Wild swimming in the US
August 24, 2021 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm desperately craving swimming outside off an uncrowded and clean beach or a desolate lake that's not so cold that I would need a wetsuit. Happy to hike up to 5 miles to get to such a paradise, but these days in should be in the continental US. Does it exist anymore? What are your recommendations?
posted by Last_wave_by to Travel & Transportation around United States (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How desolate do you want your lake to be, and how far are you willing to drive? Upper Goose Pond is a ~1 mile hike from I-90 in Western Massachusetts.

There are loads of lakes in northern Maine, e.g. near Millinocket. The smaller the lake, the warmer it will be. This time of year lakes are pretty comfortable for swimming, even in Maine.

There are probably hundreds of miles of clean, uncrowded ocean beach in Maine as well, though the currents can be dangerous. Towards the southern part of Maine, I've had a beach to myself on Chebeague Island, accessible via ferry from Portland (I mean, you would have to walk or hike to the beach from the ferry).
posted by mskyle at 10:27 AM on August 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't really get the question. What do you mean by 'uncrowded'? Depending on the time of day and if it's crowd season, you can basically have your own beach in southern California, Texas, Florida, Alabama, or any other state. There are thousands of lakes in the US. Most are a bit unsafe to swim in without a lifejacket due to currents, but take your pick and if you have access to a boat, far enough away from the coastline and you'll be by yourself. Then rivers. Again, just pick one.

Can you give a location you'd like to go to? Any other criteria?
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you want some examples:

South Padre Island in Texas. - over 100 miles of beaches in a no-development park

Dana Point caves area in Dana Point CA
unless you go to the most popular beaches, CA beaches are not crowded. Go on a summer Tuesday afternoon and you will be by yourself

Jupiter Island Florida
Ft Myers Florida
Florida has 1000 miles of beachfront coastline.

Conchas Lake in New Mexico (great tall cliffs for jumping and clear water) - Nobody lives in New Mexico :)

Broken Bow Lake in Oklahoma

Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri - it's gotten a lot of bad press, but avoid the party coves, and you'll be alone
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:22 AM on August 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

One more thing - it's August - just about any lake in North America is going to be as warm as it is possible to be - having grown-up in the Rocky Mountains, even higher altitude lakes were fine this time of year (uh, well maybe not ones directly fed by glaciers)
posted by rozcakj at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2021

Response by poster: I'm trying to do some long-range planning... I haven't had a strong track record with just looking at a map and just picking a spot! Some additional criteria:

Happy to drive up to 10 hours from a city with an airport. Looking for clean water warm enough to swim in comfortably in just a bathing suit for at least a couple weeks of the year - for example, the water off southern California really calls for a wetsuit or some appetite for polar bear-style swimming even in August and September, and places like Doheny have bacteria issues. Ideally the access point would be walk- or hike-to from a road that doesn't require 4WD, and currents would be manageable for a reasonably athletic swimmer. Waves are great but not required.

Growing up, I spent time on Sandspur Beach in Bahia Honda Key in April and there were maybe 2-3 other groups of people on the beach. If we walked far enough up the beach, it was possible to achieve a feeling of solitude. The only way I've experienced a similar feeling of solitude for swimming has been to hike up to alpine lakes in the Rockies, but they're *cold.*
posted by Last_wave_by at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Agreed that this question is under-specified, but I'm going to give a somewhat specific suggestion anyway.

You want to go to Michigan (perhaps the UP if you want especially desolate). Literally thousands of miles of freshwater coast, across four of the five great lakes, and a number of beautiful smaller lakes as well. Any of these will be warm enough in summer to swim without a wetsuit.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:48 AM on August 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think this is actually that hard to find, but I guess New England beaches are out of the question if SoCal beaches are too cold. How about Assateague Island National Seashore? 37 miles of beach.
posted by mskyle at 11:48 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @gum - I'm thrilled to hear there are so many choices! I guess if you think of a lake, I'm looking for the equivalent or smaller of a Crater Lake in OR but warm, or a Walden Pond in MA but with few people and generally cleaner water. When it comes to a beach, something like a Sandspur in Bahia Honda without the 10am crowds, or a Truro, MA without the crowds and sharks... What are a couple places that come to mind?
posted by Last_wave_by at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2021

