The Secret Behind Vermont’s Swimming Holes

There’s nothing better than an icy plunge on a hot day. But what’s keeping these treasures open for everyone? Vermont River Conservancy executive director Steve Libby thinks he has the answer.

Steve Libby
Steve Libby

When I first moved to Vermont to attend college, I discovered one of this state’s lesser-known but magnificent features. On a muggy August day, my Vermonter friends drove me down twisting and turning back roads, and when I was certain we were hopelessly lost, we pulled off the side of the road, scrambled down a vague path between boulders and brush and plunged into a pristine swimming hole—a perfect spot to cool off from the summer heat.

Now, as the Executive Director of the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC), I am fortunate to know of dozens of hidden, and not so hidden, swimming hole treasures along Vermont’s rivers. These special places are a vital part of our common experience. We float in a refreshingly cold pool looking up at the clear sky, buoyed by clean water, watching a daredevil teenager turn back flips off a bedrock ledge. These swimming holes are for everyone, regardless of age or ability or economic status.

To be sure swimming holes will be part of the Vermont experience for future generations the Vermont River Conservancy has initiated a program called “A Swimming Hole in Every Town.” With over 200 known swimming holes in the state – 80 percent of which are privately owned – we are working with town recreation committees, passionate swimming hole advocates and willing landowners to conserve and protect public access. VRC was founded over 20 years ago as well-loved community swimming holes were being closed off to public access due to development, changing ownership or inappropriate use. The founders of VRC realized that if no one stepped in to protect these special places, the very essence of the iconic Vermont summer would be threatened.

Several years ago VRC received a phone call from a supporter warning that the land surrounding a beloved swimming hole known as “Journeys End” in Johnson was up for sale as a residential lot. With the invaluable support of the local community, and with the patience and openness of the landowner to consider a conservation alternative, this pristine place was purchased and conveyed to the town as a permanent public resource. This same pattern of threats can occur across the Vermont landscape.

We can’t these places for granted.

One of the primary threats is loss of access. Losing the long tradition of free and open access to our rivers threatens one of the most visceral and basic connections to the natural world. Imagine a Vermont whose shore lands are posted and off limits to the public. We will continue to lose these generations-old spots unless we make a concerted community effort to protect them.

Often, loss of access is preceded by abuse and misuse. Without proper and thoughtful management, many exceptional swimming holes are overcrowded, or degraded by unthinking users. If Vermont’s swimming holes, waterfalls, gorges, and other popular sites are to be well cared for, Vermonters need to be excellent stewards of the lands along Vermont’s waters.

Since it’s inception 21 years ago, VRC has protected numerous swimming holes throughout Vermont. There is more work important to be done. How can you help?

Become a Swimming Hole Steward.  Contact the Vermont River Conservancy if you are interested in being the go-to person for taking care of a swimming hole. Stewards can help install safety and proper use signs, remove trash and fundraise for trail improvements.

Be a good visitor. Respect the swimming holes you visit by packing out your trash, not bringing glass containers, respecting noise levels, following an established trail, and obeying parking laws – and above all, respect the generosity of those landowners who allow us to cross their lands to swim in our rivers.

Share the beauty. Bring a friend to experience the tranquility of a swimming hole.

Talk to your town officials about the need for guaranteed public access to natural places.

Contact VRC to find out how you can protect a swimming hole near you. There may be a river clean-up event happening near you, or an opportunity to get your hands dirty working on a trail, or be a swimming hole steward.

The character of Vermont depends, in part, on accessible, free, community gathering spaces for enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural heritage. Summers in Vermont would be diminished if families and friends, locals and tourists, couldn’t enjoy the beauty and refreshment of our beautiful rivers. Protecting public access to the swimming holes we love is only possible if we work together. Please support our work, and steward the places you love to swim.

Steve Libby is the executive director of the Vermont River Conservancy. You can contact him at or call 802-229-0820.