Has limited access to pools and beaches left you hot and dry this summer? Fortunately, the Shenandoah Valley has lots of swimmable or wadeable water features. Check out our pristine lakes, hike-in swimming holes, lazy rivers, tumbling waterfalls, and even a pool or two. Why not pull your feet out of the kiddie pool and chill out at one of these cool dips?
Remember to social distance. Natural pools and streams don’t have lifeguards, so swim with a buddy! Consider a life vest, and wear water shoes to protect your feet from stones, glass, poison ivy, and reptiles.
Sometimes you just want to get in the water as quickly as possible and the following spots offer nearby parking and convenient access.
Glen Maury Park
Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista provides easy public access to the Maury River for swimming, fishing, and boating. Additionally, the park’s Olympic-sized pool and wading pool are open with social distancing rules in place and same-day reservations. Public restrooms and snack, candy, and drink concessions are available. The 315-acre park also offers hiking and mountain bike trails, tennis courts, pavilions, a playground, tent and RV camping and an 18-hole Rick Jacobson-designed golf course, challenging for experienced players while helping newcomers enjoy learning this classic game.
Waynesboro Water Trail
Waynesboro’s 4-mile stretch of the South River, called the Waynesboro Water Trail allows visitors to access a natural water feature through five of the city’s six parks. Expect to see people wading, fishing, and paddling the easy route from Ridgeview Park to Basic Park. Lots of parking and a flat, rocky access make Constitution Park a good spot for entering the water on foot. The Water Trail flows north and connects to the South River Blueway for paddlers who want to extend their journey.
Todd Lake Recreation Area
Todd Lake Recreation Area is a 7.5-acre man-made lake that’s part of the George Washington National Forest in Augusta County. Built in 1963 as a flood control measure, Todd Lake remains a fine destination for a family swim. Kids can wade in the water, dig on the sandy beach, play on the playground, and explore the kid-friendly trails. Todd Lake also features a convenient bathhouse, camping, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and is open for canoes and kayaks. Day-use fee applies.
South Fork of the Shenandoah River
The scenic, tree-lined South Fork of the Shenandoah River is known for its world-class paddling and fishing, but it also boasts some excellent swimming holes. Three spots known for their suitability for swimming and convenience of access are Mountain View Park in Grottoes, which has a walking trail, a tremendous view of the Blue Ridge, and a stepped boat launch leading to a quiet section of the river. There’s popular river access at McGaheysville near the bend in Power Dam Road. Finally, Elkton’s Riverside Park, which has picnic tables, a boat ramp to launch canoes and kayaks, and public restrooms.
Hawksbill Recreation Park
Stanley’s Hawksbill Recreation Park’s pool was once just a dammed section of Little Hawksbill Creek used to generate electricity in the 1930s. Later, it was a creek-fed swimming pool. The modern pool that’s there now is one of the largest modern pools in the area, and it’s a sure bet to beat the summer heat. The pool hosts regular night swims and family movie nights and can be rented for private pool parties. The park also has picnic tables and shelters, a playground, a hiking trail, and concessions.
Luray’s 34-acre Lake Arrowhead is part of the city park system. It has a lovely white sand beach for lounging and wading as well as a roped-off swimming area for safety. The park also features canoe and kayak rentals, stocked fishing grounds, a playground, volleyball and horseshoes, and a walking trail around the lake.
The universally accessible Hawksbill Greenway stretches for two miles along Hawksbill Creek through downtown Luray. Visitors can bike, stroll, or run along the Greenway, or access the creek for wading or fishing the 37 species that live in the stocked water. Birders report more than 200 species in this riparian zone. The Greenway connects to Ruffner Plaza, a pocket park containing playground equipment, picnic areas, and murals and Cliffside Pocket Park, which has picnic tables and a pet-friendly water fountain. The Greenway features restrooms, benches, and parking.
