Update: We’re making every effort to provide you with the most up-to-date information. However, there remain closures to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. The parks mentioned in this article are currently increasing access in Phase One. Before venturing out to visit a park, check the park’s website to see what facilities and trails are currently open to the public. Stay safe!
With pools closed this summer, 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: 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? Check! There are even campgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails. Located about 18 miles north of Frederick, the park boasts three separate swimming areas around Hunting Creek Lake. Note that swimming is not allowed around the falls, and that the park closes when filled to capacity.
COVID-19 Update: The snack bar is currently closed. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own food and drink into the park.
14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont, MD
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.
COVID-19 Update: You currently need a reservation to visit the Kilgore Falls and Falling Branch Areas of Rocks State Park. You can make one here.
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Rd., Jarrettsville, MD
photo: Pei L. via Yelp
Lake Anna State Park
This 13,000 acre lake—one of the largest in VA—is about two hours southwest of Washington, DC and hosts a boat ramp, fishing pond, camping, 15 miles of trails, biking, and more. Yup—it’s pretty much summer paradise. Fees for parking, cabin use, and other park activities apply.
COVID-19 Update: Swimming at Lake Anna is currently off-limits. In the state of VA, swimming beaches are currently closed but expected to open shortly. Tidal beaches remain open for swimming. For more information, go here.
6800 Lawyers Rd., Spotsylvania, VA
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.
COVID-19 Update: All guests 2 & up are required to wear a mask.
10820 Beaver Dam Drive, Cockeysville, MD
photo: Danielle T. via Yelp
Sandy Point State Park
This 786-acre park in Anne Arundel County, MD 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.
COVID-19 Update: All visitors must practice social distancing and no groups larger than ten must be strictly followed.
1100 East College Pkwy., Annapolis, MD
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 Rd., Luray, VA
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
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 MD 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
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
photo: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash
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
photo: Danica Camille T. via Yelp
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 VA’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 Rd. 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
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
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 Rd., Fairfax Station, VA
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.
COVID-19 Update: During Phase One of VA’s reopening, Whiteoak Canyon trail remains closed. Most trails in Shenandoah National Park are now open.
4400 Weakley Hollow Rd., Syria, VA
—Meghan Yudes Meyers, Guiomar Ochoa & Katie Brown