The Top 5 Swimming Holes in Kentucky

As the temperature starts to rise, the best way to escape the sizzling days of summer is to grab a towel and wade, leap or swing into the best swimming hole in the neighborhood. Often less crowded than the public pools, traditional swimming holes are the best place to let your inner child (or a real one if you’ve got'em) out to play. So come join in on the fun with this list of a few of the finest natural pools the Bluegrass State has to offer!

1. FALLING ROCK PARK, AKA "THE QUARRY" IN LA GRANGE

The perfect way to beat sultry summer days near Louisville is just a 35-minute drive away to Falling Rock Park, otherwise known as "The Quarry," in La Grange. This large swimming hole is filled only by rainwater, so it’s one of the cleanest spots around to cool off in. Spend the day sunning on top of a rock along the shore or floating around on the tranquil emerald waters. There’s not a lot of natural cover here so don’t forget your sunscreen. For an extra adventure, the quarry is also a rare, inland dive spot—look for its iconic underwater pay phone!

This is an 18-and-over only swimming area and has been declared alcohol, drug, and firearm free. Flotation devices are required for anyone in the water. There is a $10 per person day-use fee and parking is available on-site.

2. RATLIFF HOLE AND POOL POINT AT BREAKS INTERSTATE PARK IN BREAKS

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Get two delightful options for the price of one at the ruggedly spectacular Breaks Interstate Park with these two summer swim spots.

Ratliff Hole on the Russell Fork River is so much more than just a scenic swimming hole: it’s also the access point for one of the prettiest stretches of paddling in Kentucky. If you get there early, this is also an excellent wading spot to fish for smallmouth bass and trout. The area also has picnic tables and bathroom facilities, so bring a picnic lunch and make a day out of it.

About 150 yards from Ratliff, cross the water to the sandy beach and follow a path around the bend downstream to Pool Point. This is more of a secret spot, with one of the best rope swings in the state.

Ratliff Hole River Access (also known as Potters Ford) is off KY 80, a short distance south of Elkhorn City, KY in Breaks Interstate Park. There is a $2 day-use fee per car for admittance. Season gate passes may be purchased at the visitor center for $26. There may be strong currents in these pools after a hard rain.

3. LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES NATIONAL RECREATION AREA IN GOLDEN POND

Between the Lakes
There are plenty of areas to go for a dip at the Land Between the Lakes.  
Photo courtesy Land Between the Lakes. 

If you’re looking for some solitude in western Kentucky, then the pastoral, easily-accessible Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is the way to go. Most folks visit the Moss Creek day-use area with picnic tables, grills, and a pebble beach for a swim; however, there are natural swimming holes aplenty in this water-filled, 170,000-acre playground. Swimming is allowed anywhere in the park except at the boat ramps and docks, so with a little looking, it’s easy to find a lush, tree-lined swimming hole for personal use. Like to earn your swim? There are also a variety of mellow hikes in the area. As a bonus, four-legged friends on a leash are welcome in most of the park—there is even a special area where they are allowed to swim too!

To get there, follow the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway, which is the main north/south road in Land Between The Lakes. There are no parking fees, but there are fees for some of the other attractions at the park.

4. GABE'S BRANCH FALLS IN AGES

Looking for something a bit more off the beaten path and clothing optional? Try Gabe's Branch. This shady spot, surrounded by rocky cliffs, is a good-sized swimming hole featuring lovely cascading falls and a nice shallow end that tapers into 8-to-10 foot deep pool. Frequented by locals for years, just follow a couple sets of stairs from the road and paradise awaits.

To get to the falls, turn onto Gabe Branch Road from State Highway 221. Gabe Branch turns into Abner Branch Road. Follow Abner Branch Road for 1.2 miles until you get to a gravel road. Park here and look for the steps. The area is remote and natural with no facilities.

5. CLIFTY CREEK AT LAKE CUMBERLAND STATE RESORT PARK IN JAMESTOWN 

Clifty Creek
Clifty Creek is surrounded by a horseshoe of slate cliffs. Photo courtesy Louisville USACE.

Once known as an epic cliff jumping site, Clifty Creek has now been deemed safer just to swim in, but what a gorgeous swim it is. Giving true meaning to the definition of "swimming hole," Clifty Creek is surrounded by a horseshoe of imposing slate cliffs—giving the impression of stepping back into a time where it wouldn’t be surprising to see a dinosaur rise out of the forest.

From Jamestown, go six miles on RT 127, then turn left on Clifty Creek Road. Follow this road for 2.3 miles to the Clifty Creek Boat Ramp at the end of the road. Take the path to the right along the lake, and it’s a short walk to the cliffs high above the lake.

Originally written by Lisa Collard for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.