swimming holes harriman state park

Harriman State Park swimming holes are for escaping the crowds of Lakes Welch and Tiorati — stealth-style. ©www.myharriman.com

Swimming Holes in Harriman: Jump in, cool off, get out.

SAFETY – Swimming in natural places has inherent dangers. There are risks to life, limb and health involved. Caution can minimize but not eliminate these risks. Swimming in Harriman lakes other than the ones where swimming is allowed is prohibited.

Don’t go into Harriman’s lakes if you can’t swim, and don’t depend on flotation devices if you can’t swim.  Don’t drink alcohol and go swimming.  

SWIMMERS CAN, AND DO, DIE IN THE LAKES OF HARRIMAN STATE PARK EVERY YEAR.  Know that you are taking a risk by swimming in the “unsanctioned” lakes at the park.

The Facts:

  • Swimming in Harriman State Park is allowed only in the designated swimming areas: the beaches of Lakes Welch, Tiorati and Sebago (now closed).  However…
  • Many people decide that standing knee-deep in sandy-bottomed water, shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow swimmers and total strangers in the small, noisy, confined areas of the public beaches is not for them, and they take it to the back-country.
  • “Lake-baggers” swim in these (much quieter) spots at their own risk.  Is it worth it?
  • Rangers patrol the more popular swimming areas of the park and hand out tickets.
  • It is just as easy to refresh yourself by wading in a lake as swimming in it.  Wade, don’t swim.

Quote from the ‘Net:

“South end Island Pond, Breakneck Pond, 3rd Res, Conklin Crossing end of Pine Meadow, Skenonto, north end of Turkey Hill, Baileytown after Labor Day–and Pine Meadow peninsula on weekdays have been ranger-free for the most part.”

About Harriman Swimming Holes:

Again: I’m going to warn you about this section. There’s something about the lakes in Harriman that is enticing, especially since the public beaches are so crowded, and hiking can be strenuous, and you just want to take a dip.  The lakes seem to invite you to play in and around them. 

This can be dangerous if you let your guard down, if you are drinking, if you can’t swim but are on an inflatable device, or if you set out to swim across a lake.  Please use good judgment here.  Don’t go a safe distance from the shore.  Waters in Harriman have unknown undercurrents.  You may get a cramp, or lose consciousness, and if you’re alone, you’re truly on your own.

My first impressions of Harriman State Park, years ago, were of its beaches and the long line of traffic that formed on a weekend as cars lurched into the broiling summer lots.  So many people, so much litter left behind afterwards.  In some ways, it was a return to the lake-beach experiences — we’d never heard of swimming holes — of my childhood.  That little piece of hotdog in a bun that you see on the ground near some broken glass, the fly buzzing around.  A loud radio, a kid crying while his mother yells at him.  The lake.

But now that I’m a registered adult, I think swimming in Harriman’s sanctioned lakes is weird.  I mean, all those people crowded onto the beach, all that litter.

You might have to do it stealth-style.

Swimming Holes Harriman State Park Foot Travel Only Rusty Sign

“Foot Travel Only” sign on the Old Turnpike, on the way to Breakneck Pond. ©www.myharriman.com

Many moons ago, I photographed a story about swimming holes for The New York Times,* and it sparked a fondness in me with the things.  I love ‘em.  I seek them out.  I wish we were allowed to swim in the ones in Harriman.

We’re not.  But here are my recommendations for unofficial, unsanctioned and illegal swimming-hole swimming.  I don’t know if you’ll get caught, and if you do, whether you’ll get in trouble, but don’t tell them I sent you.

Silvermine Lake

There are two swimming holes in the Silvermine Lake area, but since Silvermine is easily accessible, you don’t want to be obvious about taking a dip.

1.  Go east along a woods road from the parking lot, alongside the north edge of Silvermine Lake.  The unmarked road will lead you to the edge of the lake, and a sandy-bottomed swimming place, in about a half-mile.

Swimming holes Silvermine Lake Harriman State Park

The “pothole” swimming hole in Harriman State Park’s Silvermine Lake. It’s super-secret. ©www.myharriman.com

2.  The other cool swimming spot is in a “pothole” just below the Silvermine Dam, where you’ll hear the water spilling over many large rocks.  The small space qualifies this spot as one of Harriman’s swimming holes (less so than the lake shore), and is best for a dip or a soak.  Just follow the same woods road from the parking lot along the north shore of the lake, but when you get to the dam, go down the embankment to where the stream is.  You’ll see the pothole there.

