The secret swimming holes of Vermont
Swimmers jump from the top of the 20ft high waterfall at Bingham Falls, near Stowe, Vermont (David G Allan)
This past weekend, my wife, three-year-old daughter and I threw our swim suits and towels into a rental car, cranked the air conditioning and abandoned heat wave-plagued New York City for the northern climes of Vermont, in search of some of the best swimming holes in New England.
These natural pools, waterfalls and quarries lie remarkably under the radar. Some are on public land, some on private, but they are usually found by driving slowly enough to spot parked cars hugging the side of a rural wooded road, then asking someone still dripping in their bikini, “Are these the falls?” There are no parking lots, bathrooms, lifeguards or rules, other than good ol’ Vermont common sense and courtesy.
To find the best I asked Dave Hajdasz, the New England webmaster of SwimmingHoles.info (and our chaperone to the first three spots) if he would rank the preeminent spots in his region of expertise. (He is currently writing a book on the subject, Take the Plunge: The Explorers Guide to Swimming Holes of Vermont, published by Huntington Graphics, due out next spring.) His top four New England choices, and his seventh, were all in Vermont, the closest just four hours from New York.
Our first stop was a mile from Stowe ski resort, an area I knew from winter fun and watering holes of the après-ski variety. From the roadside, Bingham Falls are reached by a short trail through fern-blanketed woods, following the sounds of pounding waterfalls and the gleeful shouts of jumpers plunging into the water below.
The main attraction is a 25ft-high waterfall and the clear, deep blue-green pool it feeds. While adventurous swimmers leapt from the top of the falls into a narrow deep spot, I got enough of a thrill jumping from a boulder about 6ft high. My daughter followed suit, jumping off foot-high rocks in a life jacket that buoyed her to the surface.
More intrepid folks will find shooting flumes, swirling pools and a plummet between narrow canyon walls, all at the top of the main waterfall. Before we left, my wife and I each swam after Dave to the bottom of the big falls where we crawled through the pounding water to reach a perch on the other side that had room enough for three. After grinning up into the water shooting down in front of us, we left the only way you can: an exhilarating dive through the falls and back into the pool.
We arrived at Bingham Falls at noon, when the sun illuminates the waterfall and pool. Because of the grey bedrock cliffs and tall trees on either side of the small river, midday is the only hour of the day the swimming hole is not under shadow. Little sun, and the fact that it is fed from the same spring mountain as the ski resort, helps keep the temperature a refreshingly brisk 64F, even on a sweaty day.
The most straightforward route is though the town of Stowe, up Route 100. Stop following ski lift signs when you reach Route 108 and drive just over six more miles.
Dave ranked the top swimming holes in New England based on a homespun algorithm of beauty of the area, special features (like jumping cliffs and waterslides), size and number of waterfalls, and “overall fun from my personal experience”. Warren Falls, with its three waterfalls, three pools, waterslide, four jumping cliffs and “some of the most unique rock formations you will ever see”, was his top pick.
Warren Falls was also busier than Bingham. Rock jumpers from a 10ft cliff (including myself) had to take turns with the folks (and a dog) jumping from the opposing 15ft ledge, to land in the same deep blue spot, just below a small waterfall. Moving up the main levels were more small waterfalls, pools of clear rushing water, a natural water slide, and higher and higher jumping spots with short queues of people.