Ontario’s bucket list worthy natural swimming holes
Ancient glacier activity and moving water have resulted in Ontario’s diverse geological terrain, from the vast Canadian Shield to the rocky Niagara Escarpment and endless lakes, rivers and waterfalls.
Another awesome product of nature sculptured through time are the gorgeous, crystal-clear swimming holes. Whether they’re made of limestone or sand, beneath waterfalls or beside the Great Lakes, these spots are sure to satisfy the adventurer in you.
Make your way to these seven bucket-list-worthy swimming holes in Ontario to cool off this summer.
Infinity pools are key selling features of exclusive resorts around the world, but in Ontario, nature does it even better. Bathtub Island is a small rocky oasis in Katherine Cove along the coast of Lake Superior, within Lake Superior Provincial Park.
Whether you take the short walk from Highway 17, or you hike in via the much longer Coastal Trail, you’ll need to wade through the water to reach the island. Once there, ease into a resplendent natural rock pool, replenished by the fresh lake water, overlooking the sublime Superior lakescape – the perfect spot to enjoy a summer sunset. The entry fee for the park will vary based on how long you are staying.
Next to the village of Kagawong on Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world, Bridal Veil Falls is a 11-metre cascade that plunges from the cliff edge of the Kagawong River into the deep basin below. From the falls, the current continues to feed into the North Channel of Lake Huron.
Access the swimming hole at the bottom of the falls for free from one of two small parking lots nearby on Highway 540. The closest access point leads you down a steel zigzag staircase with amazing views from observation platforms. The path connects to Manitoulin’s trail hiking system. You can even hike behind the curtain of the waterfalls for a different perspective. Seasonal washrooms are available next to the parking lot, as well as a few picnic tables.
From the sheer limestone cliffs and white sandy beach to the deep green forest surrounding the inviting teal-coloured shimmering pool almost a full hectare in size, it’s easy to see why this swimming hole is a local favourite.
Located up the Grand River from the town of Elora, an abandoned quarry has become the perfect secluded spot to cool off on a hot summer day. The Elora Quarry is managed and maintained by the Grand River Conservation Authority, and for a fee, visitors can use the park facilities including washrooms, picnic tables and barbecues. Note that dogs, alcohol or watercrafts are not permitted. Your entrance fee also grants you access to the hiking trail that around the Elora Quarry Conservation Area offering great views of the Grand River.
For all the fun of the beach without any of the worry about currents and waves, check out the Cove at Canatara Beach on Lake Huron. This kid-friendly swimming hole is safely tucked behind a small peninsula at the western end of the beach and awards a great view over Lake Huron.
Not only is the Cove secluded from the currents of Lake Huron, but it’s also nestled away from the crowds at Canatara Beach. Walk over to the beach for snacks and ice cream before settling into this peaceful spot for a picturesque dip watching Lake Huron’s legendary sunsets.
Located in the heart of Ontario’s most established wine region, and formed from the Niagara Escarpment, Twelve Mile Creeks flows by the heritage Morningstar Mill and over a dramatic cliff into DeCew Falls. At the foot of the 22-metre cascade is a scenic little pool, that shines in every season, but is especially inviting on a warm, sunny day, after an energizing hike.
DeCew Falls is accessible by bike or hike via the Bruce Trail, the oldest hiking trail in Canada, which runs along the Niagara Escarpment. You can park at the designated parking lot nearby. Be sure to follow the trail to the bottom of the falls.
One of the many gems within Killarney Provincial Park, Topaz Lake is as picturesque as its name suggests. Framed by the famous white quartzite cliffs and rugged forest, the clear, shimmering sapphire waters of this freshwater swimming spot appear like an aqua oasis.
Park fees vary based on the season and length of stay.
Once in, you’ll need to hike approximately 11 km along the Baie Fine section of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. You might recognize Topaz Lake if you’re a fan of the Group of Seven, as it was featured in Arthur Lismer’s “Bright Land.” In fact, it was due to Group of Seven’s influence that Killarney became a provincial park in the first place.
Just outside of Wanapitei Provincial Park, the Chiniguchi River runs through the Wolf Lake Forest Reserve down several cataracts into an enchanting swimming basin aptly named Paradise Lagoon, or Blue Lagoon to locals.
It’s a challenge to get to this spot, which makes it even more precious.
Last updated: January 24, 2023