Natural Swimming Holes

By Sue Freeman

In these days of chlorinated swimming pools, we’ve lost the joy of a natural swimming hole. We settle for a sterile chemical bath surrounded by paving stones and tile. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are still places where you can feel real sand between your toes. There are places where you can surf small waves or sit in a swirling pool below a small waterfall. There are places where you can commune with nature in a natural setting and cool off on a hot summer day.

Some of the traditional Rochester area swim holes are closed to swimming now. You can no longer swim at Mendon Ponds Park or North Ponds Park. Even the Lake Ontario beaches at Ontario Beach Park or Durand Eastman Park are often closed due to pollution. So where can you go to experience a natural swim hole?

The options are varied. They include Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, and some area creeks. To enjoy Lake Ontario, you need to head east or west of Rochester. Swimming, at life-guarded beaches, is allowed to the west in Hamlin Beach State Park and to the east in Fair Haven State Park. But, my favorite is the beach access available at Sterling Lakeshore Park and Nature Center in Cayuga County. You won’t find a life guard, but you won’t have to pay for beach access either. This is a swim shore used by locals who enjoy a cool dip in the clear lake waters, and who like to play in the waves and maybe even skip some stones.

Several of the Finger Lakes offer swim beaches. For instance Canadaigua Lake has three options. At the north end is Kershaw Park with its sand beach. Along the southwest shore you’ll find the beach at Onanda Park and along the northeast shore is the beach at Deep Run Park. None of these are free.

You need to travel a little farther for stream swimming. For official swim holes – actually pools created by the damming of a creek, try Stony Brook State Park, Fillmore Glen State Park, Robert Tremont State Park, or Buttermilk Falls State Park. Pack a picnic and go for a day of swimming, hiking, eating, and waterfall worshiping.

If you really want to get away and commune with nature, leave the official parks behind. Wear your swim suit and an old pair of sneakers and head out creekwalking. As you walk up the best of the area creekbeds, you’ll pass pools where you can submerge, slick rocks where you can lay down and let water race over you, and waterfalls to splash in. Some of my area favorites are Keshequa Creek in Sonyea, Sugar Creek in Dansville, and Chautauqua Creek in Westfield. These are off the beaten path, so to find them, you’ll need a copy of the guidebook “200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York.”

Give it a try this summer. Search out a natural swim hole and discover what you’ve been missing – reconnect with nature. You can find details on the ones listed here in the guidebooks “200 Waterfalls in Central & Western New York – A Finders’ Guide,” and “Take A Hike – Family Walks in New York’s Finger Lakes Region,” both available at or call 1-800-4341-1579.

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