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Beat the heat

An informal guide to local swimming holes

July 16, 2011
By NATHAN BROWN - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

It's summer. And it's hot, which isn't always the case around here.

The following are just a few suggestions for places to cool down if you're visiting the Wilmington, Jay or Keene areas. This is a jumping-off point, a list of suggestions, and is not at all intended to be comprehensive. I know of a number of spots - along the Boquet River, for example, or John's Brook in Keene Valley - that I didn't have time to visit for this article. And I don't pretend to know every spot in this area, or even most of them.

Have fun, and stay cool.

Article Photos

The Flume
(Photo — Richard Rosentreter)


The Flume

Heading toward Wilmington on state Route 86, you'll pass Fox Farm Road on the right, the Hungry Trout on the left, and then you'll see the parking spot on the right. The trail to get in is short, as in it takes a minute or two.

Once you get there, there's a little trail along the bank of the West Branch of the AuSable River, and you can find a place to sit on the side, or on one of the rocks. There is a waterfall, and a large pool in front of it that's the swimming area.

You can wade and swim into the pool, a bit of a ways from the waterfall, or you can jump off the cliffs. There are two levels, with the highest being well over 20 feet and the lower one about half that. (These are just my estimations.) There are more cliffs on the other side to jump from, and a rope swing.

If you swim into the pool and follow the current, you'll find spots where the current pushes you toward some of the rocks further downstream. These rocks are big enough to grab on and rest or even sit on, so you're not really at risk. But it can be a weird sensation, being pushed by the current and having difficulty controlling where you're going.

This is a popular spot and gets a lot of visitors on hot summer weekends.


Copperas Pond

The parking area for the trailhead, on state Route 86 between Lake Placid and Wilmington, is marked by a brown state Department of Environmental Conservation sign. If you're coming from Lake Placid, it's on the right, just past a stretch that is currently one lane due to road work.

The trail goes to three ponds. Owen Pond is first, 0.9 miles in. The first leg of the hike, to Owen Pond, isn't steep at all, but it's rocky and rooty. I didn't see any good spots to jump into Owen Pond except, possibly, one rock I took a few photos from. So I continued on to Copperas, which had been recommended to me as a swimming spot and is another 0.4 miles.

The trail gets a bit harsher from Owen to Copperas. There are some scrambles in sections, and it gets muddy. When I got there, I went to the first spot I saw - a little clearing with a fire pit, right by the water's edge - and walked in. The bottom is rocky, but the rocks are big enough that you can keep your footing. It's a pleasant spot, with the hike just long enough to work up a good sweat for the swim, but not long enough to be off-putting.

It's a nice spot and, I am told, a fairly popular one. I was hiking in just as it was starting to rain and thunder, however, and just passed a couple of groups leaving.

If you keep going after Copperas Pond, you'll get to Winch Pond after another 0.6 miles.


Covered Bridge

Take state Route 86 to the end, from Wilmington to Jay, where it meets U.S. Route 9. Go straight down John Fountain Road, then bear right, and you'll see the parking area for the covered bridge, which crosses the East Branch of the AuSable River.

Cross the bridge - which is only open to foot and bicycle traffic - and you have options on either side. On the side where the river's heading toward AuSable Forks, you can walk down to a small sandy area and wade in from there. The other side is full of rocks, which you can scramble across to get to the river and the swimming areas.

This spot is especially interesting if you're a history buff. The bridge is the only one of its kind still standing in the Adirondacks and a local icon of sorts - it says "Home of the Covered Bridge" on the town of Jay's stationery. There are signs there explaining the history and story of the bridge and also the town's history and its industrial development.

The original covered bridge was built in 1857, after the previous bridge was destroyed by a flood. It was removed in 1997 for safety reasons and replaced by a temporary one. A restored bridge was put back in a decade later after a new bridge had been built for automobiles.


Split Rock Falls

The parking area is off of U.S. Route 9 in New Russia, posted with signs saying "30-minute parking." This swimming hole is part of the Boquet River; the waterfall falls into three pools. The first and second are visible if you walk in from the parking area. Walk alongside the road a bit to get to a path to the third, a bit downstream.

There was nobody else there when I visited early on a Thursday morning, but it's a popular local swimming spot and hangout. It has also become known because of several drownings there earlier this decade. The water can be powerful, especially when the river is swollen by rain.

There haven't been any injuries reported at Split Rock Falls recently, according to Elizabethtown town Supervisor Noel Merrihew. Merrihew has swum there many times and said the three pools are safe, "within reason," if you observe the conditions and take precautions such as being mindful when climbing on the rocks and knowing and seeing the water you're jumping into. The third pool is most popular as a swimming area, he said.


Chapel Pond

I hadn't planned on including this one, but when I was driving to Split Rock Falls, I couldn't help but notice that this large pond on the side of state Route 73 looked like it was easily accessible. So I stopped on the way back.

There's a parking area labeled "Chapel Pond," where there's a short scramble down to the water. Or you can park at another parking area a few hundred feet east and go down a short trail that leads to a beach of damp sand.

Despite being right on a main road, the spot is incredibly scenic, bounded by cliffs that are popular with rock climbers on the pond's south side. The bottom of the pond is inconsistent. The first place I walked out, the bottom was covered with dead, sharp branches, and when I wasn't cutting my feet, they were sinking into the muck. I considered just leaving and not even including this pond, but then I looked to my left and saw what looked like a sandier area. So I walked out there, and it was actually pretty pleasant.



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