At the Ol’ Swimming Holes

By Amy Carney Bevins

A boy. Poised at the edge of a rock worn smooth by generations of bare feet. Clenching a rope swing in his hands, he glances at the sparkling water below. He takes a deep breath . . . leaps . . . and yells, “Yahoooo,” as he swings through the air. Letting go of the rope, he splashes into the water, emerging with a dripping grin of triumph.

Swimming holes are the perfect expression of a summer day, whether you spend just a few hours or treat yourself to entire day of relaxation. Listen to the peace of the forest punctuated by the delighted splashes of families enjoying a cooling dip. Turn over rocks to find crawfish boldly waving their claws at intruders before disappearing. Try to catch silvery minnows in a net as they flash past. Feel the warmth of the sun radiating from the rocks, soothing you after a refreshing plunge in the water. Nearby, idly watch your bobber float on the surface of the water, waiting for the moment when its plunge will signal a fish on your line.

If this sounds like your ideal summer excursion, come explore the many swimming holes available around Virginia and Maryland. Some feature rushing streams and others, placid pools. Each has a unique character. Below are three swimming holes that made my family’s list of great places to visit. I hope you enjoy them too.

Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area, in the George Washington National Forest near Front Royal, VA, offers a wonderful family swimming hole experience. This combination day-use and campground features a lovely, gently flowing stream with several deep swimming pools. While it is a great first time swimming hole experience, there is plenty to entrance older kids as well. There are numerous rocks to turn over, so bring a bucket to house your children’s’ “finds”. Goggles are also helpful to view the underwater life. My children were especially fascinated by the crawfish with the bright blue claws. Elizabeth Furnace has a large picnic area with tables and grills; be sure to come prepared for a picnic lunch. There are also hiking trails and a grassy area for Frisbee or football. The day use area has water spigots for hand washing and latrine type facilities. Visit www.swimmingholes.org  for more details and directions.

Gooney Creek Campground, near Linden, VA is located just past Skyline Cavern (off of exit 13 on Rte. 66). Gooney Creek offers a day-use area, as well as camping and is open from April 1 – October 31. A small picnic area, a swing set for children, and bathrooms with running water are nice amenities in this rustic spot. However, the real draw of this swimming hole is the rope swing. Generations of families have welcomed summer with a plunge into the refreshing water of Gooney Creek, and then warmed up on the large boulders that rim the pool. A small rocky stream provides plenty of wading and critter hunting. A great fishing hole is located just downstream. Across the street, where Gooney Creek joins the Shenandoah River, families gather to rent tubes for a lazy float. Day use fees for Gooney Creek Campground are $5 per person. For more information visit their website at www.gooneycreek.com  or call proprietor, Gloria Marcon at 703-635-4066.

Big Rock Falls, near Luray, VA is nestled in the Shenandoah National Park just south of Big Meadows, a few miles past milepost 52. This rustic swimming hole starts with a 1-½ mile downhill hike beside a rushing stream to get you warmed up for the plunge into the cool water. Once at the swimming hole, watching the water cascade down the short waterfall into the pool below makes the hike well worth the effort. My family enjoyed the variety of terrain on the hike, as well as the crystal clear water at the swimming hole. At the parking area, before starting the trail, there is a large grassy area, perfect for a picnic. Be advised, the nearest facilities are at Big Meadow Visitors Center. Because of the steep terrain, this particular swimming hole may best suited for children age 7 and up. National Park fees apply. For specific directions and more information visit www.swimmingholes.org.

There are many other swimming holes on our list of places to visit this summer. Two particularly appealing ones include:

Rocks State Park in Jarrettsville, MD. Deer Creek meanders through this Maryland State Park creating three unique family-friendly swimming holes – Hills Grove, Wilson Creek and Kilgore Falls. Look for picnic areas, hiking trails, cliffs to climb, and a beautiful 17-foot waterfall. Bring your own tube to enjoy the ever-popular tubing area. Bathrooms are available. $2 per person. For more information call 401-557-7994 or visitwww.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/rocks.html.

Oregon Ridge County Park in Cockeysville, MD offers a unique quarry setting with sand beaches, docks, lifeguards, grassy areas, concessions, a bathhouse, and picnic spots. For more information call, 410-887-1818 or visithttp://www.co.ba.md.us/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/oregonridgelodge/orbeach.html

While swimming holes abound in the mountains, there are also hidden pools and natural water parks near the shore. To find a swimming hole near you, visit www.swimmingholes.org.  This website details the location, condition, facilities, fees, and often provides photos of more than 900 swimming holes in the US and Canada, including descriptions of about 20 within a few hours of the DC metro area. Have fun cooling off amid the beauty of nature when you try out one of these nearby swimming holes.

Amy Carney Bevins is a freelance writer and mother of two. You can contact her at [email protected].

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