Summer is just plain hot no matter where you live in the United States – from the 120 degree “but it’s a dry heat” temperatures of the Arizona desert, to the hot, sticky humidity that besieges the South, to the muggy heat of the Midwest and Northeast. Everyone needs a place to cool off, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck belly-flopping on the backyard Slip ‘n Slide or fighting for space at the community pool. Here are seven places that are not your run-of-the-mill water parks to splash around in this summer.
Tubing the Guadalupe near New Braunfels, Texas
Texans know how to keep cool in the heat of the summer and they do that by heading to the 250-mile long Guadalupe River, where they raft, tube or canoe though the waters or fish and camp along the limestone banks, where bald cypress and pecan trees grow and keep the river mostly shady. This river is just north of San Antonio, so you can drive in for a day trip or plan to stay along the river banks for a few days.
Tubing on the river is extremely popular and there is no shortage of tube rental shops such as River Sports Tubes that provide the tubes as well as cooler and lifejacket rentals. Most of the larger rental companies have easy stair access to the river. They also provide shuttle buses once you’ve completed your float down the river.
No glass or Styrofoam is allowed on the river but dogs are welcome so you can bring Fido, so long as he is well behaved and likes the water.
Surfing the waves at Big Surf in Tempe, Arizona
Big Surf has been an icon in the Tempe (just outside of Phoenix) landscape since 1969 and was one of America’s first water parks.
Over the years the park has expanded and now offers multiple twisty, turny waterslides (including some made just for kids), two kids’ areas, and three volleyball courts, but most visitors keep coming here for the waves.
Surfers from all over the country have learned to surf here. It has one of the largest wave pools in the U.S. and waves are consistently over four feet high. You can try bodysurfing or rent a raft, and with real sand imported from California, it truly feels like you are at the beach.
White-water rafting in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, TN
Along the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park lies the Big Pigeon River, which offers great whitewater rafting adventures for both families and thrill seekers.
The lower Pigeon offers a calm, wavy ride ideal for those with small children (kayaking and tubing are also possible here on the more placid section) while the Upper Pigeon offers Class II-IV rapids for the more adventurous.
Both sections of the river have great scenery and summer time temperatures are usually only in the 80’s. Trips are generally about five miles long and several local outfitters and guides are available.
For the best rafting experience, plan your rafting trip for a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday. This is when the dam has planned releases letting more water down the river.
Swimming with the manatees in Crystal River, Florida
Manatees-those big, over-weight sea cows, are just so cute, and swimming with them gives you a chance to see them up close. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida has the largest concentration of Manatees in the world. This river has a year-round Manatee population of about 35-50 with thousands more that migrate here in the winter months.
Tours are offered to swim with the gentle, lovable creatures. Early morning is the ideal time to go and it’s best to bring (or rent) a snorkel so you can see them swimming underwater. If snorkeling isn’t your thing there are also tours that allow visitors to scuba dive or kayak alongside the manatees.
It’s important to remember that you will be in the Manatee’s natural habitat and should behave as such. Most tour operators are required to show a video in cooperation with The United States Fish and Wildlife Service which has strict rules on how to behave around the manatees.
Swimming laps at the largest swimming pool in the U.S. at the Biltmore Hotel near Miami, Florida
This isn’t your average resort swimming pool. The pool at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was built in 1926 and has been the main attraction at the hotel since it opened.
A haven for movie stars and celebrities, Johnny Weissmuller who played Tarzan, was a swimming teacher here. The pool is 23,000 square feet and 700,000 gallons and is the largest in the U.S. Try swimming from one end to the other and you’ll see what kind of shape you are in.
The hotel offers poolside cabanas for rent, butlers, chaise lounges and banana-leaf fans. If you need a break from lounging poolside, the resort also has a world-class spa, an 18-hole Donald Ross designed golf course and 10 tennis courts.
Hanging ten with the surfers at Huntington Beach, California
Surf City U.S.A. is one of the top surf spots in the world and home to the USA surf team. Professional surfers have been coming here since 1959 and while the boardwalk has changed over the years, the waves remain the same. The surf is rated as one of the most consistent, giving surfers a great ride year round.
Visitors can hang out on the beach, swim in the ocean, surf the waves or just watch the pros who come every summer to compete in the US Open of Surfing.
The pier at Huntington Beach offers non-surfers a great place to watch people “hang ten”. It’s also a popular fishing pier and even has a bait shop and fish cleaning stations. Ruby’s diner is located at the end of the pier and has a great collection of authentic surfing memorabilia including surfboards. Just across the street, is Main Street in Huntington Beach which has a great selection of restaurants and shopping.
Diving into a swimming hole in Ithaca, New York
Named by SwimmingHoles.org as one of the best swimming holes in the U.S., Robert H. Treman State Park boasts a natural swimming hole with a diving board letting swimmers plunge into a deep pool at the foot of a huge waterfall.
The water is cold and refreshing even during the hottest part of the summer. Changing rooms are available and lifeguards are on duty (Memorial Day through Labor Day) making it safe for the whole family.
The Robert H. Treman Park also has 11 other waterfalls, including Lucifer Falls, a 115 foot waterfall where visitors can see a mile and a half down the wooded gorge. There are over nine miles of hiking trails along with camping and RV sites making this a great outdoor retreat.