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    America's Best Swimming Holes

    By By Alice Bruneau, Caroline Hallemann
    July 11, 2014, 9:07:33 AM EDT

    Standing in the sunshine on the rocky bank, with rivulets of cool water dripping from your hair and swimsuit, you wait your turn at the base of the old oak. You’re up. You grip the fraying rope, get a running start, swing out over the pool of clear water, and release. Cannonball!

    In summertime, when the mercury taunts the tip of the thermometer like an angry red fist, the best place to cool down is an old-fashioned swimming hole. These often-secluded natural pools are the perfect antidote to crowded pools with zinc-covered teenage lifeguards or water parks with $8 hot dogs. And they offer a dose of not-yet-forgotten Americana, where sunny days are measured by best friends and belly flops.

    Swimming holes are where we shrug off responsibilities and play with the enthusiastic zeal of a child. They’re also places where we come of age. In The Man in the Moon, 14-year-old Dani (Reese Witherspoon) has her first kiss with the gorgeous 17-year-old neighbor (Jason London)—and subsequently learns her first lessons in love—down at the swimming hole.

    Pancho Doll, a former writer for the Los Angeles Times, is something of an aficionado. For his first book, Day Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of California, Doll logged 25,000 miles in his truck searching the state for the best, from the Oregon state line to San Diego County. He has since penned a whole series that chronicles the best freshwater spots across the country. This is a man who knows a thing or two about taking a dip. “The Holy Trinity of swimming-hole quality is height, depth, and privacy,” says Doll. “Surrounding rock provides a sense of enclosure, often a nice slab inclined for summer repose, even a ledge to jump from.”

    And what says “swimming hole” more than an old-fashioned rope swing? At the cypress-studded Blue Hole in Wimberley, TX, two such swings hang from burly tree limbs. Drop in with the Austinites who come to float on inner tubes and picnic on the grassy banks.

    While these natural oases might seem most at home in the South, you’ll find swimming holes across the country. At Peekamoose Blue Hole in New York State’s Catskill Mountains, dappled light bounces off leafy canopies and swimmers submerge themselves in the cool waters like an invigorating summer baptism.

    So grab your swimsuit, a towel, and a pair of water shoes, and jump in at some of our favorite swimming holes. Last one in’s a rotten egg!—Alice Bruneau

    Related Links:
    The World's Best Hotels
    Beautiful Beaches to Visit in 2014
    25 Ideas for Your Best Summer Ever

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    Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AKFrom rheumatism-stricken gold miners in the early 20th century to modern-day tourists with arthritis pain, visitors have been traveling to Fairbanks in search of warm, mineral-rich healing waters for more than 100 years. Take a soak in the hot spring–fed lake while enjoying an unobstructed view of the aurora borealis, then cool off with a trip to the igloo-shaped Aurora Ice Museum. The facility features sculptures from world champion ice carver Steve Brice, with the thermometer set to a constant 25 degrees. The museum, resort, and spa are open year-round, but for your best chance to see the northern lights, be sure to visit between September and March. —Caroline Hallemann


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    Brandywine River, Wilmington, DE

    During the summer months, there’s nothing quite so relaxing as a lazy float down a slow-moving river. Less than two hours from both New York City and Washington, D.C., this tree-lined stream gently pushes inner tubes (and their riders) from one chilly pool of water to the next. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your own float. Local outfitters can provide everything you need, from canoes, tubes, and life jackets to transportation to and from the waterway. After you’ve had your fill of river life, stick around to explore nearby attractions like the Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Battlefield Park. —Caroline Hallemann


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    Bridal Veil Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

    Not unlike a blusher on a bride, the misty Georgia cataract gently slopes down the face of the rock. It’s the only one of the several waterfalls inside Tallulah Gorge that functions as a natural Slip ‘n’ Slide. Keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain a free Gorge Floor Pass to reach the falls. Only 100 are given out per day, so aim to get there before lunchtime (when the park often runs out). Then, throw on a pair of sturdy shorts, and slide away. —Caroline Hallemann

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