A note:  swim in the north side of Silvermine, and you’ll be sharing your swim with a large, extended family of beavers.  They’re especially active in late afternoon.  You could finish your swim and hike over, hang out on the rock near the , and just watch them in the light of the lowering evening sun.

Barnes Lake

Share your swim with a family of beavers — little guys are everywhere — in this little pond/lake wannabe wedged between Route 6 (Long Mountain Parkway) and Rout 293, at the northwest edge of Harriman State Park.  If you use the parking area off Route 6, it’s just a short (1/4 mile) walk along an old woods road to the edge of the lake.  But go just a little further, take the stone steps down to a fire ring and the edge of the pond, and listen for the slap of (irritated) beaver tails as you take a quick dip and then get out.

Breakneck Pond (South)

Harriman State Park Swimming Holes Breakneck Pond

Hike to the swimming hole — a beach — at Breakneck Pond, using the Harriman State Park Map Southern Section map from the Trail Conference.

Breakneck Pond is a long lake that’s used in July and August as a group camp.  In June, you can take a dip in the lake before the camp is occupied.  It’s clear, has a nice little beach and a dock for taking the plunge.  It’s ringed with highbush blueberries, too.

The fastest way into this woodland oasis is to park on St. John’s Road, just north of the church, and hike in via the unmarked trail to the Long Path, and then continuing to the short connector trail that hooks you up to the Old Turnpike.  Follow the Old Turnpike by turning left, past an old soccer field.  You’ll walk another 1/3 mile or so before you start to see the camp.

Swimming Hole Harriman State Park Breakneck Pond

Breakneck Pond, with swimming dock in the distance. See it? ©www.myharriman.com


Lake Askoti, on the Red Cross Trail

A hidden gem you won’t have to hike too far to find.

There’s a large boulder that juts out into the northern end of Lake Askoti, just off the Red Cross Trail, just before the trail heads steeply uphill.  It’s a great, spot to  and take in the whole length of this beautiful lake.

Get a parking space at the lot by adjacent Lake Skannatati, on Seven Lakes Drive, and walk north, either along Seven Lakes Drive or — for a more scenic but challenging route — the A-SB trail to the Red Cross Trail.  This route will take you to a scenic view over Lake Skannatati before you’ll meet the Red Cross trail, which will shortly cross the road and lead to the swimming hole on the right.

Second Reservoir

I discovered Second Reservoir on my way to the Big Hill shelter one (very hot) summer afternoon.

Very private.  It’s about a mile’s hike to the grassy shore of this reservoir.  You can park road-side on Call Hollow Road (off Willow Grove Road, in the town of Willow Grove, exit 14 off the Palisades Parkway).

You’ll hike in on a paved road to First Reservoir, and then just continue a little under a mile to Second.  Just don’t forget your New York New Jersey Trail Conference Map or app, because these trails aren’t marked.

You can swim at the edge of the reservoir where the trail first comes to it, or you can continue around to the other side, where there’s even more privacy in the sunny, grassy spots under the trees.  Blueberries abound.

Island Pond

Map showing the route from Elk Pen parking area in Harriman State Park, to Island Pond swimming hole.

The hike to well-loved Island Pond swimming hole starts from the Elk Pen parking area, and follows the Appalachian Trail to a boat launch (not used in 2013).Island Pond is one of the most lovely spots in Harriman, and because it’s inaccessible by cars (and, as of 2013, by boats as well, because Arden Valley Road, past Elk Pen, is closed), you’ll find all the seclusion you could want.  Unless you’re joined by stealth campers, that is.

Hidden, clear, warm-water Island Pond is another one of Harriman State Park’s little treasures.  Private enough — and even more private in 2013, since they closed Arden Valley Road past Elk Pen — Island Pond is surrounded by forest, but you’ll find a grassy knoll on the northern end of the pond.  It’s just right for swimming, picnicking and even some stealth camping; in fact, you’ll probably see a camper or two, as Island Pond is really that beautiful.

