and public gardens, go to www.IForgotTheName.com.) He can be contacted at hilleg@SwimmingHoles.org