“When I first moved to Vermont to attend college, I discovered one of this state’s lesser-known but magnificent features,” says Steve Libby, the executive director of the Vermont Rivers Conservancy. “On a muggy August day, my Vermonter friends drove me down twisting and turning back roads, and when I was certain we were hopelessly lost, we pulled off the side of the road, scrambled down a vague path between boulders and brush and plunged into a pristine swimming hole—a perfect spot to cool off from the summer heat.”
Like our favorite powder stashes, many of our favorite swimming holes are tucked deep in the woods on public land. Sometimes, the same riverbeds we ski down in late February are the same ones we hike up in July. You might have to bushwhack to get there, or to follow what looks like barely a trickle until it plunges over cliff into a deep pool worn into the granite. Here, in the heat of the summer, in the shade of the forest the water is crystal clear and cold. The banks are covered in ferns and moss. You may not see another soul.
But there are others that are easy to find, places where generations of Vermonters have been gathering each summer. After, they spread out on a warm, sun-kissed slab of rock to warm up and dry off before driving off to find the nearest creemee stand. All part of Vermont summer ritual.
Thanks to Libby’s work with the Vermont Rivers Conservancy, and various other agencies and organizations, access to many of the swimming holes has been preserved. In 1990, the Vermont River Conservancy was formed by a few volunteers who were noticing more and more swimming holes, kayak and canoe put-ins, fishing access and waterfalls were being posted with “No Trespassing” signs. Suddenly, there were off limits to people whose families had used them for generations and others.
The organization responded by starting a program called “A Swimming Hole in Every Town.” With over 200 known swimming holes in the state (80 percent of which are on land that is privately owned) they began working with working with town recreation committees and willing landowners to protect public access.
One thing that has helped in Vermont’s liability laws protect the landowner in the case of accidents, a law that has benefitted trail building and public access on private land for all sorts of recreation, from mountain biking to plunging into a cool pool.
The VRC will either work with landowners or, in some instances, try to buy the land around the swimming holes. As Libby explains, “More than a decade ago, VRC received a phone call from a supporter warning that the land surrounding a beloved swimming hole known as ‘Journeys End’ was up for sale as a residential lot. With the invaluable support of the local community, and with the patience and openness of the landowner to consider a conservation alternative, this pristine place was purchased and conveyed to the town as a permanent public resource.”
The same threats can occur across the Vermont landscape, especially if those using the holes have not respected the landowners, neighbors or the property. “Often, loss of access is preceded by abuse and misuse,” says Libby. “Without proper and thoughtful management, many exceptional swimming holes are overcrowded, or degraded by unthinking users. If Vermont’s swimming holes, waterfalls, gorges, and other popular sites are to be well cared for, we need to be excellent stewards of the lands along Vermont’s waters.”
More than just a guardian of swimming holes, the VRC has also helped create paddlers’ trails along many of Vermont’s rivers, establishing campsites along the way and ensuring there are places to park, put in and fish. In spring of 2022, The Vermont River Conservancy and White River Partnership were awarded one of 24 state-sponsored grants aimed at improving outdoor recreation by the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative. The two organizations are now collaborating to improve whitewater access infrastructure at multiple sites, coordinate stewardship efforts, and pilot the Vermont River Access Collaborative with a goal of increasing access to flowing water for all.
The VRC website (vermontriverconservancy.org) lists all of its completed projects – including the swimming holes, paddlers’ trails, campsites and more.
10 Amazing Swimming Holes
Tara Schatz has been exploring Vermont swimming holes since before she could walk. Here, she shares some of her favorites. Take advantage of that rare sweltering day in Vermont and head to one of these spots.
Trout River Falls (Three Holes), Montgomery Center, Vermont
Three lovely waterfalls. Three magical pools for swimming in. The official name of this stretch of the Trout River in Montgomery Center is Trout River Falls, but as kids, we always called it Three Holes. This swimming hole is a bit tricky to get to, so you don’t want to make the journey with a huge beach bag, fancy cameras, or tiny children strapped to your back. Instead, pack a towel and wear good water shoes for this adventure.
Three Holes gets its name from the three separate swimming areas. The first is filled by a 10-foot waterfall. It’s a large, shaded pool, surrounded by cliffs on three sides. This is a tricky spot to get to, and perfect for you Vermont cliff jumpers and hard-core adventure types.
The second hole is much smaller, but nice for just chilling out and taking in the scenery. The third pool gets the most sun and is the most popular spot for cooling off on a hot Vermont day. Visit this swimming hole during the week to avoid the crowds.
