Open Swim: Places Around the DC Area that Welcome the Public to Take a Dip

Cool off in the river at Patapsco Valley State Park


It’s summer, it’s blazing hot, and many of us are looking for places to enjoy the quintessential seasonal activity — swimming! — to cool off and have some fun. I’ve recently shared a couple of links with some beach and swimming hole recs, but they weren’t especially comprehensive and/or lacked details, so I decided to compile my own round-up of places around the area to take a dip. We’ve been to many of these spots, and those we haven’t visited either get kudos from friends or have been touted enough by other resources to warrant inclusion. And if you know of other great locales to swim that are within day trip distance, feel free to share in the comments.

BEACHES on the BAY

Sandy Point State Park
Where: 1100 East College Parkway | Annapolis, MD
Hours: Daily, 7am – sunset
Admission: $5-7/May – Sept weekends, $4-6/weekdays

Enjoy views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from the beach at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis. At nearly 800 acres, it’s a big beach park with lots of recreational opportunities — swimming, picnicking, fishing, crabbing, hiking, and more. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there are lifeguards on duty. And snack food and beach and picnic supplies are available.

Calvert Cliffs State Park
Where: 10540 H. G. Trueman Road | Lusby, MD
Hours: Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: $8/vehicle

Well known as a fossil hunting locale — as its cliffs erode, prehistoric remains of marine life are revealed — but it’s also nice for beach fun, swimming, and hiking. To access the beach, you have to tramp a couple of miles through woods (and there are even more trails if you’re up for it), but the walk is worth it for some sand and surf. Open daily sunrise – sunset, and admission is $5-7/vehicle.

Flag Ponds Nature Park
Where: 1525 Flag Ponds Parkway | Lusby, MD
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am – 6pm | Sat-Sunday, 9am – 8pm
Admission: $8/vehicle

Not only is there plenty of sand for playing and nice mellow waters for swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, it’s also a great spot for fossil hunting — look for shark teeth and other prehistoric remnants along the shores while you’re there, too! Hours are 9am – 6pm on weekdays and 9am – 8pm weekends from Memorial to Labor Day. Admission is $8/car. See more pics of Flag Ponds, and check out the official site here. Note: The park is currently open to Calvert County residents only, but this could change, so check back.

Bayfront Park
Where: 7255 Bayside Road | Chesapeake, MD
Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk
Admission: $18/adult, $10/child for non county residents

A nice little spot in Chesapeake Beach, MD. With a small but nice stretch of sand, gentle shallow water, shark teeth to fin, and cliffs edging the shoreline, it’s a great place to spend a day — especially with little ones since they can’t roam too far. The only downside is the steep admission fee. Note: The park is currently open to Calvert County residents only, but this could change, so check back.

Cape Henlopen State Park
Where: Lewes, DE
Hours: Open daily, 8am – sunset
Admission: $8-10/vehicle

It’s a little over two hours from DC, but still doable as a day trip if you leave early, especially on a weekday when there is less traffic. We just did this and had a fantastic day at the beach — packed up the car with a cooler and beach gear, got on the road early, and were on the beach by 10:30am. Enjoyed dinner outdoors and ice cream in town before heading back, arrived home at 9:15pm. Totally worth the time in the car.

LAKES & RIVERS

Patapsco Valley State Park
Where: 8020 Baltimore National Pike | Ellicott City, MD
Hours: Daily, 9am – sunset
Admission: $3-5/person weekend, $2-4/vehicle weekdays

There are several nice, shallow swimming areas in the park’s Patapsco River, most notably in the Avalon section near Cascade Falls. There are several entrances, and Avalon and Hilton are closest to that area. Depending on where you park, there is some up (and down) hill hiking on rooty trails, something to be aware of with little trampers. KFDC Tip: If an area is at capacity and closed, try another part of the park instead — list of areas via main park link above. See some pics from a visit there. (Note: A KFDC readers just alerted me that Howard County is not allowing river swimming as of July 1. While this is not reflected on the Patapsco Valley State Park website, be aware that it may not be permitted thee.)

Cunningham Falls State Park
Where: 14039 Catoctin Hollow Road | Thurmont, MD
Hours: Daily, 8am – sunset
Admission: $3-5/person

There are two parts to this park, and the lakes and beautiful waterfall (and camping) are located in the William Houck Area, three miles west of Thurmont on Route 77. The lake area welcomes swimmers and has a beach for hanging out. You can wade in the pools of the falls area, too. It’s a short hike to access, and there are a couple of trails to take, the half-mile Lower Trail is easy, and the 3/4 Cliffs Trail is more difficult with lots of rock scrambling.

Purse State Park
Where: Nanjemoy, MD
Hours: Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free

This is best if your main purpose is fossil hunting — it’s a great place to go for it — and you want to get in some “beach” time, too. Wear swimsuits, bring a picnic, and be sure to check the tide table so you can make the most of your time there.