Bryce Resort’s 45-acre Lake Laura is a cool jewel of Shenandoah County. The grassy beach provides lounge chairs, shade, and plenty of room to spread out. You can swim out to diving platforms in deep water. As a bonus, you can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, paddle boats, and tubes, or take a 3-mile hike around the lake. Pack a picnic or purchase snacks and drinks at the lake. Seasonal, weekly, or day pass required.
Once a watermelon farm, but now set aside for recreation, 27-acre Watermelon Park stretches for miles along the Shenandoah River near Berryville. The park was developed in part to host the Watermelon Park Fest, an annual Bluegrass Festival played by greats including Johnny Cash, The Statler Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Merle Haggard. Visitors can swim, kayak, or tube. The park offers camping, soccer, volleyball, fishing, and a playground. It also provides kayak and tube rentals, and shuttle rides to points upstream so that you can float the lazy river back to your car. Day use and rental fees apply.
Beach at The Cove Campground
You don’t have to camp to use the sandy beach at The Cove Campground, but you might just want to stick around for an extra day or two after you dip your toes in the cold mountain lake. The marked swimming area covers over an acre and has both a sandy bottom and a dive platform. The beach offers room for lots of people to spread out as well as a beach volleyball court.If you want to explore the lake without getting wet, The Cove offers boat rentals by the hour. Other amenities include ATV trails and a shooting range. Day use fees apply.
Work for Your Water
Some of us enjoy nothing better than working up a sweat before plunging into an icy swimming hole. The following swimming holes are more challenging to reach.
Rockbridge County’s Goshen Pass, part of 936-acre Goshen Pass Natural Area, is a 3.7-mile gorge carved by the Maury River that’s popular for swimming, kayaking, tubing, and exploring. Some visitors seeking seclusion and not afraid to work for it park on the shoulders of Rt. 39 and scramble over boulders stake their claims to flat rocks and private pools. Others pull off at the wayside where the river runs wide and slow and allows easy access as well as use of a pavilion, porta-potties, and a flat, grassy area to spread out a blanket.
St. Mary’s Falls
You’ll work up a sweat on the 4-mile out-and-back St. Mary’s Falls hike, but the large, icy mountain pool and scenic waterfall make it worth it. The trail through St. Mary’s Wilderness in Augusta County, once an area used to mine iron ore, will treat you to beautiful scenery. You’ll want to hang out a while, so pack a lunch. The trail crosses the creek in numerous places, so you should wear water shoes for the multiple water crossings. This popular destination can get crowded on summer weekends.
White Rock Falls
The entire White Rock Falls hike covers a 4.5-mile loop, but people with young children might want to park at the Slacks Overlook (MP 20 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Augusta County) and hike the loop counterclockwise down to the falls. The 40-foot falls don’t end in a large swimming hole, but there are pools of cool water large enough for wading and sitting, and the trail is lightly traveled and often private. A second pool is located at the top of the falls. The water level can vary with recent rainfall.
If you’re in the market for one of the best loop hikes in the southern end of Shenandoah National Park, try the 9.5-mile Riprap Trail loop from MP 90 on the Skyline Drive. The hike will make you work hard, but among its rewards are striking views and a huge, icy swimming hole. The pool is spring-fed, shaded, private, and a whopping 50 feet wide.
Hollow Brook near Bluemont is an easy hike along the Appalachian Trail that rewards you with a waterfall in less than a mile! There’s no pool to swim in, but you can sit on the moss-covered stones and dip your feet in the water while the kids climb up and down the rocky stream bed. If you continue to the summit of Buzzard Hill, the entire out-and-back journey is just under 4 cool and pleasant miles. And since the hike is part of the AT, you can actually extend it as far as you want!
Once a Civil War battlefield and more recently a golf course, 195-acre Cool Spring is now a nature preserve along a stretch of the Shenandoah River in Clarke County and managed by Shenandoah University. Hike the paved and mown trails to the river, check out the frogs and cattails in the ponds, or explore streams and waterfalls flowing through the trees. The steep terrain offers some terrific views, but not a lot of shade.