Directions: From Montgomery Center, take Route 58 east and park in the small gravel pull-off. It’s a steep trail down to the river. From here, you will have to walk upstream (maybe in-stream) until you come to the swimming area. —T.S.
Journey’s End, Johnson
Journey’s End is a spectacular swimming hole and waterfall carved in the bedrock of Foote Brook, a cold, steep stream that flows to the Lamoille River in Johnson, not far from Smuggler’s Notch. The protected property includes 25 forested acres along 2,500 feet of Foote Brook, and helps protect the high quality trout habitat in the Brook. Journey’s End, is one of the swimming holes the Vermont River Conservancy helped to save. The land next to the falls was up for sale and could easily have been posted with No Trespassing sighs. was on the market as a house lot, and could have been posted with “No Trespassing” signs. Instead, by partnering with the landowner, the Town of Johnson, several community partners, and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, VRC permanently protected public access.t he Town of Johnson is now the long-term owner of this beautiful area, and will manage it as a natural and recreational area for Johnson residents and visitors to enjoy in all seasons. The onservation easement assures that permanent access continues and that the 25 acres will remain in their natural condition.
Directions: From the village of Johnson (Route 15/Main St.), head northeast on Pearl St, and continue up Clay Hill Road passing Johnson State College on your right. Turn left onto Plot Road, park in the small pull-off about 0.4 miles ahead on your left. .
Bingham Falls, Stowe
One of Vermont’s most stunning waterfalls, Bingham Falls is the prize at the end of a short .3-mile hike in Stowe, just off Route 108 between the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Center and Stowe Mountain Resort. The main falls feature a 25-foot single cascade into a deep, cold pool. The falls tumble away from the rocks as they cascade over a cliff, and the swimming here is excellent but busy on sweltering summer afternoons.
Park on either side of route 108, near Smuggler’s Notch State Park. This is a quiet, family-friendly park – perfect for camping. Pitch a tent and spend the weekend hiking and swimming.
Directions: From downtown Stowe, take Route 108 north for 6.3 miles. You will see parking areas on both sides of the road and a trail on the right that leads into the woods. The trail starts off level and easy, but as you near the falls, it becomes steeper and sometimes slippery.
Bolton Potholes, Bolton
This summer, head up to Bolton Valley Resort to try out their new mountain bike trails. Then cool off after with a dip in the Bolton Potholes. Just off the access road from Bolton Valley Resort, Bolton Potholes are a staircasing series of pools that Joiner Brook carved into the rock as it tumbled down toward the valley and the Winooski River, below. The Vermont River Conservancy worked with the Bolton Potholes landowners for over a decade to negotiate the conservation of these magnificent pools a reality in December 2018. Since then, the VRC has worked to create parking and signage. Be forewarned there can be strong currents. In May 2022, a 21-year-old from Burlington leaped off a rock into a pool and drowned. And go early, as this area can get crowded and parking is limited.
Directions: From the south, take I-89 exit 10 for VT-100 S toward Waterbury/US-2, the turn left onto VT-100 S and at the traffic circle, take the 1st exit onto US-2 W/N Main St. After 6.6 miles, turn right onto the Bolton Valley Access Road (small pullout parking area for 5-7 cars on right) or into the Smilie school parking lot and follow the trail up to the potholes.
Warren Falls, Warren
Warren Falls is a cliff jumpers dream, created by four separate waterfalls on the Mad River, just off scenic Route 100 in Warren, Vermont in the Green Mountain National Forest. The swimming area is wide and deep and there is plenty of room to spread out. It’s a good thing too because I think this is one of the busiest swimming holes we’ve been to. The waterfalls at Warren Falls are nothing special, but the whole area is nestled in a deep gorge with steep-sided cliffs all around and crystal-clear water that turns a deep turquoise when the sun hits it right.
If you are visiting Warren Falls with dogs or with small children, head to the lowest pool, which is the easiest way to access the water. Shallow, gravelly spots are great for families, and there aren’t as many people there. The trail to Warren Falls is an easy one, perfect for lugging a picnic lunch, blankets, and camp chairs.
Directions: From the junction of Route 100 and Route 125 in Hancock, VT, head north on Route 100 into Warren. When you pass Stetson Hollow Road, travel another 1 mile and pull off in the large dirt parking area on the left. Follow the trail to the river.
