While an ice cold beverage can cool you off during the dog-days of summer, the natural swimming holes found in Mt. Washington Valley, NH that we’re talking about here, are way more refreshing. Let the cool mountain streams and lakes cool you off, and make your way to each of the Mt. Washington Valley’s natural ponds and waterfalls on a hot summer day.
Echo Lake State Park: From North Conway, turn west on River Road, then left onto Old West Side Road. Then follow signs to Echo Lake State Park. The lake is set directly at the base of White Horse Ledge with dramatic views of this well-known cliff. It’s one of the few places in Mt Washington Valley where you’ll find a sandy beach. There are also picnic areas, restrooms and changing rooms. You can access hiking trails from here, too.
Pets are welcome on the Cathedral and White Horse Trails that surround Echo Lake State Park, but during the months of May 1st through October 31st, pets are are not allowed at Echo Lake.
Admission to the park is $4 for adults; $2 for children ages 6-11; children ages 5 and under and NH residents age 65 and over are admitted free.
Saco River at Hussey Field: You don’t have to go far from North Conway to find a great spot for a dip!
From North Conway, turn west on River Road from West Side Road, until you come to First Bridge. Flowing beneath it is the Saco River, and adjacent to it are fields that are perfect for a picnic, sunbathing or a game of Frisbee. Many people like to bring rafts or tubes and float in the River here as it meanders slowly. This is also a popular place to put-in a canoe or kayak, which you can rent from any of the valley’s boat purveyors.
Parking is $20.00 per car, and a parking attendant will collect your fee and direct you. Don’t risk parking on the side of the road, as you may be towed or ticketed. (Conway residents are exempt from this parking fee, as long as they prove residency by displaying a pass on their windshield, which can be picked up at Conway Town Hall.)
Jackson Falls: From Route 16A in Jackson, turn on to Carter Notch Road and follow the falls up to a picnic area at the side of the road. Climb out on to the rocks and sit in any number of small pools created by the falls. On a hot summer day, the gently flowing water will fall over your shoulders for the perfect water massage. Well-behaved pets are welcome to play in the falls as well.
Jackson Falls has a dirt parking lot overlooking the falls. There is no charge for parking, but all parking spots are limited to two-hour time limits. If you exceed this time-limit, you can be ticketed a $50.00 fine. The town of Jackson monitors the Jackson Falls parking lot, closely. You’ll also notice that there are three spots reserved for full-time (denoted by proof of car registration)Jackson residents, and are not available to visitors.
Please also be mindful to not park in the lots owned by Eagle Mountain House and The Wentworth Inn, two properties that sit at the top and bottom of Carter Notch Road. Those lots are reserved for guests of the hotels, only.
Kancamagus Highway, Lower Falls & Rocky Gorge: From Route 16 in Conway, head east on the Kancamagus Highway. Seven miles from Conway you’ll come to some of the best swimming spots in the Valley. First you’ll find Lower Falls, especially popular since it offers both fast and slow-moving water in small falls, small sandy beaches, picnic tables, parking and changing rooms. You can expect to run into fellow swimmers here as it’s very popular. It’s also important to note that the rocks at Lower Falls. Losing your footing can happen, so make sure you’re aware of your surroundings and proceed with caution.
While you can’t swim in it, the Rocky Gorge, is just 2 miles further down the road, and helps to feed the Lower Falls. Rocky Gorge offers a 10' drop and rapids through the gorge, which are too dangerous for swimmers of any ability, and swimming is prohibited in the Gorge.
You can find walking paths along the Swift River, and a bridge from which to view the gorge for a nice, leisurely, nature walk.
If you’re planning a full day of swimming, walking around the falls, and going for a scenic drive on the Kancamagus Highway, make sure you stop at Cheese Louise, just a few miles in on “the Kanc.” Cheese Louise is a locally owned spot that is serving up artisan grilled cheeses with entertaining and delicious combos, as well as freshly squeezed juices, homemade ice cream sandwiches and epic shakes! It’s a stop that the entire crew will approve of!
The parking lots for the falls are maintained by the US Forest Service via the Saco Ranger District. A $5.00 parking fee, per day is required, and is self-pay through a dispensary located at all lots. You can by check or cash, and deposit the payment in an envelope provided at the self-pay station. The envelope has a removable section, that you would fillet and hang from the rear-view mirror in your car. Once you pay the $5.00 fee in one parking lot, you are covered for all parking lots within the district for the amount of days you paid for.
You can also purchase a year-round Recreation Pass for $30.00 for one vehicle, or $40.00 for two vehicles, which is good for a year from the purchase date. Recreation fees support and enhance: public safety; recreation site maintenance and improvements; educational experiences; informational wayside exhibits; youth programs and partnerships; and interpretive programs. Current and future generations benefit as 80-95% of the funds are reinvested in the facilities and services that visitors enjoy, use, and value.
Chocorua Lake: From Conway, head south on Route 16 about 10 miles. Chocorua Lake is on the right. Not only will you find the opportunity for a cool dip, but with Mt. Chocorua at the apex of this lake, the scenery is beautiful. There are two sandy beaches on the east side of the lake. One is open to the public and the other is reserved for town residents.
Parking is open to visitors at at the public beach, free of charge. Although we do encourage visitors who make use of this parking lot and the lake to donate to the Chocorua Lake Conservancy, which maintains public access through conservation and repairs. Those who park in the resident parking lot without proper identification will be ticketed a $50.00 fine.
Chocorua Lake is dog-friendly, and dogs are required to be leashed at all times. Canoes and kayaks can be launched from the Grove or Island areas. Motorized boats are not welcome on Chocorua Lake, and boat trailers are not permitted to be backed into Chocorua Lake because of the risk of milfoil transmission.
Weston’s Beach: From Main Street in Fryeburg, go north about 3/4miles to Weston’s Farm Stand. Across the street, you’ll find a wonderful sandy beach on a curve in the Saco River, and certainly some company enjoying the wading and swimming from here. Again, this is a popular place for canoers and kayakers to put in, and the parking here makes access easy. The river is shallow enough here for the younger set too.
Parking is free at Weston’s Beach, but fills up quickly.
On your way out from the beach, make sure you stop at Weston’s Farm Stand to pick up freshly picked veggies, and locally raised meat for a BBQ with the family back at your rental. Weston’s Farm Stand also has a gift shop for New England themed gifts.
White Lake State Park: This state park, located on the southern end of the Mt. Washington Valley, in Tamworth, NH, is an example of a typical glacial lake! Created by a depression made from glacial debris during the Ice Age, White Lake gradually filled with water. Now-a-days the park offers some of the best swimming in the area, as well as a day-use area, group areas, and a campground with family campsites as well as youth group sites.
Admission to the park is $5 for adults; $2 for children ages 6-11; children ages 5 and under and NH residents age 65 and over are admitted free. Parking reservations are strongly recommended, as spaces go quickly, and once the beach area reaches capacity additional beach goers cannot be admitted. Lifeguards on duty are intermittent at the park, and not promised on a regular schedule. Swim at your own risk.