America's Secret Swimming Holes

Launch yourself into the country's sexiest natural spots to cool off! From the aquamarine waters of Havasu Falls to a crystal-blue oasis in New Mexico, these places are hidden and hard to reach but well worth the adventure.

Photos

Go From Sea to Sky in Squamish

Go From Sea to Sky in Squamish

While Whistler, the much-praised ski resort just north of Vancouver, certainly has its charms, don’t blaze past the little town of Squamish on the road to get there. Low-key Squamish is now home to the Sea to Sky Gondola, a ride that soars 3,000 feet from the ocean to the peaks of the Coast Mountains, allowing everyone access to jaw-dropping views of glacial lakes, fjords, rain forests and the occasional bald eagle sighting. Once you get to the top, set out on one of eight different hiking trails, rock climb, traverse the 100-meter-long suspension bridge, stop for lunch at the Summit Restaurant or watch a glowing sun set over snow-topped mountains at the Edge bar. 960 1280

Kristin Piljay  

Take a Boat to the Sunshine Coast

Take a Boat to the Sunshine Coast

At just 45-minutes, the ferry ride across the shimmery blue sound from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast is minimal, but the transformation it sets off is anything but. This aptly named 50-mile stretch of coastline north of Vancouver, typically sunnier than the rest of the province and only accessible by ferry, feels so removed and brimming with nature even locals forget they are still on the mainland and not a remote island. Head up to the laid back town of Egmont, a seafarer’s nirvana and point of departure for the five-hour boat ride through the Princess Louisa Inlet, where you can glide through pine-covered cliffs to the thundering Chatterbox waterfalls. 960 1280

Jason Poole  

Hike Skookumchuck Narrows

Hike Skookumchuck Narrows

Just outside of Egmont on the Sunshine Coast, take the easy hike to Skookumchuck Narrows to see tidal changes so extreme that even surfers can catch waves on the rushing waters. The billions of gallons of ocean that gush through the narrow inlet here has become a playground for expert kayakers; they perform 360 flips to the cheers of onlookers who have hiked an hour through the lush forest of Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park to watch their tricks. Kayakers and audience alike taste the thrill of interacting with the wild Skookumchuck – a word that means “strong waters” in Chinook, a local native language.  960 1280

Steve Glass  

Get Back to Nature at the Gulf Islands

Get Back to Nature at the Gulf Islands

Vancouver is celebrated as one of the greenest cities in the world, but it is the verdant islands that surround Vancouver – where orca whales breach and blackberries seem to pick themselves for you – that transport its visitors to the Garden of Eden. For a quiet retreat, try Galiano, one of the Gulf Islands between mainland B.C. and Vancouver Island. Visit unspoiled beaches only accessible by kayak, watch seaplanes come in for a landing at the marina, but most importantly, watch the sun set over Montague Harbour, an unforgettable spectacle of color. 960 1280

Danita Delimont  

Ski at Big White

Ski at Big White

While many Canadians claim that Whistler is the best ski resort in North America, it’s certainly not the only place to click into your bindings in British Columbia. If you want to have a far more affordable ski experience and almost no lift lines, head to the more remote ski slopes of Big White, just outside of the town of Kelowna in the Southern Interior of B.C. Without the crowds and the hefty lift fees, but ample first rate amenities to make you feel at home, the whole family can ski with ease. Perhaps go fully Nordic by dog sledding or snow shoeing on their 25 kilometers of cross-country trails. 960 1280

Don Weixl  

Bike the Seawall in Vancouver's Stanley Park

Bike the Seawall in Vancouver's Stanley Park

Vancouver is one of the densest metropolises in Canada, but when sitting by the edge of Beaver Lake, a calm refuge deep in the heart of Stanley Park, you forget entirely about the buzz of the city. This 1,001-acre park that borders the city’s downtown is a rarity amongst great urban parks: huge swaths of it are undeveloped and home to towering coastal forests and abundant wildlife. And Stanley Park is almost entirely surrounded by water, making the bike ride along its 6.2-mile sea wall a series of one stunning ocean view after another. Whether you catch its renown cherry blossoms in the spring or the crimson big leaf maples in the fall, nature’s bounty is here, minutes from the busy sidewalks of the city. 960 1280

JTB Photo  

Surf in Tofino

Surf in Tofino

Take Vancouver Island’s Highway Four all the way to its end on the very tip of the westernmost side of the island, and you will find yourself in Tofino, a small town with a very big reputation. The outdoor adventurer’s paradise with a temperate climate, the town has adopted the moniker of “Tree Loving Capital of the World,” and is also known for its excellent whale and storm watching. But its biggest claim to fame is its unofficial title as the surf capital of Canada. With consistent waves to accommodate all levels of surfers and decent year round weather, it’s become Canada’s most appealing place to catch a swell. 960 1280

