Summer Is For Swimming: A Guide to Upper Valley Swimming Holes
|Published: 07-22-2016 1:53 PM
The Upper Valley in summer is a paradise for fresh water swimmers. Fresh water — lots of it — flows everywhere: the Connecticut River, the White River, the Ompompanoosuc, the Ottauquechee, Trues Brook, Silver Lake, Canaan Street Lake, Storrs Pond.
Fresh water swimming enthusiasts know that swimming in warm, chlorinated water offers a poor substitute when it comes to cooling off on oppressively hot, humid summer days. Like a campfire, swimming in a lake or river or wading through a stream or pond appeals to a basic instinct in our nature. This, we sense, is how people were meant to repair from the heat: nature’s coolant system.
Everyone has a favorite swimming hole in the Upper Valley. And we suspect a few of you prefer to keep the secret to yourself, too, lest the secret place be announced in a guide such as this and become overrun with unwelcome bathers. The following is a list of some of our favorite fresh water swimming spots. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, but to represent what we think are some choice locales where those willing to wade in can reward themselves with a respite from the heat.
For those who prefer a more controlled environment, we’ve also included a couple of public pools.
We again inspected the following locations this year and are sad to report that the water level is well below normal levels as a result of the lack of snow this past winter and rain this spring. At some of the swimming holes the body of water is lower and smaller, but we think most still provide an adequate dunk.
A note of caution: Many (although not all) of these swimming spots are marked as public access but are unsupervised. So it’s always advisable to swim or wade with friends: the ledges can be slippery and the rocks sharp. And, it is wise and considerate not to bring alcohol or food. Real swimming hole swimmers don’t even bring towels (or so we like to think).
And don’t forget your water moccasins!
This is one of our favorites — not because it’s a new swimming hole, but because it was brought to our attention only a few seasons ago and encompasses what we enjoy most about discovering fresh water pools: slightly out of the way, hidden and unknown to many people.
Park the car on the south side of Martins Mill Covered Bridge on Martinsville Road (about a half-mile from the Hartland Elementary School). This is a path over the old mill foundations that leads down to Lulls Brook. It’s a steep climb down and requires steadying yourself by grabbing onto tree branches in places. The swimming hole is a little gem — the brook rushes over the rocks and makes such a roar that it’s necessary to raise your voice in order to be heard. You can climb onto the rock and let the water rush over your body; or swim in the still pool — the deepest point looks to be about five feet. Other spots are shallow enough to sit upright like you’re sitting in a huge tub. There is a bank on the far side to bask in the sun.
Unlike some swimming holes in the Upper Valley, you can’t miss this one. And it’s not really a swimming hole so much as a swimming idyll. Entrance to Silver Lake State Park is 0.2 of a mile on North Road from the Barnard Village crossroads. Open every day from 10 a.m. to sunset, this is a favorite place for families, but the lake is large enough so that there is plenty of room for solitude should you want to get away from the flirting teens. Rent a foot-propelled paddle boat or bring your own kayak or other flotation device. Best to go in the middle of the day, as the late afternoon sun begins to cast a shadow over the southern arc of the lake, making the water feel considerably cooler.
From the town green, drive out on North Windsor Street about a half-mile and on your right you’ll see a small park with picnic tables under a shed along the White River. Paine’s Beach took a pounding during Tropical Storm Irene, but is now fully restored and in pristine condition. Maintained by the Heartland Lions Club, a sandy beach provides a wonderful spot to sunbath. Rock outcroppings poke above the surface and are easily accessible. This is an ideal place to bring little kids.
There are also numerous spots to “put in” along the White River along Route 14 between South Royalton and Sharon, easily detectable by the turn-offs and parking areas. People also swim in the river from an access point on the south side of the Chelsea Street bridge into South Royalton. The current is too stong directly under the bridge, but the current peters out on the east end.
Many homes abut the Ottauquechee River, providing property owners their own private access to wonderful, fresh-water wading. But two of Woodstock’s three bridges are good entry points, if you don’t mind steep climbs and negotiating rocks to get to the water.
At the bridge at the end of Elm Street, cross over to the far side and there is an entryway on the right side. A heavy-duty chain link fence is bolted into the bridge’s foundation to hold onto as you step over rocks to approach the water’s edge.
There is a swimming spot under the bridge where you can cool off up to your waist. If it has rained and the river level is elevated, the current over the rocks is likely to be moderately fierce. But wedge yourself between the croppings for stability and it’s like an ice-water Jacuzzi.
Another favorite spot in Woodstock is below the “new” woolen mill, now called The Little Theater, and the Woodstock Recreation Center on the west side of town. You can walk down into a river on steps located between the Rec Center and Little Theater. The river is very rocky along this stretch, so foot and knee-deep wading may be all that’s available.
This spot, however, is more open and wider than the bridge on the other end of town, the water again about waist high.
This one is for the combination thrill-seeker/swimmer. People uncomfortable with high-dives may not be at ease with this swimming hole. A half-mile west of the Taftsville Bridge on Woodstock Road there is a rope swing dangling from a tree branch over the Ottauquechee River on Old River Road. Reaching the swing first requires climbing up wooden ladder bars hammered into the trunk of the tree. Grabbing a leg of the rope, the adventurous can push off the bar and swing over the river, before letting go and plunging at least 20 feet into the river below.
