THE BEST NORTHERN VERMONT SWIMMING HOLES
By Thomas Hillegass and David Hajdasz
Photos by David Hajdasz
Does Vermont have more swimming holes than any other state? Based on our extensive research on this subject while developing the web site www.swimmingholes.org , we’d say, without fear of contradiction, “Seems like”.
Vermont, with its very short summers, has (thankfully!) few concrete swimming pools – public or private. It would also appear that typically frugal Vermonters have invested very little in swimwear, as they not only have a very strong tradition of swimming in natural places, but of going “au naturel” in those places as well!
Natural swimming holes are far superior to swimming pools in many ways. The setting is bucolic, the water smells like water (not chlorine) and the adventure of finding and enjoying a good swimming hole is very exciting. But one big difference that we all must be aware of is SAFETY. At a swimming hole, you are responsible for your own safety. See our SAFETY sidebar for some serious consideration. In northern Vermont there is one little nuisance you don’t have to worry about: poisonous snakes. They don’t live in such cold climates (hey, maybe the snakes know something we can learn?)
What is a “swimming hole”? Traditionally, it is a deep place in a river or creek enjoyed by local folks on those dog days of summer. The name implies a smallish body of (usually fresh) water as opposed to, say, an ocean beach or a lake bigger than a pond. In Vermont, a swimming hole is also likely to be pretty cold, but is a welcome break on a hot summer day. As a final criterion, a bona-fide swimming hole has to be deep enough to float your average Homo sapiens – say 3 or 4 feet deep – otherwise it is just a “wading place”. What it comes down to is, if the locals think it is a swimming hole, then go with the flow and enjoy!
There are a few rules of swimming hole etiquette that you should know. Two prime ones are: no glass containers and, pick up trash after yourself (and after others if necessary). With regard to the delicate matter of attire, cut-offs, tee shirts and holey sneakers are high fashion. Sometimes your “birthday suit” is the apparent local custom, especially in Vermont! Which suggests one final rule of etiquette: no gawking.
Some of the best swimming holes in northern Vermont are:
GIBOU ROAD – HECTORVILLE
The Gibou Road hole is a very private, placid swimming hole. It's very likely you will have the entire place to yourself. A long, shallow pool leads to an underwater cliff, a narrow channel and finally the small waterfall. The water spills into a large rock bowl that connects to the main channel via a submerged hole in the bowl – quite unique.
There are many places to explore in and around the boulders and rock formations that surround the river. Downstream, the river widens and passes under a covered bridge. There is another pool well downstream from the bridge. A great place to visit at the end of a long day hiking! Bathing suits appear to be optional.
To get there from Montgomery Center, follow Route 118 southward (toward the town of Eden) for approximately 2 miles. (Although you are heading in a southerly direction, you are actually traveling on Route 118 West.) Take a right (west) onto Gibou Road. Travel approximately 1/4 mile and park near the covered bridge. Follow the 4-wheel path on the south side of the bridge to the river and swimming hole.
JEFF FALLS – JEFFERSONVILLE
Here is a very fun swimming and jumping place in the Brewster River. Is the water really warmer here or does it just seem so because you hate to leave? The main pool is surprisingly deep; the small beach on the east side of the pool catches the afternoon sun. Lots to explore here – the main (7 foot) falls, a short walk upstream as well as several smaller falls. Bathing suits are customary here.
To get to Jeff Falls from Jeffersonville, take Route 108 south from the center of town. The small pullout for parking is approximately 1/2 mile on the left side of the road.
CADY FALLS – MORRISTOWN
Kenfield brook flows through a large opening in a natural stone wall, forming an elegant, wide double waterfall that fills a secluded, shady pool. Steep rock walls capped with towering trees create a bucolic atmosphere. The falls are simply the most elegant and beautiful. It’s nestled deep in the woods near the Mt. Mansfield State Forest – usually very shady and cool. It even sounds relaxing. It's about a 1/2 mile walk from the parking area upstream to the swimming hole, but you'll be well rewarded for your hike. Bathing suits are the custom here too.