Design Pics / Deddeda  

Rabbits on Okunoshima, Japan

Rabbits on Okunoshima, Japan

During World War II, Japan used the island of Okunoshima for producing chemical weapons. Now, it’s a much happier place that’s better known as Rabbit Island, because it is home to hundreds of wild bunnies. The adorable inhabitants of this popular tourist destination hop up to visitors in search of scratches and snacks. 960 1280

Chris McGrath/Getty Images   

Pigs on Big Major Cay, Bahamas

Pigs on Big Major Cay, Bahamas

Bet you never thought of swimming with pigs as an adventure on your next vacation in the Bahamas. But that’s just what visitors can do on Big Major Cay, aka Pig Beach, in the Exuma archipelago. There are several theories on how the growing colony of 20 or so pigs landed on the island, but with 1 snort from those adorable sandy snouts, you won’t even care. 960 1280

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism   

Lemurs in Madagascar

Lemurs in Madagascar

There are about 100 species and subspecies of these primates, and all of them are native only to the African island of Madagascar, one of the most biodiverse destinations in the world. Some are as small as a mouse; others can be the size of a big house cat. Conservation efforts have continued to grow, as many of the lemur populations are in danger of extinction. 960 1280

Cyril Ruoso/Minden Pictures/Getty Images   

6-Toed Cats in Key West

6-Toed Cats in Key West

The official term is polydactyl, meaning "many digits," but they’re also called Hemingway cats. That’s because a ship captain gave Ernest Hemingway a cat with this genetic abnormality. The author was fascinated and began collecting and breeding others. Forty or 50 cats — about half of them polydactyl — still live at the Hemingway Home in Key West, and the small island has a higher-than-normal percentage of 6-toed felines. 960 1280

Georges DeKeerle/Hulton Archive/Getty Images   

Red Crabs on Christmas Island

Red Crabs on Christmas Island

Tens of millions of red crabs live on the 52 square miles of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. Every year at the beginning of the rainy season, usually in November or December, they migrate from the forests to the coast to breed, creating a bright red parade that shuts down roads on the island. 960 1280

Stephen Belcher/Minden Pictures/Getty Images   

Giant Pandas in China

Giant Pandas in China

A symbol of the country, these critically endangered bears are now found only in a small section of mountain forests in central China; by last count, there were fewer than 2,000 left in the wild. Beyond that, almost all of the pandas in captivity elsewhere in the world still technically belong to China and are being "leased" to other countries. 960 1280

iStockphoto.com/Oktay Ortakcioglu  

Giant Tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Giant Tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The islands made famous by Charles Darwin’s study of evolution have a number of unique animal species, but the 1 that most often comes to mind is the giant tortoise. In fact, its official name is the Galapagos tortoise. These vertebrates live to be an average of at least 100 years old in the wild and can grow to be more than 600 pounds. 960 1280

  

Wild Ponies on Assateague Island, MD/VA

Wild Ponies on Assateague Island, MD/VA

More than 300 wild horses live on the Assateague Island National Seashore, half in Virginia and half in Maryland. Visitors who take a boat ride along the inland waterway can often see groups of the animals grazing among the grasses of the salt marsh. Every July, thousands of spectators gather on neighboring Chincoteague Island to watch the traditional Pony Swim. 960 1280

National Park Service   

Cape Fur Seals on Seal Island, South Africa

Cape Fur Seals on Seal Island, South Africa

There are 60,000 seals living (and lounging) on this island in False Bay. Oddly enough, the destination may be just as famous for the great white sharks that patrol the surrounding waters and feed on the island’s namesake inhabitants. Visitors can catch one of many boats from the mainland in hopes of witnessing the unbelievable sight of a predator jumping out of the water to devour its prey. 960 1280

David Jenkins/Robert Harding World Imagery/Getty Images  

Corgis in England

Corgis in England

Even though these short-legged dogs are a Welsh breed, they’re most often associated with England, thanks to Queen Elizabeth II, who has owned more than 30 of them. London even used one in an adorable promotional campaign. The queen declared in 2015 that she wouldn’t be getting any more new corgis, but luckily, you can see them outside the United Kingdom, too! 960 1280

Carl Court/Getty Images   

Koalas in Australia

Koalas in Australia

Sure, Australia has a number of endemic species, including kangaroos and emus. But no trip Down Under is complete without getting your photo taken with a fuzzy little koala. Because of habitat destruction, these marsupials (they’re not bears!) are now found in the wild only in eastern Australia. 960 1280

Adam Bruzzone/Tourism Australia  

Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

The estimated 800 remaining mountain gorillas actually live in 3 countries in central Africa, but the population in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is the most famous, thanks to Dian Fossey, who studied it for nearly 20 years and wrote about her experiences in Gorillas in the Mist. Even Breaking Borders hosts Michael Voltaggio and Mariana van Zeller stopped for a glimpse of these giant primates, which live in groups led by a dominant male called a silverback. 960 1280