The Ottauquechee can be muddy at this point, but the feeling of exhilaration from having been airborne before splashdown tends to make it all worthwhile. Note: We checked out the spot recently and the Ottauquechee is very low and the silt bed of the river very high. Unless we get more rain, it may not be deep enough to rope-swing into the river.
We almost didn’t want to draw attention to these two spots because in many ways they are the quintessential swimming holes, the kind of places a Hollywood location scout would pick if a swimming hole were needed for a scene in a movie. The first is called Sandy Beach (there’s a sign, so you can’t miss it), and it’s a half-mile down Buzzell Bridge Road from Route 113. Turn right into the parking lot, only a few steps from a basketball half-court-size sandy beach and Olympic-size swimming hole big enough to do laps.
The water is so calm that it could be mistaken for a pond. If you want something more daring, drive another 0.6 of a mile down Buzzell toward Union Village to the Chutes.
It’s a favorite among skinny dippers — indeed, a sign is posted that commands “Nude Bathing Prohibited.” Follow the trail down to the river, where the rushing water wends around and over several rock croppings before spilling over a short fall. The spot is down a ravine and encircled by evergreens, providing a degree of privacy and perhaps explaining why the Chutes has been favored by those who prefer to go au naturel.
Call it the Riveria of swimming holes in the Upper Valley. Treasure Island is an exceptionally maintained swimming spot on Lake Fairlee that is a godsend for those seeking a place to take the kids on a sweltering summer day. Besides a well-groomed beach and on-duty lifeguard, there are two docks to dive off about 25 yards out in the water, picnic tables under shed covers, swings, a volleyball net, play structure and a slide that feeds into the lake water. Best of all, there are clean on-site bathrooms.
Day passes are $2 for kids and $4 for adults.
From Route 12A, drive 0.6 of a mile on Trues Brook Road and you’ll see a turn-off on the right side. Follow the path down a few minutes to a cropping of rocks in Trues Brook known as Trues Ledges.
Trues Brook is no babbling brook — the strong current rushing over the rocks has more the force of a river, and can be a little treacherous for the novice. It’s a popular destination among kids from nearby Kimball Union Academy as well as Dartmouth College students, with occasional discarded beer cans in the woods to prove it. Note: Although the trail is well marked, it is steep and slippery. The Ledges, while beautiful to behold, can make for an uncomfortable experience because of the sharp and slippery rocks. A better immersion spot with a pool of water is few thousand feet farther down the brook.
Don’t let the tourists steer you away from taking advantage of the great swimming Quechee Gorge has to offer. Once down in the gorge — about a half-mile trek downhill along a well-trodden path — a football field-size swimming area opens up with depths of varying degree.
There are a lot of rock croppings, so it pays to have your feet shod in water moccasins. There is a deep, still pool that is terrific for diving a slight walk over the rocks toward the bridge. The water for some reason always feels cooler in the gorge, so it’s a robust swim, most refreshing on an oppressively hot day.
Quechee Gorge is the widest and deepest of the untamed swimming holes in this guide. Just be cautious not to become entangled in the lines of people fishing for trout.
OK, we know this swimming spot is at the outermost southern tip of what we call the Upper Valley, but it’s on such a grand scale we think it’s worth including. It’s more a swimming chasm than a swimming hole. On the Vermont side at the junction of Route 5 and Route 11, just below the Cheshire Bridge that links Springfield and Charlestown across the Connecticut River, is Hoyt’s Landing at the confluence of the Connecticut and Black rivers. During the summer, it can get a bit crowded because it is also a boat launch and popular fishing spot.
The Connecticut River is wide and placid here, so there’s plenty of room for everyone. People bring folding chairs and sit under the shade of the trees.
The river is easily accessible — just step off the shallow bank, as if you were stepping into a bathtub, and you’re in the water. There’s also a short pier to jump off, or wade in at the boat ramp at the mouth of the Black River.
Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover offers two swimming options: a sandy beach and an outdoor pool. The beach is open from sunrise to sunset and is manned by a lifeguard from noon to 5 p.m.
A heated outdoor swimming pool — the only one in the Upper Valley, according to its website — is also available. The pool is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day and also has lifeguards on staff.
Paddleboards, paddleboats, canoes and kayaks are available for $20 per 2 hours, $15 for season pass holders.
Daily admission for both areas is $11. Admission not including the pool is $7 per day.
Address: 59 Oak Hill Drive, Hanover.
The Lebanon pool has lifeguards on staff and includes a splash pool with spray features, great for all ages. The pool is open Monday-Saturday for adult lap swimming from noon-1 p.m., and open swimming from 1-3:50 p.m., and for families and adults from 4:10-7 p.m. On Sundays, adult lap swimming is from noon-1 p.m. and open swimming is held from 1-5 p.m.
Daily rates for ages 5 and under are free, youth residents ages 6-17 are $1 and non-residents are $4. Adults 18 and older are $2 for residents and $5 for non-residents. Seniors age 60 and older are $1 for residents and $4 for non-residents.
A family of three season pass (must include at least 1 child and 1 adult): is $60 for residents and $100 for non-residents. Each additional person is $15.
Address: 67 Pumping Station Road, Lebanon.
The Woodstock Recreation Center has two pools, one big, one small.
The small pool is open noon to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The big pool is open 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Address: 54 River St. (Route 4), Woodstock.