Search for that swimming hole

It’s been hot in the deep Catskills for the past couple of days, but today’s supposed to achieve a new level, one dangerous enough to sound an alert on my mobile phone. I haven’t found a swimming hole yet.

There are a wealth of magical spots to swim where the Hudson Valley meets the Catskills, but farther out, where houses are just occasional dots in the rolling farmland, they’re precious and few.

I live right down the road from the East Sidney Dam, and anyone can swim or boat there for a price. But it’s a public beach. That’s not what I’m looking for. I want the deep spots in a creek or river, or the pool made by a waterfall, or even a good, deep pond. And I don’t want to see other people.


I spent my summers as a child and as a young mother in Otsego County. Land was cheap back then, and my parents, rather than taking annual vacations, decided to make their own vacation place. First, we camped. When I was in grade school they built a simple place set far back from the road. Then they dug a pond at the foot of a healthy hill that the locals called Independence Mountain. The pond was about an acre in circumference, fed by underground springs and completely private.

Getting into the pond required determination. The soil there is clay, and the first few steps into the water were slippery. To be frank, it was gross. But once in the water, I was rewarded by a sense of isolation. There was no sound but the birds, the frogs, sometimes the distant sound of people from the nearby campground.

We had an oversized truck inner tube that served as my dock, my lifeguard, and my lounge chair. On hot days, I spent most of the day in that pond. The topmost layer of the water would be warm, but if I dove underneath into the murky, weed-filled lower level, it got chilly, then icy.

I’m looking for a spot like that. I’m willing to share with snapping turtles if I have to, as I know they always find the best ponds, too.

My neighbor has a pond, but he tells me the neighboring cows “wrecked it” when he gave them access for a few years. There is a deep spot in the creek behind town which is clearly off limits to swimmers, and I’ve seen people walking up the road in swimsuits from that area. There is a brook below the field across the street here, too, with some deep spots, but I haven’t found a way to access it.

My daughter took me to her spot on the Rondout, the last time I visited. It was pretty close to perfect. We had it all to ourselves.

No, I won’t tell you where it was. We all have to find our own. That’s part of the lure.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.

There are 2 comments

  1. Val Walis

    Just a reminder to anyone looking to explore ‘deep in the Catskills’ for a swimming hole, PLEASE only carry in with you what you can and will take back out with you!!!! Our local swimming holes and environment is being devastated this summer by trash, food waste, chairs, easy ups, grills and much worse because of the masses coming in ill prepared for the steep ravines that you have to carry everything down and back up to reach all of our swimming holes. Please be considerate of the local ecosystems and local communities that are heavily impacted by the neglect of visitors. If you can, bring a few extra trash bags to distribute to other visitors and help make a positive impact!

  2. Joshua

    These Magical Spots mentioned in this articles are quickly becoming toxic waste lands from visitors leaving their garbage and human waste behind! After the 4th of July weekend a local crew went down into these Magical places to bring out over a 100 30 gallon Garbage bags filled with all kinds of filth, BBQ’s which are illegal down in the streams, Rotten food, Dirty Diapers, Used Stinky Toilet Paper left right on the side of the swimming holes where people are doing their business, broken glass, feminine products, water bottles, soda bottles filled with urine or gasoline. And the trails to access these places are often treacherous to climb up and down. Trails are steep and covered in loose dirt and shale, more broken glass, rebar sticking out from road construction, pipes. One wrong step could ruin your visit to these places. And then there is the parking to access these places. The parking is very limited but people don’t care and park wherever they please which leads to many cars being ticketed and/or towed. If you come, please, PLEASE be respectful of the Locals but more importantly the beauty of these natural spaces. If people keep destroying them they will soon be lost to all when they are closed to everyone who wishes to visit. . Carry-Out what you Carry-In, Leave No Trace.

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