Panoramic Images/Getty Images   

Bengal Tigers in India

Bengal Tigers in India

Bengal tigers are the most common kind of tiger — relatively speaking, of course, considering that all 6 of the remaining tiger subspecies are endangered. The biggest population lives in India, whose Ranthambore National Park is known as the best place to still see these majestic cats in the wild. 960 1280

Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images   

Penguins in Antarctica

Penguins in Antarctica

Penguins crowded on a barren, white expanse of snow and ice — that’s what many people imagine Antarctica to look like. About a third of penguin species live and/or breed on the southernmost continent, including the largest, emperor penguins. The flightless birds’ waterproof coats, fatty insulation and amazing swimming skills come in handy in this harsh environment. 960 1280

Paul Souders/Photolibrary/Getty Images   

Komodo Dragons in Indonesia

Komodo Dragons in Indonesia

They may not be as cute as koalas or lemurs, but Komodo dragons, which are found only on a few Indonesian islands, are just as fascinating. Weighing as much as 300 pounds or more, they are the largest living lizards. Their size, combined with an acute sense of smell, powerful claws, serrated teeth and a venomous bite, makes them ferocious predators.  960 1280

Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images   

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park

Near the center of Arches National Park you’ll find the Garden of Eden -- so named because its rocky shapes resemble flowers and trees. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

North Window, Arches National Park

North Window, Arches National Park

This 90-foot-wide portal known as the North Window is one of many natural sandstone arches you’ll find at Arches National Park. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Arches National Park is home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. The 65-foot Delicate Arch is its most famous. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

In addition to its famed arches, Arches National Park’s colorful geography includes maze-like narrow passages and tall rock columns. You can find this view directly opposite the Delicate Arch. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Hiking at Arches

Hiking at Arches

Two hikers journey back from the Delicate Arch. The three-mile trail (round-trip) is moderately strenuous, and takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes each way. Bring plenty of water! 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch

Enjoy a shaded rest from the Moab desert sun. This trail at Arches National Park leads through deep sand; a secluded arch, Sand Dune Arch, waits up ahead. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Wolfe Ranch Cabin

Wolfe Ranch Cabin

In the late 1800s, a Civil War veteran named John Wesley Wolfe and his son built this one-room cabin in what is now Arches National Park. For more than 10 years, Wolfe lived on this rugged ranch, where the area’s water and desert grassland were enough to sustain a few cattle. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

The Moab area is also home to Canyonlands National Park. Erosion over millions of years produced the many canyons, buttes and mesas -- including Mesa Arch. 960 1280

Alex Proimos, flickr  

Hell’s Revenge

Hell’s Revenge

Ready to take on Hell’s Revenge? This steep slick rock trail may make your pulse race as you tackle its hair-raising descents on a Razor ride. It’s located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area, a sandstone plateau of slick rock domes, bowls and fins. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Porcupine Rim Trail

Porcupine Rim Trail

A mountain biker tackles Porcupine Rim Trail, one of two trails within the Sand Flats Recreation Area. The steep, rocky terrain, which stretches nearly 15 miles, challenges even the most experienced mountain bikers. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Moab Cowboy

Moab Cowboy

Meet the Moab Cowboy -- that's what locals call Kent Green. For more than 20 years, Green served as a deputy sheriff and search-and-rescue commander in the Moab area. Today, he leads off-road adventures. His no. 1 rule: Never travel alone. 960 1280

Lisa Singh   

Moab Dinosaur Footprints

Moab Dinosaur Footprints

Check out these fossilized dinosaur footprints during a Razor ride through the Sand Flats Recreation Area with the Moab Cowboy. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Big Bend Recreation Area

Big Bend Recreation Area

Moab is a rock climber’s dream. Enjoy bouldering at the Big Bend Recreation Area along the Colorado River, northeast of Moab. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Colorado River

Colorado River

Take in the view of the Colorado River from Scenic Byway 128, with awe-inspiring views of red standstone cliffs just beyond. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Fisher Towers, Colorado River

Fisher Towers, Colorado River

River guide Arne Hultquist leads a whitewater rafting trip through the Fishers Tower section of the Colorado River. The area comprises a series of towers made of sandstone; they’re named after a miner who lived in the area in the 1880s. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Matrimony Spring

Matrimony Spring

Fill up at Matrimony Spring, a natural spring along Byway 128. Legend has it that anyone who drinks from the spring will continue to return to Moab. The water that issues forth begins its journey as snowmelt from the La Sal Mountains, 20 miles southeast of Moab. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point

Get ready to say “wow” at Dead Horse Point. The park features a stunning overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The area also served as the final film scene for the 1991 classic "Thelma & Louise." 960 1280

Mike Nielsen, flickr  

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