You get to this little paradise by following Route 100 south from the center of Morrisville for approximately 1 mile. Turn right onto Cole Hill Rd. (later becomes French Hill Rd.). Pass Cady Falls Road on your right, do not take this road. Take the next right onto Stagecoach Road. Follow Stagecoach Road north; the parking area will be approximately 1/2 mile on the left.
THREE HOLES – MONTGOMERY
Three Holes in Montgomery is an unusual swimming hole in the Trout River fed by several waterfalls. It’s called Three Holes because there are actually three waterfalls here. The upper 11 foot falls is the largest and provides the largest pool for swimming. The upper pool gets little sun and is surrounded by high cliffs on both sides. This is the pool where you will most likely find people jumping from the rocks.
The second pool is fed by a smaller 8 foot waterfall and fills a very small pool which is good for a Jacuzzi bath. The lowest pool is fed by a small 6 foot waterfall and is the most popular. The lowest pool contains a large boulder that is perfect for sunbathing and for getting an overall view of the falls. PLEASE TREAT IT GENTLY! This is a very popular area and is suffering from great abuse. The waterfall area is beautiful, but the surrounding area is obviously overused by campers, partiers and vandals. Bathing suits are optional.
To get here from Montgomery Center, from where RT 58 meets RT 118 and RT 242, take RT 242 east and immediately look for a boarded up school set back a ways on the east (right) side of RT 242. Park beside the school and follow the train tracks into the woods on the left. After about a 5-minute walk, you will come to Trout River Falls and the swimming place in the pool below.
FOUR CORNERS – NORTH TROY
A popular local swimming hole in the Jay - Troy area – so far north it is almost in Canada! A beautiful, large oblong swimming hole approximately 30 yards in diameter. The entire pool is surrounded by a high rock ledge providing ample places to jump into the deep pool. There is rope swing on a tree perched on the top of the far ledge, so terrifying our palms get sweaty just thinking about it. The water is emerald green, the falls are nice and big and the folks mostly keep their suits on.
If you are feeling brave, from Stowe take RT 100 north about 35 miles to Lowell. In Lowell, continue north on RT 100 through Westfield to Troy. In Troy, take RT 101 north. It is less than a mile before you get to the intersection of RT 101 and RT 242. It is directly across the street from the Four Corners convenience store. There is a large dirt parking lot – you can't miss it.
CIRCLE CURRENT/BRISTOL FALLS – BRISTOL
Spectacular! If you have read this far, you are hereby rewarded with one of the absolute primo swimming holes in all of Vermont. It's irresistible. Sun drenched deep pools in the New Haven River, also Jacuzzis, natural waterslides, large flat rocks for sunning yourself, a small sandy beach – this place has it all. Even if you don't go in the water, you will enjoy Circle Current in the Green Mountain National Forest!
Follow Route 116/17 eastward from the center of Bristol for approximately 2 miles. Take a right onto Lincoln Gap Road. Parking for Circle Current is on the right past the main parking area for Bristol Falls.
There is swimming in both Circle Current and Bristol Falls. Circle Current is described above; a large area of the river covered with swirling currents and smaller pools. Downstream from Circle Current, the New Haven River plunges over Bristol Falls and through a long, wide rock chasm about 25 yards wide and 75 yards long. That’s why this swimming area can accommodate so many people, it covers a long stretch of the New Haven River and offers lot’s of fun from jumping and swimming to tingly Jacuzzi baths and waterslides.
You may need to get into some cold water to enjoy many of these, but the cold doesn't
last while the warm memories of a swim in a beautiful setting certainly will.
EDITOR: THE FOLLOWING ITEM IS SUGGESTED AS A SIDE BAR:
Some common sense swimming hole SAFETY precautions are:
· NEVER dive into unknown waters. Don't even jump unless you have checked the depth in the immediate place you are jumping.
· DON'T swim alone.
· DON’T drink alcohol and swim
· DON’T climb or swim above or alongside a waterfall
· DON'T use glass beverage containers.
· ALWAYS wear old sneakers or "reef runners" to protect your feet.
· NEVER try to stand up in swiftly moving water that is above your knees. Go with the flow; float on your back, feet downstream, until the current slackens.