After some of the hottest weeks in memory, I (like many other Mainers) have been looking for a way to escape the heat. Growing up as more of a wader than a swimmer, my preferred aquatic escape was always sandy beaches like Acadia’s Sand Beach or Reid State Park’s Mile Beach. However, talking with my outdoorsy pals about cooling off, two words kept bubbling up: swimming hole. Hidden on rivers, lakes and quarrys, swimming holes are the all-natural alternative to the local swimming pool.

They’re also often local secrets, with locations fiercely guarded by locals. Like skiers and backcountry ski trails, swimmers I polled about their favorite spots pleaded that I give false directions or simply fail to mention their local swimming hole.

So, if anyone asks, you didn’t hear about these five spectacular swimming spots from me.

Frenchman’s Hole, Bethel. Carved out of granite by the power of a 10-foot waterfall on the Bull Branch River, Frenchman’s Hole is one of the most popular splashing spots in Maine’s western mountains. Once a local secret, the pool now draws crowds on most weekends. Swimmers can wait in line to plunge off the granite cliffs into the clear pool, or splash around in the shallower end. To reach Frenchman’s, take the Sunday River Road from Newry for half a dozen miles, and turn onto Bull Bridge Road. There’s a parking area just past the turn.

 Rattlesnake Pool, Stoneham. Rattlesnake Pool, at the base of a 10-foot plume with the same name, is perhaps the clearest swimming hole in Maine. Fed by a mountain stream, the pool combines frigid Maine water with an emerald tint that suggests a more tropical environment. Rattlesnake Pool is located on private property (accessible to the public) on a spur trail from the Stone House Trail in Evan’s Notch, about a mile from the trailhead on Shell Pond Road. While it’s tempting to hike straight to the pool, I suggest making the full four-mile hike up Blueberry Mountain; it makes the dip in the pool that much more rewarding. To find the trailhead, take Route 113 north for 22 miles from Fryeburg, then turn onto Shell Pond Road. Trail parking is about a mile down the road.

 Indian’s Last Leap, Springvale. Indian’s Last Leap in Springvale has some history as a Maine swimming hole, going back to at least the turn of the 20th century. The spot is a deep pool in the Mousam River, just below a huge boulder on either bank. Legend has it that a local settler was being chased by Native Americans and, with a “mighty effort,” lept the 20 feet from boulder to boulder. His pursuer didn’t make it, hence the “last” leap. (For what it’s worth, it’s been colloquially renamed “The Leap.”) The name of the spot could now be from the spinning, flipping leaps taken by visitors into the swimming hole, plunging 20 feet from the boulders into the water below. Indian’s Last Leap can be accessed from a number of trailheads in Springvale’s downtown, as it’s part of the Sanford Trails network. The easiest access is by parking at the CMP substation on Stanley Road – The Leap is only about five minutes from the road, following the green blazes of the Mousam Way Trail.

 Babb’s Bridge, Windham. Just outside of Gorham on Hurricane Road, the historic Babb’s Bridge spanning the Presumpscot River marks a popular swimming hole. Rope swings beside and under this covered bridge are the main attraction for swimmers, and on most hot days you can see kids of all ages launching into the slowly flowing river. One thing that’s a no-no is jumping from the bridge, which is strictly prohibited. It’s also a popular fishing hole, drawing anglers who set up both on the bridge and along its shore. Of all the swimming holes on this list, Babb’s Bridge is the most accessible from Portland, just a dozen miles from the city; just take Brighton Ave out of town, where it changes to Cumberland Street and then River Road. About 10 miles from Portland, Hurricane Road will be on the left – turn there and find parking on the west side of the Presumpscot.

 Gulf Hagas, Brownville Junction. Gulf Hagas requires the greatest commitment to reach out of all these swimming holes, requiring a trip over two hours from Bangor or three from Portland. Located in the Katahdin Iron Works State Park, Gulf Hagas makes up a chunk of the Pleasant River which drops about 500 feet over three miles, creating a series of waterfalls. There is swimming at the base of a number of these falls, but the best is undoubtedly at the base of Screw Auger Falls, a bit less than two miles from the eastern parking lot for the Gulf. Like Rattlesnake Pool, I suggest hiking the six miles of the loop trail around the “rim” of Gulf Hagas, rewarding yourself with a dip in the pool before heading home. To reach the trailhead, follow the Katahdin Iron Works Road (about four miles north of Brownville Junction on Route 11) for seven miles. You’ll reach the gatehouse for the state park – from here, take the right fork after the gatehouse, and the left at the following fork. After seven miles, you’ll reach the parking area at the trailhead. From here, you’ll ford the Pleasant and head toward the Head of the Gulf.

Note that these swimming holes are all free to access, but have no lifeguards or other safety precautions. With our summer having been so dry and hot, check water levels before attempting to dive into any of these pools. Swim at your own risk, and definitely consider bringing a companion or two rather than jumping in alone.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]

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