9 Great Swimming Holes Near Washington, DC - Washingtonian (2024)

Kilgore Falls. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Most Popular: Kilgore Falls

This swimming hole near Baltimore is so popular that you’ll need a reservation to visit on weekends and holidays. A half-mile walk along Falling Branch trail leads to a 17-foot-high waterfall and a catch pool for sitting, swimming, or standing beneath the cascade. Be careful if you decide to scramble up the rocky sides to view the waterfall from above.

For more information, click here.

Good for Families: Elizabeth Furnace/Buzzard Rock

Located near Front Royal, Virginia, Passage Creek meanders through the forest and offers several small swimming holes. One of the more frequented is next to the Elizabeth Furnace campground. It’s a wide open and shallow section of the creek, perfect for families. Another spot well-known by locals is about 2.5 miles further south, on Fort Valley Road, where several swimming holes sit below Buzzard Rocks cliffs. There’s a rope swing at one of the swimming holes and a natural mini-water slide at another. Look for cars parked along the side of the road and you’ll be in the right place.

For more information and directions, click hereand search for “Elizabeth Furnace.”

Best in Maryland: Patapsco Valley State Park

When it comes to options for cooling off, this Maryland park has the rest beat by miles: Swimming is allowed along much of the 32 miles of Patapsco River that runs through Patapsco Valley State Park. Anyplace you don’t see a dam or whitewater rapids—where there are prohibitions against swimming—feel free to wade into the water. The deepest swimming holes are in the McKeldin North area off of Route 32, west of Baltimore. From 32, take the exit for the park (Route 851) to reach River Road. Follow River Road to the south and park at any of several lots along the way. The river parallels the road, allowing easy access to the sandy-bottomed stream.

For directions, use “River Road and MD 851, Sykesville, MD 21784” in GPS. For more information, click here.

Great With Dogs: Cabin John Local Park

If you don’t mind swimming with dogs—or if you want to swim with your dog—Cabin John Local Park in Maryland (just north of the one-lane bridge, at 7401 MacArthur Boulevard) is a great place to get wet with or without fur. Locals often take their dogs there to cool off on those too-hot DC summer days. From the parking lot, follow a short, steep trail down to the creek’s two wide and waist-deep sections of water.

For more information, click here.

9 Great Swimming Holes Near Washington, DC - Washingtonian (1)

Most Beautiful: Cunningham Falls

Maryland’s largest cascading waterfall isn’t only a sight to behold. It’s a site to be cold—or at least cool off. An easy 1.4-mile path in Cunningham Falls State Park leads to the 78-foot-high waterfall. (There’s a sign that says no climbing on the falls, but everyone seems to ignore the sign.) Below the falls is a waist-deep catch pool. On the rocks of the falls are several spots to sit and feel the mountain water flow over your body. If you actually want to swim, directly across from the parking area for the falls is a 75-acre lake with three swimming beaches.

The park is at 14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont, Md. For more information, click here.

Easiest to Access: Poolesville

Don’t have a pool membership? No problem. You can take a refreshing dip at a small shaded swimming hole in Poolesville, Maryland. Located next to the Farm and Home Service Store on River Road, a section of Seneca Creek under a bridge is waist-deep and offers cool water to wade or sit in. Please don’t park in the lot for the store; park along Old River Road. If you have your own kayak or canoe, you could extend your fun in the water at the boat ramps at Seneca Creek Landing or at Riley’s Lock, across from the farm store down Riley’s Lock access road.

The park is at 16315 Old River Rd., Poolesville, Md.

Biggest Adventure: Whiteoak Canyon

The eight-mile-long Whiteoak/Cedar Run loop hike in Shenandoah National Park may be a bit of a challenge on a hot summer day with its steep ascent, long descent, and an elevation change of 2,500 feet. However, if you are up to the task you will be rewarded with views of six waterfalls, several of which have catch pools for sitting, wading, and cooling off. Start the hike from the Lower White Oak Canyon parking lot, which is off of Weakley Hollow Road.

For more information, click here.

An Easier Shenandoah National Park Pick: Overall Run

In Shenandoah National Park, Overall Run doesn’t just feature the park’s highest waterfall, at 93 feet, the creek also includesa series of three interconnected swimming holesperfect for wading;a smooth, sloping rock wall that works as a natural water slide; and large flat rocks for sunbathing. The swimming holes are most readily reached via a one-mile-long trail from the parking area and Thompson Hollow Road. Note: The waterfall is not visible from the swimming holes; that requires a separate hike. And the waterfall is at its best in the spring when the stream runs high—but when it would be way too cold to take a dip.

For more information, click here and search for “Overall.”

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Adventure Just Outside DC: Dead Run

There are several spots along the Virginia side of the Potomac River, north of Georgetown, that look ideal for swimming. A couple of these even have rope swings. But it’s illegal to swim in the Potomac next to DC even when coming from the shores of Virginia.

However, a short hike along the Potomac River Heritage trail from Turkey Run Park leads to Dead Run Waterfall. Here, you can take a dip in a couple of catch pools below the small waterfall. To reach the falls and pools, park in the C1 lot at Turkey Run Park, off of GW Parkway. From the lower end of the lot, look for the connector trail to the Potomac Heritage National Trail; you’ll walk down a lot of stairs to the river and turn left (north) onto the Potomac Heritage trail. After about 1.4 miles, you’ll reach the rocky Dead Run. Stay on the left side of the creek for easier access to the swimming holes. There’s also a one-person-sized swimming hole where the trail crosses Dead Run. To return, simply retrace your steps. Don’t try to complete the loop trail that is described on several hiking websites—both sides of the trail are washed out along the Dead Run, and even if you manage to bushwhack and rock scramble upstream, the remaining sections of trail are confusing and include several deep, muddy ravines.

For more information, click here.

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