With the dog days of summer in full swing, you might be looking for a reprieve from the searing sun—and popsicles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner will only get you so far. We’ve rounded up a list of lakes and natural swimming holes near DC, perfect for you and the kiddos to beat the heat and finesse your cannon-ball form. Get ready to dive in!

photo: Igor B. via Yelp

Whiteoak Canyon Swimming Hole

If you’re looking for a hike followed by a chilly dip, this trail and waterfall combo fits the bill. About 1.5 miles from the Whiteoak Canyon parking lot, you’ll hear the roaring sound of a natural waterslide and giant waterfall before you even set eyes on it. The pools at the base of this first waterfall aren’t deep enough for true swimming, but are absolutely perfect for small children to splash around in. Keep going down the trail for about another half mile until you reach the second set of falls for a real (and really cold!) swim. Be sure to bring water shoes to protect your feet from the rocks.

4400 Weakley Hollow Rd. (Syria, VA)
Online: nps.gov

photo: Toddlin’ Across America

Cunningham Falls State Park

Cunningham Falls State Park, part of Catoctin Mountain Park, has it all: waterfalls? Check.
Swimming, boating, and fishing? Check. A beach AND a snack bar? Check! There are even campgrounds, playgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails. Located about 18 miles north of Frederick, the park boasts three separate swimming areas around Hunting Creek Lake. Lifeguards are on duty from 11 am to 6 pm, Memorial Day to Labor Day. Note that swimming is not allowed around the falls, and that the park closes when filled to capacity.

14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd. (Thurmont, MD)
301-271-7574
Online: dnr.maryland.gov

photo: Amy B. via Yelp

Rocks State Park

While there’s plentiful hiking and climbing at Rocks State Park, it’s largely steep and rocky—so the best bet for families is lazy tubing in Deer Creek. The water is shallow and slow, and picnic areas dot the creek banks (there are bathrooms and grills, too). If your kids really want to get wet, check out the 17-foot waterfall hidden in the woods about 10 minutes from the Kilgore Falls parking lot. Note that there aren’t bathrooms or picnic tables here, so build in a rest stop elsewhere.

3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Rd. (Jarrettsville, MD)
410-557-7994
Online: dnr.maryland.gov

photo: Pei L. via Yelp

Lake Anna State Park

This 13,000 acre lake—one of the largest in Virginia—is about two hours southwest of Washington, D.C. and hosts a swimming beach (with lifeguards), children’s play area, boat ramp, fishing pond, bathhouse-concessions complex, rental cabins and lodges, camping, 15 miles of trails, biking, and a visitor center with nature and gold panning programs. Yup—it’s pretty much summer paradise. Fees for parking, cabin use, and swimming apply.

6800 Lawyers Rd. (Spotsylvania, VA)
540-854-5503
Online: dcr.virginia.gov

photo: Mary Kate A. via Yelp

Beaver Dam Swimming Club

This old marble quarry was flooded and turned into a swimming destination in the 1930s. The 40-feet deep waters still offer the type of old-timey fun you see in movies (think rope swing, rolling logs and floating platforms). The thirty-acre park also has two swimming pools, a volley ball park and picnic tables.

10820 Beaver Dam Drive (Cockeysville, MD)
Online: beaverdamswimmingclub.com

photo: Danielle T. via Yelp

Sandy Point State Park

This 786-acre park in Anne Arundel County, Maryland stretches along the Northwestern shores of the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. The beaches and picnic areas boast breathtaking views of the water, but your kids will likely be distracted by the swimming, fishing, crabbing, boating, and windsurfing. A marina store, boat rentals, showers, and restrooms offer all the creature comforts
you’ll possibly need. Be aware that the water is sometimes home to jellyfish during the late summer months.

1100 East College Pkwy. (Annapolis, MD)
410-974-2149
Online: dnr.maryland.gov

photo: Christopher H. via Yelp

Lake Arrowhead

This man-made lake feels anything but unnatural; set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic backdrop. The lake offers fishing, boating and swimming. Stretch out on the white sandy beaches and don’t forget to pack a picnic (there are six shady shelters on-site).

265 Lake Arrowhead Road (Luray, VA)
540-743-6475
Online: townofluray.com

photo: Jamar S. via Yelp

Patapsco Valley State Park

This park is best known for its beautiful hiking trails (not to miss: the swinging bridge on the Grist Mill trail); lesser known is the fact that the lake is swimmable! There are no lifeguards on duty (read; swim at your own risk), but there are several shallow points where you and your wee crew can wade in, splash around and enjoy a quick, cool dip.