Quechee Gorge, Quechee
Just 9 miles east of Woodstock is what’s known as Vermont’s “Little Grand Canyon.” Quechee Gorge plunges from a dam just below the Simon Pearce store and restaurant in Quechee down a deep narrow gorge. Receding glaciers first formed the gorge, which is deep enough that on occasion you might see a hot air balloon following the gorge. The Ottauquechee River spills down the mile-long chasm, forming pools along the way. This is a place for experts and you will see some of them jumping from the bridge 165 feet into the pools below. The water is fast-moving so be careful here. But the reward at this popular spot is spectacular scenery.
Directions: From Woodstock, head East on U.S. Route 4 until you come to the Quechee Gorge Bridge in Hartford. There is a well-worn path from the bridge down to the pools below.
Buttermilk Falls, Ludlow
Right in Ludlow, Buttermilk Falls is another Vermont swimming hole the Vermont River Conservancy, working with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and the Vermont Housing Conservation Board, was able to preserve. When the land around the falls came up for sale, the three organizations collaborate to purchase the 7 acres and 2,500 feet of riverfront. It is now owned and managed by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. hat can be easily accessed from the road. The swimming area consists of two pools below the upper and middle falls. While the swimming holes aren’t very deep (5 to 6 feet on a good year) and you should not dive in, they are perfect for families and the waterfalls are beautiful. On really hot days, set up your camp chair in the shallow water and relax with your favorite book.
Directions: From Ludlow, take Route 100/103 north. Continue north on Route 103 for .2 miles. Take a right on Buttermilk Falls Road and follow it for 1.3 miles. Park on the right side of the road and follow a short trail into the woods.
Bristol Falls, Bristol
Just over the spine of the Greens from Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, Bristol is a charming town. Bristol Falls on the New Haven River is my favorite spot to go in the summer, and while it’s an extremely popular swimming area, there’s room for everyone, including the daredevil cliff jumpers, the families who want to just relax, and the adventurous who want to scramble behind the falls. We’ve seen as many as 70 cars here on a summer weekend.
The highlight of Bristol Falls is the wide waterfall that you can sit underneath or crawl behind. The falls fill a huge swimming hole that is deep enough to jump into. Head downstream to a shallow beach and claim one of the large boulders that are perfect for sunning.
There are several trails that you can follow from the roadside parking area. They will all eventually lead you to the river and fabulous swimming. If you head upstream about .25 miles, you’ll find another less popular swimming area called Circle Current.
Directions: From Bristol, drive east on Route 116/17 for 2.8 miles and turn right on Lincoln Road. You will see roadside parking on either side of the road in about .2 miles.
Dorset Quarry, Manchester
The Dorset Quarry is the only Vermont swimming hole in our list that isn’t located on a river. This is the oldest marble quarry in the United States. It opened in 1785 and suppled marble to the New York Public Library, several amazing mansions in New York City, and Memorial Continental Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C.
Thank goodness it no longer operates as a quarry, because now it’s one of the most popular swimming holes in southern Vermont. The water here is deep and cold, and there are plenty of places for cliff jumping, picnicking, and exploring. There are a few port-a-potties for changing in. Access is free but there is a $15 charge to park at the adacent Marble Park.
Directions: From Manchester, take Route 30 North into Dorset. The Dorset Quarry is about 4.6 miles from Manchester Center on your right.
10. Salmon Hole, Jamaica
Salmon Hole is one of several deep swimming spots in the West River that you can access from Jamaica State Park, which is also one of our favorite spots to camp in the summer. Our recommendation? Book a lean-to for the weekend, bring your bikes, try Stratton Mountain Resort’s lift-served mountain bike trails and spend a few days relaxing near the river.
The first thing you should do after setting up camp is cool off in Salmon Hole, a wide, deep spot in the West River. It’s located right near the playground, and the river is slow-moving, clear, and plenty deep enough for swimming. If you bring goggles, you can even watch the large trout meandering along the riverbed.
If you are visiting Jamaica State Park with dogs, no worries. While your furry friends aren’t permitted at Salmon Hole, if you stroll along the West River Rail Trail, you will find many other spots in the West River that are perfect for swimming with canines. There are two picnic tables along the river next to the rail trail, maybe a half-mile from the parking area. Both are located near primo swimming spots.
Directions: Jamaica State Park is located on Route 30/100 within walking distance of the village of Jamaica. Turn onto Depot Street when you get to Jamaica and cross the bridge over the river. There is a fee to enter Jamaica State Park for the day ($4 for adults, $2 for kids). n