Best answer: You have to camp (if you want to make the most of it), but the east side of the Cumberland Island National Seashore is ~10 miles of empty white sand beach. There is a small cluster of folks that goes to the beach right at the end of the boardwalk but you can walk several hundred yards down the beach and not see or hear them, although you might get to see wild horses playing in the surf.
posted by ftm at 11:53 AM on August 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a list of all of the lakes in Minnesota. Yes, they're frozen in the winter and chilly in the spring, but most of them are gloriously warm right now. If you eliminate those that are too small or are in or too near a city or town, there are two or three thousand candidates at least. My current favorite is Ball Club Lake in the Leech Lake Indian Reservation (near Deer River, MN), but that's just because it's close to where I visit relatives and I've grown attached to it (plus, lots of wild rice!). There are thousands more I'd love to swim in.
posted by gum at 11:59 AM on August 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sebastian Inlet State Park in Florida would totally meet these needs. I prefer south of the inlet, walk five minutes south and hardly anyone there.
posted by advicepig at 2:44 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

A few ideas:

- Washington State, Olympic Peninsula: There's a hike on the north end of Lake Crescent that leads to the Devil's Punchbowl, a swimming hole. It's a pretty short/easy hike so you won't be alone, but it's not crowded either. You do need to wear hiking shoes IME. Though to be honest, there are a lot of places along the lake where you can park and just jump in the water and you'll be the only one there.

- Bass Beach in Rye, NH. I've been there twice in the middle of the week in August and never saw more than a few other people.

- If you are willing and have the means, renting a house on a lake is a good way to achieve this. Choose a lake that doesn't allow speedboats, go during the week, and with many lakes, you'll barely know there's anyone else there. I personally love Lake Wenatchee in WA (unfortunately the one public access for swimming there is pretty popular), but there are many wonderful lakes like this in New England. I just spent a week on Lake Rescue in VT and it was perfect, but there are a lot like it.

I was also going to say you could just put your finger on a map of MN, pick the closest lake, do a quick google search to make sure it's not too popular, and go there, though gum kinda beat me to it. But they are correct! You might even find a lake that has inexpensive cottages to rent.
posted by lunasol at 3:31 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

I lived in Eugene, OR one summer and thought the opportunities to swim there were outstanding. In my opinion, slow moving rivers make the very best swimming (no muck underfoot!), crystal clear water. Mmm- there were lots of places just a ten minute bike ride out of town.

That said, some of the spots on Lake Travis outside Austin were amazing as well- Hippie Hollow and Marshall Ford both had enormous rocks one could bake in the sun on until one wanted to leap directly into the water, no wading required. Good times.
posted by carterk at 5:08 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

I recommend Lake Willoughby in Vermont. There are public beaches, but they won't be super crowded, and is absolutely stunning. Willoughby was in the high 60s in late July this year.

There are a host of other lakes in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont you might also try. Island Pond, Caspian, Seymour, and Crystal Lake. There are certainly more, but I have swam at all of these places and loved them! These will get into the mid to low 70s in the summer.
posted by Dalton Luceria at 5:24 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Spent a few weeks up in south haven this summer and it was beautiful, only one other small group of people on the beach. There are several beaches up and down the coastlines of lake Michigan also I saw quite a few ABnB with private lake access.
posted by AnneShirley at 6:03 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Come to the Great Lakes! Vast expanses of deserted beaches, and WARM!
posted by Floydd at 7:35 PM on August 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Seconding Cumberland Island. The Gulf Stream is really close to the island, and so you can swim in the ocean early in the spring and well into the fall--I've been swimming there in October. Jekyll Island, just to the north of Cumberland, is a state park that has more amenities (hotels, restaurants, etc.) if you don't want to camp, but also vast stretches of vacant beaches, especially any time other than May-July.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:15 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

From a childhood experience - camp, get a canoe, and head out into Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks - there are little islands with slickrock "beaches" you can enjoy all to your lonesome.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 12:13 PM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the fantastic suggestions!
posted by Last_wave_by at 1:34 PM on August 27, 2021

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