Even though summers in Vermont are short, the days can be pretty hot—especially in the city. And while the beaches along Lake Champlain's scenic shores are great, there is nothing quite like dipping your toes into an honest-to-goodness Vermont swimming hole. Complete with forested shorelines, cool water from the peaks of the surrounding mountains, and rocks—to sit on and jump off of—these summer hot spots are the epitome of Vermont summer living.
And while summer may be nearing its end in the Green Mountain State, it hasn't up and left completely just yet. To help you make the best of the last lingering dog days of summer, here are the top four recommended swimming holes near Burlington to check out.
1. Red Rocks
This town park—once an old estate—sits 10 minutes from downtown in South Burlington. It is home to a family friendly beach, but instead of cooling off there, take the trails that lead to the namesake red cliffs towering over Lake Champlain. Here is where you need to make the decision of the day: to jump or not to jump. You can only see the cliffs’ gorgeous striations from the lake, so that's good enough reason to get yourself in the water. But, the question of how still remains.
Signs warn against jumping off the rocks. It can be dangerous, though it is legal, and on any given summer day you’ll find thrill seekers ignoring the town’s advice. There are several spots to jump between 20 and 40 feet up, but experienced jumpers are drawn to the infamous 76-footer. For the gravity-averse, you can climb down into the lake just a few steps north of the cliffs.
The water is just as refreshing and the views just as amazing no matter how you decide to make your entrance. But, wear shoes whether or not you’re jumping—the zebra mussels are nasty. Bring a couple of friends and hike in at the end of the day for a sunset backdrop for that super cool backflip.
2. Huntington Gorge
Vermont’s most dangerous swimming hole can be a great place to cool off as long as you use a little sense. Located in Richmond, 25 minutes outside Burlington, the Gorge is a limestone canyon through which the Huntington River carves its way. It's a beautiful and unusual sight in the tranquil Vermont hills. Come for the pools, stay for the scenery.
Just above the gorge is a plaque with the names of people drowned in this spot. It’s so frequently deadly that the plaque is out of date. So follow the local wisdom and don’t go in the water above or within the gorge–and don’t go in it at all after a rainstorm. Channels are narrow, pools are shallow, and underwater currents are unpredictable, so jumping is not recommended here. That doesn’t mean you won’t see dozens of the young and reckless jumping anyway.
But there is plenty of good swimming below the Gorge. Triple Buckets is one spot below the waterfalls that people flock to during the summer. Park wisely though (you’ll get ticketed or towed if you block the narrow road) and hike down through the trees. Dunk in unspoiled pools of mountain water fresh off Camel’s Hump–it’s the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon. The Triple Buckets Trailhead is a bit down the road on the downriver side from the Gorge lot.
3. Bristol Falls
Just beyond the adorable village of Bristol, the New Haven River creates a cascading series of swimmable pools. The most popular hole is at the base of Bristol Falls (also known as Bartlett Falls. Not sure about the reasoning behind the dual name thing, chalk it up as a Yankee quirk. You couldn’t design a better water park than this: a wading area for kids, a deep swimming pool, natural slides carved into the rock and plenty of ledges to jump from. There are some flat rocks where you can lay your towel and warm up in the sun. To top it off, you can actually stand behind the scenic waterfall that pours into the pool.
While a little farther afield from Burlington, Bristol Falls still gets busy on a hot day and you’ll see plenty of out-of-state plates lining Routes 17/116 alongside the river. Try to time your trip for a weekday or go early on a weekend to beat the crowd. But if you can’t, the river has many natural swimming holes that extend above the waterfall. With a little scouting you’ll be able to find a private spot to swim and relax after getting the jumps and slides out of your system at the main swimming hole.
4. Warren Falls
The town of Warren is proud of its swimming hole. There’s a dedicated parking area and clear signs down the trail to the main cascades. Like Bristol Falls, Warren Falls sees a lot of skin on a hot day, so go early. It's about a 50-minute drive from downtown, so plan accordingly.
While waterfalls generally tend to be pretty, Warren Falls is an unusually good-looking set of falls, with tall gray ledges, green forests, and a deep pool colored a Caribbean-style aqua. There are natural waterslides and ledges of all heights surrounding the pool–even little kids jump off the smallest rock, while experienced jumpers climb up into the woods to leap from high above. The many ledges also make great spots to sit in the dappled sun and enjoy the scene. Bring a picnic, get comfortable, and enjoy an afternoon in a beautiful natural water park.