Island Pond is located in the northern part of Harriman, and is accessed by parking at Elk Pen Parking area (in Southfields, on Arden Valley Road), and hiking in, either via the paved road that winds up the mountain, or by hiking in on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

The AT start to climb soon after you leave the grassy meadow that is Elk Pen, so you’ll work up a decent sweat just getting to the top of the hill.

There’s good swimming right off the boat ramp that eases into the water.  And if you stand at the bottom of the ramp and look to the shore on the left, you’ll see big boulders and mini-cliffs that are popular with swimmers (see picture).

Swimmer jumps off colorful boulders along the shoreline of Island Pond in Harriman State Park.

Mini-cliffs, formed by boulders edging the water at Island Pond, make for some great old-fashioned, stealth-style swimming-holin’ at Harriman State Park.


Pine Meadow

Crystal-clear and a favorite for stealth swimmers, Pine Meadow Lake has plenty of shore access for the swimmer.  It’s an “interior” lake, nowhere near the road or close to parking, so it’s a hike in.  But your reward will be a little bit of solitude and some extra-warm, clear water.  Park at the Sebago boat launch parking area, or the Reeves Meadow Visitors Center, and take any of a number of path combinations to get there.  A nice flat, grassy spot — great for a picnic — can be found on the red-blazed Pine Meadow Trail on the northern side of the lake, near a ruin.  Pine Meadow Trail runs almost the entire north shore of this lake so it’s easy to find swimming access there.  Or you could go to nearby….

Lake Wanoksink

Map showing where to park for swimming hole at Lake Wanoksink, in Harriman State Park.

The closest parking spot to the swimming hole on Lake Wanoksink is at the Sebago Boat launch parking area, on Seven Lakes Drive. Follow the blue-blazed trail up the mountain to clear-water swimming at the edge of the lake, then continue south towards Pine Meadow, for more cool swimming and grassy picnic spots.

With water as clear as Pine Meadow, Lake Wanoksink has a nice little wild beach area on its southwest shore, not far from Pine Meadow.  In fact, a couple unmaintained trails connect the two lakes, so you can try both on the same hike.  Wanoksink is best reached from the Sebago Boat Launch parking area, on Seven Lakes Drive; from there, take the blue-blazed Seven Hills trail to the woods road that continues to the lake (see map, above).

Lake Sebago Beach

It’s a somewhat surreal experience to have a public beach to yourself, especially when it looks like something out of the zombie apocalypse (minus the zombies).  Swim Lake Sebago Beach while it’s still “beachy”, and before it reverts entirely to a ruin in the wilderness.

Lake Sebago Beach in Harriman State Park is closed, probably permanently.  Hurricane Irene (2011) did severe damage to the road that leads to the upper parking area, and blew the sand of the beach area all over the place.

Lake Sebago Beach, in Harriman State Park

Lake Sebago Beach, Harriman State Park. It’s closed, and it probably will be forever. See it before it’s gone. ©www.myharriman.com

But it’s still a beautiful swimming area, nestled in the northern point of Lake Sebago.  Tilting picnic tables ring the shore; you can walk the pathway that winds around the northern and southern ends of the beach.  The aquatic weeds are just beginning to assert themselves where the sand once made for pristine swimming.  One majore change, though: now it’s illegal.  You’ll have to do it, stealth-style.

Here’s how:

Throw your bikes in the car, drive to the picnic area parking lot near Lake Kanawauke, on Route 106 (between Little Long Pond and Kanawauke).  Then pedal to Kanawauke Circle, and thence southward on Seven Lakes Drive for about a mile and a half, until you reach where the road splits.  You’ll see the entrance drive to Sebago Beach on the right.  From the entrance, it’s a quarter-mile pedal in to the lake itself.

Swimming in Lake Sebago Beach, in Harriman State Park

Lake Sebago Beach — one of the three public beaches in Harriman State Park — now the private refuge of two amiable, elderly shepherds.



* The granddaddy of all internet resources on the subject of swimming holes is SwimmingHoles.org, started (and maintained) by Dave Hajdasz, in Connecticut.  I spent one wonderful day careening around the Vermont countryside on a swimming hole tour with Dave and his family for The New York Times story.  Dave knows his swimming holes, and his website will set you up for a lifetime of fun in the potholes.