10 Unique Places to Swim (or to Avoid) in NY

The head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies recently said there is a 99% chance that 2016 will unseat 2015 as the hottest year on record. So it’s a good thing New York State is home to so many amazing swim holes.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 unique places to take a dip based on their scenery, location, and/or history. We’ve also included a few places to avoid (we’re looking at you Onondaga Lake!).

No matter where you swim this summer, we urge you to take your garbage with you when you leave. These are natural treasures that are worth the effort to protect – don’t ruin them!

DO: Southwick Beach State Park

Southwick, on Lake Ontario south of Watertown, is just about the closest experience you will have to swimming in the ocean, without actually swimming in the ocean. The park includes spacious beaches, fields for sport, allows for camping, and is located right next door to the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area, where you can see stunning coastal sand dunes, unique wildlife, and a natural barrier beach. The whole area is great for canoeing, kayaking, and more.

DO: Peekamoose Blue Hole

Peekamoose can be difficult place to find, and for good reason – people polluting and abusing the site for years harmed one of the most unique waterbodies in the state. Located in the 31,400 acre Sundown Wild Forest, Peekamoose lies amid ridges and mountains in the Catskills, and its deep waters are known as a great respite from the summer heat and humidity. Be prepared for a hike up the Peekamoose Trail about 4.5 miles before reaching the falls. The DEC has issued emergency rules to protect the site, which should be reviewed before visiting.

DO: Upper Boquet River

This gem, unknown to most New Yorkers, prompted North Country Public Radio to opine on whether it is the most beautiful swimming hole in the Adirondacks. A small river which flows into Lake Champlain (history buffs will note a battle in the War of 1812 was waged by the mouth of the river), radio host Brian Mann provides this description of the series of pools found in its upper stretches: “It opens to the most astonishing mountain views, where the river is gravelly and flanked by goldenrod and Joe Pye weed. After wading chest-deep through mountain wildflowers, we backtrack to a part of the Boquet that’s famous among swimming hole junkies, a complicated fold of waterfalls and stone and ice clear pools.”

DO: Jacob Riis Park

Named for the social reforming muckraker Jacob Riis, who published a series of columns in the New York Evening Sun in 1891 which brought attention to the dangers of sewage pollution entering drinking water supplies (fast forward 125 years, and check out our recent report, Tapped Out: New York’s Clean Water in Peril). His stories led to the creation of a new reservoir for NYC, as well as several parks. Designed by Robert Moses for poor immigrants, Jacob Riis Park is located in the Rockaways section of Queens, and is known for its incredible beach, and a stunning art deco bathhouse.

DO: Fire Island/Smith Point County Park

An outer barrier island off the south shore of Long Island, Fire Island became two following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. And its picturesque beauty, led the National Park Service to give it this pitch: “Immerse yourself in an enchanting collage of coastal life and history. Rhythmic waves, high dunes, ancient maritime forests, historic landmarks and glimpses of wildlife, Fire Island has been a special place for diverse plants, animals and people for centuries. Far from the pressure of nearby big-city life, dynamic barrier island beaches offer both solitude and camaraderie, and spiritual renewal.” Did we mention that Smith Point County Park on the eastern half of the islands allows beach camping?

DO: Wellesley Island State Park

Interesting enough, the 1,000 Islands region of New York State, bordering our Canadian neighbors to the north, actually undercounts the true number of islands… there are 1,864 in total. To count as an island, it must have at least one square foot of land above water year-round, and two trees; we didn’t make the rules. Wellesley Island not only offers an incredible place to swim in the St. Lawrence, it’s also the largest camping complex in the region. It’s located within a few miles of popular destinations like The Antique Boat Museum, Boldt Castle (built by the proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria), and historic Gananoque, Canada. Learn more about the 1,000 Islands from National Geographic.

DON’T: Peconic and Forge Rivers

Long Island is experiencing a water quality crisis. In recent years, reports have shown increasing pollution levels in underground and surface water, endangering drinking, fishing, and recreational water supplies. Nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage pollution has led to rising pathogen levels across Long Island, which can trigger toxic blooms (red tide), etc. The Peconic and Forge Rivers in Suffolk County are particularly known for being unsafe for swimming. It is always best to check current water quality testing before entering any waterbody, and New Yorkers can sign up to receive alerts about the discharge of untreated sewage into local waterways via NY-Alert.

DO: Robert H. Treman State Park

If you’ve every dreamt of swimming beneath a waterfall, this is the park for you. Named for Mr. Treman, a well-known business leader and preservationist from Ithaca, the swim area is at the bottom of 115-foot Lucifer Falls, “where visitors can see a mile-and-a-half down” a wooded gorge. There’s camping, nine miles of trails for hiking enthusiasts, and paths through the iconic gorges of the region.

DON’T: Onondaga Lake

Considered sacred by the Onondaga Nation, the lake has been known as one of the most polluted sites in the country for much of the last century. Even as far back as 1940, when safety regulations were nowhere near as stringent as they are today, swimming was banned. In the 1970s, fishing was, too. Much progress has been made in recent years due to a federally mandated cleanup. Still, despite some local and state officials siding with polluter Honeywell that the lake is safe for swimming, the Environmental Protection Agency says otherwise. We hope that it will one day be safe to take a dip in Onondaga Lake, but that is not today.

DO: Shanty Brook

A trip to this swimming hole is the very definition of “off the beaten path.” And when you see it, you’ll be thankful that’s the case. As with all recreational locations, safety must be a priority. Found in a secluded part of the Adirondack Park near the Siamese Ponds Wilderness (114,000 acres of Forest Preserve), trips to this swim hole are often made with plans for a full day’s hike, including but not limited to fishing, and kayaking, etc.