There’s something a little magical about a good old-fashioned swimming hole.

Sure, when it’s hot, you can cool off at all kinds of watery venues, including swimming pools and Maine’s myriad public beaches. Not to mention the fact that so many Mainers know somebody who has a camp on a lake or pond.

But the notion of a swimming hole, some tiny little oasis off the beaten path in the woods or mountains, is emotional and powerful. It’s not just a place to cool off, it’s a place to feel away from it all and maybe even take a step back in time. Places that meet this definition of a swimming hole can be found all over Maine, in more populated places like Sanford or rural vacation spots like Rangeley and Newry. Some are accessible by a hike, sometimes a rugged one. Others are a short walk from a parking area or path.

Some of them are basically wading pools in rushing streams or at the base of waterfalls, so use caution and be wary of slippery rocks. Also, since many are in rural places don’t count on restrooms. Plan ahead.

Here are a few swimming holes you might explore this summer, as things heat up and you feel a need to cool off, both physically and emotionally.

Smalls Falls empties into wading pools near a rest area off Route 4 near Rangeley. Photo courtesy of Shannon Bryan

NO SMALL FEAT

Smalls Falls is a popular wading area surrounded by cliffs along the Sandy River and Chandler Mill Stream about 12 miles south of Rangeley in Township E. There’s a roadside picnic area on Route 4, with picnic tables and hiking trails. From there, it’s a short walk down some stairs and across a bridge to the falls. There are three different waterfalls along the trail, each with a pool. One of them falls drops 54 feet. The first  pool you’ll find along the trail has a little bit of a rocky beach, so it’s good place to hang out with kids. For more info and a map, go to mainebyfoot.com.

TAKE A HIKE

If you want to make cooling off even more satisfying, build up a nice sweat with a hike first. The hike in question is on Blueberry Mountain in Stow in the White Mountains National Forest, north of Fryeburg. The swimming hole is called Rattlesnake Flume and Pool, off the Stone House Trail to the mountain. It’s mountain water, so it’s cold, and the pool is a beautiful blue-green color. It’s widely known by hikers because, well, it’s on a hiking trail, and you can’t just park your car and jump in. The shortest hike to the summit is about 1.5 miles, and the detour to the pool is only about a tenth of a mile. From Fryeburg, take Route 113 north to Stone House Road and park at the steel gate. Get more information at rootsrated.com

Indian’s Last Leap on the Mousam River in Springvale is accessed by a fairly rugged trail. Photo courtesy of Shannon Bryan

LEAP OF FAITH

For a swimming hole that’s not far from civilization, try Indian’s Last Leap in Springvale, a section of Sanford. The swimming hole, in the Mousam River, is accessible by the Mousam Way trail system which runs though Riverside Cemetery and along the river, as well as through some rugged terrain. To park fairly close to the section of trail closest to the swimming area, take Route 109 from Sanford to Springvale, then a right on Stanley Road. Parking is next to a Central Maine Power substation. For more information, go to Maine Trail Finder.

A NOTCH ABOVE

The Mahoosuc Public Lands and Grafton Notch State Park, on Route 26 north of Bethel, have lots of scenic spots where you can stop to take in the beauty of Maine’s western mountains. These include Screw Auger Falls, a very scenic 23-foot waterfall with shallow pools in the Bear River. You can stand at the base of the falls and feel the spray. It’s accessible by a short walking path from a parking area on Route 26. Along Route 26 in the park, there is also Mother Walker Falls, a 200-foot-long gorge called Moose Cave to explore and the Spruce Meadow Picnic Area. State parks are open, but there are some COVID-19 restrictions, like limited parking and restrooms. The state park fee is $3 for residents. For specific information on the falls and the state park, go to the state parks’ website.

Children climb over rocks along the Bear River leading up to Screw Auger Falls in Newry. Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

LAKESIDE LEISURE

If you’re idea of a swimming hole is more about a glassy sunlit body of water, big enough to swim laps in, then maybe you need a lake. But not one that gets overly crowded. Try Lake St. George State Park in Liberty, about 25 miles east of Augusta on Route 3. It would make a nice stop on a day trip to Belfast. There’s a day-use beach with a lifeguard on duty in summer. People fish the lake in summer for landlocked salmon and brook trout. The admission fee is $5 for residents. For more information, see the state parks’ website.

PRETTY GRAND

Coos Canyon, on the Swift River in Byron, is a free roadside swimming area created by erosion. So there are steep cliffs, pools to swim and wade in, and flat rocks to sit by the water. People have been known to pan for gold there. It’s on Route 17 north of Rumford, not far from the Height of Land scenic overlook, with views of the White Mountains. For more information on Coos Canyon, go the National Resources Council of Maine website.


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