When the weather gets hot, many of us start looking for places to enjoy the quintessential warm-weather activity — swimming! — to cool off and have some fun. This round-up of places around the area to take a dip includes lakes, rivers, swimming holes, the Chesapeake Bay, and even the Atlantic. We’ve been to most 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 and I’ll add them.
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
Well known as a fossil hunting locale — as its cliffs erode, prehistoric remains of marine life are revealed — but it’s even better 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/MD residents, $7/out-of-state visitors.
Flag Ponds Nature Park
Where: 1525 Flag Ponds Parkway | Lusby, MD
Hours: Friday & Monday, 9am – 4pm | Saturday & Sunday, 9am – 5pm
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! Note that hours are 9am – 6pm on weekdays and 9am – 8pm weekends from Memorial to Labor Day. Admission is $15/car. See more pics of Flag Ponds, and check out the official site here.
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 find, 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. [Update: Now closed to the public.]
Where: 8916 Chesapeake Ave | North Beach, MD
When: 8am – Dusk or 8pm
Admission: $25/adult, $10/age 3-11, free/2 & under
With Brownies now closed, this is the one beach in the Chesapeake Beach area that is accessible to the public. It’s not a top recommendation, but it’s an option. There is a small beach area, parking is tough since most spots are designated for town residents, and admission is steep –$70 for a family of four. Read more reviews of it here. (Disclosure: It’s been maaaany years since we visited, since we weren’t thrilled with it even when admission was much less.)
Mayo Beach Park
Where: Edgewater, MD
When: Memorial Day-Labor Day | Fri 4-7pm, Sat & Sun 9am – 7pm
Added per a reader comment below, this park in Anne Arundle County is open for swimming in summer, and it looks like a nice spot to enjoy some sand and surf. Passes to access the beach park must be reserved in advance.Be sure to know other beach rules like no grills or dogs allowed.
Cape Henlopen State Park
Where: Lewes, DE
Hours: Open daily, 8am – sunset
It’s a little over two hours from DC (and on the Atlantic), 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 we 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. Read more about Cape Henlopen in this KFDC post.
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 — see the list of areas via main park link above.
Cunningham Falls State Park
Where: 14039 Catoctin Hollow Road | Thurmont, MD
Hours: Daily, 8am – sunset
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
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. The post via above link has more details on that!
Point Lookout State Park
Where: 11175 Point Lookout Road | Scotland, MD
Hours: Open daily, 7am – sunset weekdays, 6am – sunset weekends
Admission: $5/vehicle in-state resident, $7/out-of-state
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
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.
Greenbrier State Park
Where: 21843 National Pike | Boonsboro, MD
When: 8am – sunset
Admission: $3/MD resident, $5/non-MD resident
Recommended by KFDC contributor Emily, the park located just over an hour’s drive from DC has a man-made freshwater lake where visitors can swim, paddle, boat, and fish. Swimming is only allowed from May through September in designated areas when swim ropes are in place, with lifeguards there Memorial Day to Labor Day, 11am – 6pm. (Swimming permitted at your own risk when lifeguards are not on duty and swim ropes are in place.) For more recreation, there are hiking trails and campsites available.
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.
Mason Neck State Park
Where: Lorton, VA
When: Park open daily, 8am – 9pm, swimming in summer
Admission: $7/car on weekdays, $10 on weekends.
Located on a peninsula, the park has small beach areas on Belmont Bay. There are no designated swim spots, but we’ve seen people taking a dip when we’ve been. You could also just wade knee or ankle-deep in the shallow areas near the shore. It’s especially nice to cool off after hiking through the woods or on boardwalks over wetland areas. For more fun on the water, paddling rentals are available.
Westmoreland State Park
Where: 145 Cliff Rd | Montross, VA
When: Daily, dawn to dusk
A good two hours’ drive from DC, Westmoreland State Park could be a long day trip or even overnight “beach” destination. There are a couple of beach areas in the park, one of them Fossil Beach, known as a good shark tooth hunting spot. The sandy stretches along the Potomac River are pretty and nice places to hang out, with about a quarter-mile beach area backed by grassy wetlands and cliffs on each side. The beaches are not official swim spots, so swimming is at your own risk. (When I was there, the water looked very mellow, but that’s not always guaranteed.) The park also has camping spots and cabins, plus paddling and hiking opportunities.
Lake Anna State Park
Where: 6800 Lawyers Road | Spotsylvania, VA
When: Weekends, 10am – 7pm | Weekdays, 10am – 6pm
Admission: $7/weekdays per vehicle, $10/weekends
Popular as a weekend (or even longer) destination, Lake Anna is also good for a day trip being less than two hours’ drive from DC. It’s especially great with little ones, since it’s very organized with a designated beach/swim area, lifeguards, a bathhouse for changing and restrooms, and a snack bar — all from Memorial Day to Labor Day for the most part (note that above hours are for this time period, though snack bar and bathhouse times will change starting August 11 due to renovations).
SWIMMING HOLES & CREEKS
Where: 16315 Old River Road | Poolesville, MD
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.
Where: Shenandoah National Park, VA
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
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 some spots, 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!