8020 Baltimore National Pike (Ellicott City, MD)
410-461-5005
Online: dnr2.maryland.gov

photo: Keith H. via Yelp

Point Lookout State Park

It’s not every day that you can go swimming and visit a Civil War Museum in the same place. Point Lookout State Park, located at the most southern point of Maryland on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay, hosted a prison camp during the Civil War and is how home to boat rentals, campsites, fishing, canoeing, hiking, picnicking, playgrounds, a nature center, and beach
swimming. There’s a park store in case you forgot anything!

11175 Point Lookout Rd. (Scotland, MD)
301-872-5688
Online: dnr.maryland.gov

photo: Brian H. via Yelp

Greenbrier State Park

Explore miles of hiking trails throughout Greenbrier State Park—including the famous Appalachian Trail—and cool off afterward in the 43-acre manmade lake. Families often play music from portable speakers on the lake shore, so every day feels like a party! Come prepared to grill in the picnic area, play sand volleyball, or rent a boat. There’s also a sundry store and a snack bar with oodles of ice cream bars.

21843 National Pike (Boonsboro, MD)
301-791-4767
Online: dnr.maryland.gov

photo: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Overall Run

Overall Run in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is best known for having the tallest waterfall in the park, at 93 feet. While impressive and beautiful when the stream runs high in the spring, during summer months the falls are much milder. The creek runs over a smooth, sloping rock wall that works as a fantastic water slide. The swimming holes are reached via a moderate one-mile hike from a parking area on Thompson Hollow Road.

Skyline Drive MP 21.5 Shenandoah National Park (Luray, VA)
540-999-3500
Online: https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm

photo: Danica Camille T. via Yelp

Seneca Creek

In a town called Poolesville, there has to be a swimming hole, right? Seneca Creek passes under a bridge where a natural, shaded hollow makes for a charming and quiet spot to take a dip. Though shallow, the stream includes large, flat rocks that let you sit or lie in the cool, clear flowing water. Park at the lot for the Farm & Home Service store, walk across a grassy area (where there are
picnic tables), and you’re at the creek.

16315 Old River Rd (Poolesville, MD)

photo: Fausto Garcia via Unsplash

Blue Hole/Buzzard Rock

Passage Creek in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest offers several spots for water lovers to play. The most accessible and less crowded is the Blue Hole. Take Route 55 west from Front Royal for five miles and then turn south onto Fort Valley Road. After a couple of miles, park in the small parking area next to the creek. Be sure to wear water shoes or old sneakers because the riverbank and bottom are rocky. The best of the park’s swimming holes, Buzzard Rock Hole, is directly below Buzzard Rock cliffs—a popular rock-climbing and hiking area. It’s only another quarter-mile south on Fort Valley Road, then a short walk from a paved lot. This is
definitely for older kids that want a “hiking adventure” before a swim.

3087 Mountain Rd (Front Royal, VA)
(800) 832-1355
Online: https://www.hikingupward.com/gwnf/buzzardrocknorth/

photo: Kim B. via Yelp

Gunpowder Falls State Park

Looking for seclusion and quiet? Tucked away in the Sweathouse Branch Wildlands Area in Gunpowder Falls, MD, The Pool is a small, unnoticed haven where you can escape heat and crowds. Walk a little over a mile and you’ll reach the water, and a boulder by the water is great for lounging. There’s a multi-section outdoor recreation area featuring hiking and biking trails, kayaking, swimming, and picnic spots.

7200 Graces Quarters Rd (Middle River, MD)
(410) 592-2897
Online: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/gunpowder.aspx

photo: Meili L. via Yelp

Burke Lake Park

Burke Lake Park has something for everyone tucked away in its 800+ acres. The Park’s centerpiece is a 218-acre lake with 5.25 miles of fishing shoreline, four fishing bulkheads at the state game area, a new fishing pier, and a boat launching dock. Both the fishing bulkheads and the fishing pier are accessible to persons with disabilities. This is the perfect place to start you next family tradition and cool off when the DMV heat gets unbearable.

7315 Ox Road Fairfax Station (VA)
703-323-6600
Online: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/burke-lake

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—Guiomar Ochoa with Meghan Meyers & Katie Brown

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