Man-made pools are nice, but no trip to Mount Washington Valley is complete without a refreshing dip in the area's natural ponds and waterfalls. When the heat of the summer seems unbearable, escape to one of these many natural watering holes and let the cool mountain stream rush over you. Take a scenic hike, combine it with a dip in any of these watering holes, and you’re sure to love life in the mountains. This is the North Country way to enjoy swimming! Here are some of the most accessible and popular spots. Take note: you won’t find lifeguards anywhere but Echo Lake State Park .
• Echo Lake State Park
From North Conway, turn west on River Road, then left onto Old West Side Road. Look for signs on the right less than a mile down. The lake is dramatically set directly at the base of White Horse Ledge. It’s one of the few places in the mountains where you’ll find a sandy beach, and there are changing rooms and a picnic area, too. Access hiking trails from here as well. A nominal parking fee is charged for entrance to this park.
• Saco River at Hussey Field
From North Conway, turn west on River Road and park roadside near the first bridge. Head for the river for your swim; the adjacent fields are perfect for a picnic, sunbathing or a game of Frisbee. Chances are, you’ll find company enjoying each of these. There’s even a place to fill your water bottles. The town of Conway with the help of local canoe liveries maintains a canoe dropoff at Hussey Field.
• Kancamagus Highway, Swift River
From Route 16 in Conway, head east on “the Kanc.” Just 7 miles from Conway in the White Mountain National Forest you’ll come to some of the best swimming spots in the Valley. NOTE: Lower Falls, especially popular since it offers both fast and slow-moving water, small sandy beaches, picnic tables, parking and changing rooms, will not be open summer 2014 for swimmers after Memorial Day as the park is undergoing renovations. Also note that designated areas along the forest require a WMNF parking pass: day passes are $3; week or multi-day passes are $5; annual passes are $20; and household passes for two passes in same household are $25. Call the Saco District at 447-5448 for further information.
• Conway Lake
The town of Conway owns a small beach at the outlet to Conway Lake. Travel east from North Conway to Center Conway on Route 302, and turn right onto Mill Street and drive close to a mile. You will see parking on the left and the small beach and boat ramp access on the right. FMI: Conway Town Hall, 447-3811 or Conway Parks and Recreation Department at 447-5680.
• Chocorua Lake
From Conway, head south on Route 16 about 10 miles. Chocorua Lake is on the right. Not only the opportunity for a cool dip, but with Mount Chocorua at the apex of this lake, the scenery is thrilling. 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.
• Jackson Falls
The federally-designated wild and scenic Wildcat River flows through the heart of picturesque Jackson Village. There is limited parking on Route 16B ( Carter Notch Road). Take Route 16 north from North Conway and turn right at the Glen intersection and continue north on Route 16. Pass through the Jackson Covered Bridge onto Route 16A and then turn right onto Route 16B.
• Weston’s Beach
From Main Street in Fryeburg, go north about 3/4 miles 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.
For more information on visiting Mount Washington Valley, call 1-800-DO-SEE-NH ( 800-367-3364) or visit www.mtwashingtonvalley.org.
UPDATED BY TE 5-20-14