Point Lookout State Park
Where: 11175 Point Lookout Road | Scotland, MD
Hours: Open daily, 7am – sunset weekdays, 6am – sunset weekends
Admission:

Located on a peninsula between the Chesapeake and the Potomac, the park includes a beach area where visitors can hang out and swim on the river side. A picnic area shaded by trees is nearby and close to the parking lot as well.

Gunpowder Falls State Park
Where: 7200 Graces Quarters Road | Middle River, MD
Hours: Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: $5-7/person

There are six areas of the park, and a swimming beach on the banks of the Gunpowder River is in the Hammerman Area, which is located in Middle River, MD. There are also playgrounds, canoe and kayak rentals, and hiking trails if you want more recreation.

Aguia Landing Park
Where: Stafford, VA
Hours: Open daily 8am – 8pm
Admission: $3-4.50/child, $4-6.50/adult

I read about this park in this article that I recently shared on the blog about beaches within day trip distance. It gets so-so reviews on Yelp, but there is a swimming beach with access to


SWIMMING HOLES & CREEKS

Seneca Creek
Where: 16315 Old River Road | Poolesville, MD
When: Ongoing
Admission: Free

Mentioned in this article, this “hidden” spot is located right off River Road on the way to Homestead Farm and the sunflower bloom at McKee-Beshers. You can apparently park at the Seneca Store parking lot (see address listed), and walk through a small field to the creek. Update: A KFDC reader just let me know you can’t park in the lot anymore, so you have to drive down the road a bit and park on the side of the road.

Overall Run
Where: Shenandoah National Park, VA
Hours: Ongoing
Admission: $30/vehicle

The flowing water from Overall Run Falls pools into a swimming hole that can be a nice reward after a long hike or an easier spot to access if you just want to swim. To keep it low key start from the Thompson Hollow trail head; for a long loop start at the Matthews Arm parking lot. FYI – We’ve done a portion of the hike to these falls before, but they were mostly dry, so I recommend doing some research (perhaps calling the park to check) before you go.

White Oak Canyon Trail
Where: Shenandoah National Park, VA
Hours: Ongoing
Admission: $30/vehicle

According to the NPS website, there are a range of hikes on this trail, from an easy two miles to a strenuous seven, to the waterfalls with several swimming holes along the way. It’s apparently popular, so expect to share the path and waters with others.

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU GO

* Generally, weekdays are less crowded than weekends at places.

* Capacity is limited at many spots, especially during COVID, so it’s best to get to places early or in the afternoon after early people leave.

* It’s a good idea to have a Plan B in case you do get turned away. See what other activities are nearby a location, so you can save the day, especially if it’s a long drive.

Do you know of other good swimming spots around the area? Please share in the comments, if so!


11 Comments

Filed under All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DC, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Social Distancing, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

11 Responses to Open Swim: Places Around the DC Area that Welcome the Public to Take a Dip

  1. Merrill Hoopengardner

    Shenandoah RIVER STATE Park (not the National Park) is lovely and you can swim or wade or splash in the river. The water is slow moving in that section of river and not more than a couple of feet deep so it is great for lounging (some people bring beach chairs!), or pushing a tube around. A lot of kids had masks and snorkels last weekend – good for spotting fish or crayfish in the grassy/sandy/rocky bottom.

  2. Lauren

    Greenbrier State Park up near Frederick has lake swimming and a small beach.

    Anne Arundel County out near Annapolis has a few bay/river beaches: Mayo Beach, Fort Smallwood Park, Beverly Triton Park, Quiet Waters

    • Linda @ KidFriendly DC

      Thanks for all of these recs! Can you definitely swim at all of them? We’ve been to Quiet Waters and have kayaked there, but haven’t seen anyone swimming.

      • Lauren

        Not positive, but I thought I’d read it. Greenbrier and Fort Smallwood are the only ones I’ve personally been to.

      • Elizabeth

        Yes you can absolutely swim at Mayo Beach, that is what it is for. Note it is only open on the weekends which is a bummer because it is a lovely real beach. Beverly Triton is open during the week for swimming, but it is more natural ie there is not trucked-in sand or a close parking lot or any amenities. You have to hike quite a while in the woods to get to the spots where you can swim. Both of these, and Quiet Waters, get jellyfish starting in July so make sure to check charts on that before going. I dont know Fort Smallwood.

  3. Masha Sharma

    Bryce Resort has a lake and a small beach – its 2 hours away from DC

  4. Lauren

    https://www.theswimguide.org/find is how I found some of these. And it gives water quality data too, which is nice.

  5. Erin

    Check MD state parks on Twitter or on their website before going. They update When they close the park to new visitors.

  6. Lindsay

    We love leesylvania state park for beach and swimming!

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