We wish you many good days this summer, filled with adventures that lead you to spring-fed ponds and remote rivers. To get you started, here’s a sampling of our favorite (legal) spots to cool off.
By Jenna Gersie and Becca Tucker
Delaware River Montague, NJ Head to a beautiful section of the Delaware River in Montague for a pet-friendly dip. Facing west to Pennsylvania, this is a great spot in the late afternoon for getting some direct sunlight. Even though you can hear cars in the distance, the view is mostly of forest, with only two houses in sight. Silver maples line the shore on the Jersey side and tiny toads hide themselves amongst the sand and rocks on the beach. When I visited in July and August, the river was always calm and slow-moving. So why not cross borders and take a tube or raft to the other side to explore? You can either wade along the rocky beach or head out further to fully submerge. It might get crowded here on weekends, but there is enough beach space to spread out. To get there, head north on Route 206 from Branchville. Before crossing into Pennsylvania, bear right onto River Road and follow this for 1.7 miles, then turn left onto a dirt road. This mile-long road will lead you to a parking area; then follow the sandy path down to the water.
Crater Lake Walpack Township, NJ
If you’re familiar with Blue Mountain Lake and Crater Lake on Blue Mountain Lake Road in Walpack Township, you’ll be happy to know that the road has re-opened this season after Hurricane Irene’s destruction. Both lakes are surrounded by forest, and the drive takes a bit of time, so you’ll really feel like you’re out there. At Blue Mountain Lake, the clear water is cool; you can gradually wade out to deeper waters, but the bottom is rocky, so you may want to wear water shoes. Find a grassy spot to spread your blanket while crickets jump and bumblebees buzz. Crater Lake is smaller but is my personal favorite; there are large boulders to sit on and dip your feet into the water while sunfish nibble at your toes, or you can swim out to the middle of the calm lake. Mountain laurel bushes surround the shoreline and the various clearings and picnic areas are afforded privacy due to the vegetation. Both sites have clean restrooms in the parking areas. Visit the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area website for details and directions.
Highlands Natural Pool Ringwood, NJ
If you’re looking for natural splendor with the convenience and safety of a lifeguarded pool, then check out the Highlands Natural Pool in Ringwood. This chemical-free, stream-fed pool is Olympic size, gradually deepening to about ten feet, and was carved out of the hillside in 1935. Blue Mine Brook feeds the pool, but the steam is diverted so the pool doesn’t act as a dam for this designated rainbow trout production stream. That doesn’t mean that the wildlife doesn’t sometimes get in. The craziest thing the staff has seen at the pool? A black bear was once found playing in the kiddie area! Don’t worry, there weren’t any kids there at the time.
You can pay a membership fee at this community-owned 501(c)3 non-profit or visit for the day. While you’re there, talk to Sandra, a regular and very friendly visitor to the pool. Sandra provides shelter for battered women and children through the non-profit Strengthen our Sisters. She might be wearing only shades of purple.
Because the pool is stream-fed, the water stays on the cooler side and is refreshing on a hot day. With clean restrooms, snacks and ice cream for sale, and a picnic area, it’s a great spot to bring the kids. To get to the pool, walk a short distance along the stream from the parking area. Directions and more information can be found at www.highlandsnaturalpool.org.
Sutherland Pond Black Rock Forest, NY
Fifteen minutes from hectic Woodbury Commons is a five-car parking area for a trailhead into Black Rock Forest. Black Rock Forest consists of 3,830 acres owned by a consortium of groups and schools, and it’s free and open to the public. But the public is probably bargain shopping; I saw only one mountain biker and a dog-walking couple.
The sign at the trailhead is equal parts refreshing and intimidating: “Mine Hill Road Trail Head is the starting point of a great many lost hikers.” (Find good directions at nynjtrailconference.org.) A steep climb leads to a panoramic view overlooking spring-fed Roosevelt Pond, which seems unfairly named. The only one of the 11 water bodies in Black Rock Forest that’s not manmade, it looks more like a lake of Adirondack majesty than a pond. There are a few good places to wade into the water, but no perfect rock to lay your clothes on to keep them from parading ants. Bubbles shimmy to the surface as you wade into the muck. Apparently, although the lake is only six feet deep, there is in some places 30 feet of sediment, which has been accumulating since the glaciers departed 14,000 years ago. Stand still and you’ll hear birds resume their chatter and bullfrogs bass solos that sound like they’re coming from the very spot you left your jeans. You can make it a 6.5-mile loop or else backtrack for a four-mile “swike.”
Split Rock Mohonk Preserve, NY Your classic swimming hole features a waterfall, and for that you must head north to the mountains. A $12 day pass (or $55 for a year’s membership) gets you access to all of Mohonk Preserve’s 8,000 acres (12 and under free), including a gorge known as Split Rock. This is everything you’d want a swimming hole to be: frigid water pours off the ‘Gunks, creating a maybe eight-foot waterfall that settles into a crystal clear rock basin. Some people boulder on the rock faces and then fall into the water below, but heads’ up – or rather legs up – it’s not that deep. You can park less than a quarter mile away if you’re toting a cooler and tots, or if that parking lot is full, make it into a short “swike” along the Shongum Path, an old Native American trail with serpentine boardwalks. Upstream is the only area in the preserve where dogs are allowed off-leash, and downstream are natural waterslides and, marked by signs, a clothing-optional area rumored to be a popular gay meet-up. Something for everyone.
Lifeguarded lakes: The lifeguards will consistently remind your kids not to throw sand and won’t let you bring flotation devices into the water, but they’re not so bad. I know; I was one for eight years.
Swartswood Lake in Swartswood State Park has a large, sandy beach and the swimming area is shallow but large. Lake Marcia in High Point State Park has some of the cleanest water you’ll ever swim in and you have a beautiful view of High Point Monument, built from 1928-1930 at the highest point in the state to honor war veterans. And Stony Lake in Stokes State Forest is the most remote and best for viewing wildlife, from the fish that you’ll try to catch with minnow nets in the swimming area to the dragonflies skimming over the water to the bullfrog croaking from somewhere in the banks. Park entrance fees are $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends and holidays; seasonal memberships are also available.