Photo by Grand River Conservation Authority/Flickr.com

The best swimming holes in Ontario

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Ontario’s got lots of beaches (we have access to four of the Great Lakes, after all), and lots of swimming pools—but for a different kind of swimming experience, check out these slightly off-the-beaten path swimming holes. You may not get the sand ’n’ sun beach experience, but you also won’t get sand in your bathing suit.

Topaz Lake, Killarney Provincial Park

Topaz Lake, located at the tip of Baie Fine in Killarney, can be accessed along the La Cloche Silhouette hiking trail. This clear, deep lake is surrounded by Killarney’s signature white quartzite cliffs, which provide both gorgeous scenery and handy diving spots. It gets crowded in the height of the summer season, but the diverse mix of boaters, paddlers and hikers makes it a fun place to visit.

Decew Falls, St. Catharines

Decew Falls is one of the many (many, many) waterfalls that line the Niagara Escarpment from Hamilton to Niagara and beyond. The site is home to historic Morningside mill, a blacksmith shop and a nineteenth-century home, all of which are museums now. Check out views of Decew Falls from the top, then scramble down the Escarpment to the bottom of the falls (it’s a steep climb, so be careful), and you’ll be rewarded with a nice swimming hole—perfect to cool off before climbing back up!

Cyprus Lake Grotto, Bruce Peninsula National Park

One of the most beautiful spots in the province to swim is also one of the coldest, so be warned. It’s also a 30-minute hike to get there, and can be crowded, with the parking lot filling to capacity regularly—but the crystal-blue water and stunning Niagara Escarpment rocks all around make it absolutely worth the trip. If you don’t want to brave the Grotto, Indian Head Cove—where the water is much more accessible—is close by.

Elora Quarry, Elora

As the name might suggest, the Elora Quarry used to be a working quarry—but now it’s a great, dramatic, family-friendly swimming hole just down the road from the famous Elora Gorge. There’s a small sandy beach and a shallow area that then deepens for more serious swimming. There are no dogs allowed on site. Be warned—it can get crowded on the weekends, and there’s a fee to enter: $3 for kids 6-14, $6 for adults.

St. Mary’s Quarry, St. Mary’s

Another former limestone quarry, St. Mary’s is the largest outdoor freshwater pool in Canada. Along with a grassy area for picnicking, there’s also a water trampoline in the water, and stand-up paddle boards available to rent. Recently, diving boards and cliff jumping have been closed due to low water levels, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had.

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

A classic plunge waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls is located in the village of Kagawong, off of Highway 540. Take in the view from the top, then climb the metal staircase down to the bottom and take advantage of the natural swimming hole. The bottom is rocky, so bring water shoes to keep your feet comfortable. Another plus? According to reviewers, the washrooms and change rooms are kept nice and clean.

Burnt Rock Pool, Lake Superior Provincial Park

Once a destination point for sport fishers, Burnt Rock Pool in the Agawa River can be reached about two kilometres along the Towab Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park. Eat lunch (or catch a catnap) on the bedrock by the river’s edge, then take a dip in the deep pool, which occurs at a bend in the river surrounded by pines and tall cliffs.