If you’re headed to one of New England’s state or national parks in the summer and think you know everything that the area has to offer, think again. Here are the secret getaways that the local people won’t give away – an insider’s guide to the hideaway swimming holes to cool off in as the temperatures climb.
Nestled in the heart of the White Mountains, Franconia Notch State Park is a spectacular notch in the mountains for travelers to pass through. With stunning, steep gorges, waterfalls and lakes, the state park’s ample camping makes it family-friendly and a hiker’s paradise. If you’re looking to cool off, Franconia Falls features a series of small waterfalls cascading into deep pools. After an easy, flat 3mi (4.8km) hike along the Franconia Brook, the water passes through a set of channels before emptying into deep pools. Natural waterslides make fun shoots for the adventurous, while the best swimming hole is a mere 400ft (121.9m) upstream from the main falls, where a 3ft (0.9m) flume sprays into a 20ft (6m) basin.
Hikers braving Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park can unwind at Gulf Hagas, a stunning gorge maintained by the National Park Service. Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East,’ Gulf Hagas sees the west branch of the Pleasant River drop some 500ft (152.4m) over the course of 3mi (4.8km), creating unique, corkscrew-shaped waterfalls and fishing holes accessible by hiking along a rim trail. For a less intense experience, head over to Buttermilk Falls, an enormous, Olympic-pool-size basin so-named for the pillowy foam that the waterfall churns. After wading a river and hiking the rim of the ‘canyon,’ the trail descends to Buttermilk Falls, a large bowl of clean, black water and a perfect place to relax after your trek.
Comprising five falls in one short stretch, Enders Falls State Park in Connecticut lies northwest of the capital, Hartford, in forested wetlands. In the summer, the tallest drop sees water horsetail down a 30ft (9.1m) plunge into a wide, oval pool. In other parts, the water snakes through gorges before emptying. The hike into the lowest falls is a short 0.3mi (0.4km) from the road.
While tourists head to Sand Beach and Echo Lake, local people know this small, trout-stocked pond is the best place to escape for a swim. Large cliffs provide perches for jumping, while a nearby sandy beach is ideal for sunbathing. In the summer, the trails to the pond are bordered by wild blueberry bushes. This hidden gem lies at the end of an unmarked road in Acadia National Park, a short drive from most of the major sights.
The Mad River squeezes through a number of tight passes, but long-time locals lounge on sunny slabs at Warren Falls. Graceful cliffs reaching above green-tinted waters are ideal for jumping. This gem attracts visitors, but the number of smaller falls shelter travelers seeking a private spot. The hike takes five minutes and is a 0.1mi (0.2km) trot from a parking spot.
The area outside Mt. Greylock State Reservation and Savoy Mountain State Forest boasts a massive, deep pool that requires no cliff-jumping encouragement. A short trek from the road (you pass through a cemetery), the falls are bounded by a hardwood forest that gives way to sunny, rocky slabs.
Fort Wetherill State Park, Jamestown, Rhode Island
Across the harbor from the much busier Fort Adams State Park, Fort Wetherill is a rarity – a sheltered but uncrowded sandy beach. Its intimate size discourages crowds, while the towering, 100ft (30.4m) cliffs frame the waters beautifully. The area is popular with scuba divers, but there’s much more to explore, including an abandoned fort and nearby trails.