Have your kids ever swum in a mountain river or lake? There’s nothing like the cold, silky feeling of totally natural water, untreated by chlorine. Swimming in Vermont is a total sensory experience – the air smells of mowed grass, the sun is warm and the water pretty much always cool. The mountains are deeply verdant against the blue sky and at many spots in the river your ears will be full of the sound of the water gurgling over and through rocks. The Mad River Valley in central Vermont is a particularly good place to experience this kind of swimming because its eponymous water source is so clean and safe to swim in.
My favorite way to wile away a Vermont summer afternoon has to be by hanging out at the river. Here are just a few of my favorite places to swim in the Valley.
The Waitsfield Covered Bridge (also known as the Great Eddy)
If you want an iconic photo of your kids jumping from rocks next to a covered bridge into the water, this is the place to get it.
For those of you uninterested in jumping, the swimming hole here features a rocky beach and several large pools. The water level varies a great deal depending on how much rain the area has gotten, so it can be deep enough for swimming or more of a spot to wade. There’s also a fun little current that you can body surf or ride on an inner tube.
Park either on Bridge Street in Historic Waitsfield Village or behind the shops that line Route 100. If you get hungry, be sure to stop by The Sweet Spot for a treat – my kids swear they sell the best ice cream in the world.
This is a great spot if you’ve got little kids or dogs and want a little bit of peace and quiet. Although there’s not much of a beach, there’s plenty of grass to spread out on, and usually not many people. The water is always a bit warmer than the water in the river. Late in the summer be sure to bring some containers or plastic bags with you so that you can collect fruit from the namesake bushes that surround the lake. Or, you can do what my kids do and just eat them.
Blueberry Lake is in Warren; from the town of Warren take Brook Road to Plunkton Road and then turn right. The lake is on the left at the top of the hill.
The Warren Store
I won’t lie – an added bonus as far as I’m concerned is this swimming hole’s proximity to decadent brownies and cookies made in this upscale general store’s bakery. This isn’t so much a river spot for swimming as it is for climbing and dunking, but my kids can spend hours scooting around the rocks like human mountain goats. There’s a small waterfall, and the sound of the water is lovely.
The Warren Store is located right in the center of town. Steps lead down to the water from the store’s deck. Be careful though – it can be slippery.
Lareau Swimming Hole
I’m a little biased, but I think this is the swimming hole to end all swimming holes. I should know too, since I spent countless long, lazy afternoons of my childhood summers here. A centerpiece is an enormous glacial rock that is perfect for sunning and jumping. The water next to the rock is calm and so deep in places that in over 30 years of trying I’ve never touched the bottom.
A more shallow area upstream from the swimming hole is a great place to ride the “rapids” on an inner tube, especially if there’s been some rain. There’s also a pleasant, grassy beach with plenty of room to toss a football.
Unlike many others, this swimming hole features a port-a-potty. Dogs are not allowed.
The swimming hole is located right across the street from the Flatbread Pizza at Lareau Farm on Route 100 south of Waitsfield. It has a large parking area. (And word to the wise – the name is pronounced Lah-roo by locals).
Between the Mad River and the Sugarbush Resort snowmaking pond
Sugarbush has a small snowmaking pond that’s set apart from the rest of the resort. A parking area with a short trail leads you to the pond – follow it, and then go to the far end. You’ll find the connector stream between the pond and the Mad River. This is a great spot in the river to swim, with one deep pool and lots of large rocks for climbing.
If you are headed south on Route 100, the road to reach the pond is on the right just past the Kingsbury Farm and the bridge over the river.
Swimming is just one way to enjoy the water in the Mad River Valley. You can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards at Clearwater Sports. Another very fun and family-friendly activity is to tube on the river. Rent the tubes at Clearwater; they’ll drive you and your family up to the covered bridge in Waitsfield and then pick you up at a designated spot north of town (yes, the Mad River flows north).
If you’re still not convinced that Mad River Valley swimming is one of life’s great pleasures, maybe this video will change your mind:
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.