As summer draws to a close, the thought of plopping into a plastic lawn chair for yet another day at the local pool might be losing its appeal.
If by this point your sun-kissed hair is turning a peculiar shade of brassy green and the smell of chlorine is enough to make your stomach turn, it might be time to consider a different kind of swimming experience.
The Baltimore area is full of natural swimming holes - rivers, lakes, quarries and creeks for swimmers to dive in and enjoy. You might have to trek through some woods to find them, but these refreshing waters offer visitors a fun, chlorine-free way to keep cool while reveling in the great outdoors.
Oregon Ridge Park in northern Baltimore County offers swimmers a large, well-guarded beachfront, with floating docks for fishing and picnic tables for lunching, in addition to a playground and horseshoe pit.
"My kids love that they can come here and dig in the sand," said Nancy Bochicchio of Monkton. "The beach and the fishing docks make this place stand out from a regular swimming pool."
Milford Mill Park and Swim Club offers plenty of fun for families planning on spending a day at the 18-acre property. A beach with a large pier, an Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool and a sand volleyball court are included in the admission price, but the real draw to Milford Mill is the quarry. Surrounded by wooded cliffs on two sides, it is enhanced with a set of diving boards, a cluster of Tarzan-style ropes and a zip line for thrill-seeking swimmers.
"The zip line is wicked fun," said Susan Mahoney, 42, of Edgewater. "I have been coming here since I was 17, and now I bring my three children. We all love it."
In order to swim in the deeper parts of the quarry, patrons must pass a swim test each time they visit the park.
Both Milford Mill and Oregon Ridge are privately owned swimming holes that charge daily fees and provide services such as trained lifeguards and bathroom facilities.
Swimming areas within state parks tend to be more rustic, such as the Hobo or Hillbilly Beach in the Hereford area of Gunpowder Falls State Park.
On a recent hot, lazy afternoon, the "beach," which more closely resembles the wooded bank of a creek, provided a cooling reprieve. Several families were lounging in the grass or wading in the knee-deep waters, a father and son were rafting down the stream, and a group of adolescent boys were competing in an intense rock-skipping contest.
If you are planning on visiting the falls, swimming shoes are imperative, especially if you decide to jump from a large rock as 9-year-old Sophie Frazier-Geho of Baltimore did. "I love this place ... I've been here like seven times this summer," she said.
No lifeguards are on duty, and swimmers need to be mindful that the water is chilly and the current can be fast. As at all swimming holes, it is important to watch children carefully, even at beaches and quarries that are well-guarded.
Jump right in
Here are some public and private swimming holes in the Baltimore area:
Beaver Dam Swimming Club 10820 Beaver Dam Road Cockeysville 410-785-2323 beaverdamswimmingclub.com
Cascade Lake 3000 Snydersburg Road Hampstead 410-374-9111 cascadelake.com
Gunpowder Falls State Park Hereford Area 410-592-2897 dnr.state.md.us/outdooradventures/tubegunpowder.html
Milford Mill Park and Swim Club 3900 Milford Mill Road Woodlawn 410-655-4818 milfordmillpark.com
Oregon Ridge Park 13401 Beaver DamRoadCockeysville410-887-1818co.ba.md. us/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/oregonridgelodge/orbeach.html
For information on other swimming holes, visit swimmingholes.org/md