8 natural swimming spots within two hours of Philly

Blue Marsh Lake is a man-made body of water built and maintained by the Philadelphia District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As summer temps soar into the 90s, there are few better feelings than taking the plunge into a pool of cool, crisp water. While Philly has plenty of public pools where you can splash the day away, consider embarking on a mini-adventure to one of the natural swimming spots within the region.

From sandy beach-lined lakes, to tubing-ready rivers, to dreamy pine tree-lined streams, swimming holes of all sorts can be found less than a two-hour drive from the city’s center.

We’ve ordered the following eight spots by their distance from Philadelphia’s City Hall, with the closest swimming haven, Bellmawr Lake, requiring about a 30-minute drive (or less!), and the farthest destination, Beltzville State Park, about an hour and a half away.

Pack a picnic, put on your hiking shoes, and prepare for a lovely outdoor outing at one of these nearby swimmable spots. A few deep breaths in nature make the first plunge into the water feel that much better.

*Ordered by approximate distance from City Hall. Travel times will vary based on traffic conditions.

Bellmawr Lake (approximately 30-minute drive)

Located in southern New Jersey, Bellmawr Lake provides a quick getaway outside of the city. From beach volleyball to mini golf to horseshoes, the seven-day-a-week spot offers not only a lake complete with a lifeguard, but plenty of family-oriented activities to fill the day. Picnic areas are available, as is a “Beach Bar,” serving up casual eats in the event you don’t bring your own food. While coolers are permitted, don’t pack them with beer — alcohol is prohibited.

850 Creek Rd., Bellmawr, N.J. $11 for adults ($9 on weekdays); $8 for children ages 11 and under ($7 on weekdays). bellmawrlake.net.

Brandywine River Tubing (approximately 35-minute drive)

Camera icon Talene Iskenian
Tubers on the Brandywine River.

Slow and fairly shallow, the Brandywine River is the spot to visit if you’re seeking a super relaxing tube-floating experience. You won’t encounter any rapids here, but you’ll likely hit some deeper swimming holes — perfect for stopping to take a quick dip during your ride. Several companies provide organized trips, including Wilderness Canoe Trips, based out of Wilmington, which caters to those interested in both tubing and kayaking. Tubing excursions, which leave daily at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., include tubes and transportation to and from the river.

Wilderness Canoe Trips, 2111 Concord Pike, Wilmington. $23 per person; reservations required. wildernesscanoetrips.com.

Parvin State Park (approximately 44-minute drive)

Home to 400-plus acres on the edge of the Pine Barrens, Parvin State Park is an excellent spot to head out for a hike, after which you can cool down at the beachside lake. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day, the pet-friendly swimming area also offers canoe rentals, a concession stand, and playgrounds on both sides of the beach.

Parvin State Park, 701 Almond Rd., Pittsgrove Township, N.J. $2 per person. state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/parvin.html.

Atsion Recreation Area (approximately 52-minute drive)

Located in the Wharton State Forest, the Atsion Recreation Area features a popular, lifeguard-attended lake. The lake fills up fast, so be sure to call ahead or plan to head out on the early side to snag a spot in the parking lot. Or, better yet, reserve a site in the area’s campground and make a weekend of it.

Route 206, Shamong Township, N.J. $10 per carload on weekends and holidays for N.J. residents ($20 for non-N.J. residents); $5 per carload on weekdays ($10 for non-N.J. residents). state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/wharton.html.

Pine Barrens Canoeing (approximately 70-minute drive)

Paddle around the majestic Pine Barrens by canoe and stop off along the way to swim and picnic along one of the many beaches. The area is rich with wildlife, including white cedar trees, often bleeding a unique reddish-hued color from their bark that tints the rivers they tower over. Whether you want to head out on the water for two hours or eight, places such as Mick’s Canoe Rental organize routes that’ll take you along the area’s Wading and Oswego Rivers, passing by Colonial markers and through plenty of serene naturescapes along the way.

Mick’s Canoe Rental, 3107 Route 563, Chatsworth, N.J. Rates vary by package. mickscanoerental.com.

Lake Absegami (approximately 85-minute drive)

Surrounded by hiking trails and woodlands, the 67-acre Lake Absegami is the perfect spot to spend a day outdoors. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day, the area is manned by lifeguards and offers a classic lake experience, including ice cream from the concessions stand after you’ve worked up an appetite post-swim. If you’re considering making the drive, plan to head out early — entrances are capped after the parking lot fills up.

762 Stage Rd., Tuckerton, N.J. $10 per carload on weekends and holidays for N.J. residents ($20 for non-N.J. residents); $5 per carload on weekdays ($10 for non-N.J. residents). state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/bass.html.

Blue Marsh Lake (approximately 85-minute drive)

Just west of Reading, find Blue Marsh Lake, a man-made body of water built and maintained by the Philadelphia District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Multi-use trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding surround the lake, as do picnic spaces equipped with grilling stations. For those who have boats, Blue Marsh Lake also hosts three boat launches. Note, however, that the lake is not manned by lifeguards.

1268 Palisades Dr., Leesport, Pa. Free. nap.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Blue-Marsh-Lake.

Beltzville State Park (approximately 85-minute drive)

In the southern foothills of the Poconos is the 949-acre Beltzville Lake, part of which is roped off for swimming alongside a spacious 525-foot-long beach. Memorial Day through Labor Day, a concessions stand opens for visitors, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also rent kayaks, paddleboats, and small motorboats to the west of the swimming area. Have your own boat and waterskis? Hit up the waterskiing zone of the lake for some extra action.

2950 Pohopoco Dr., Lehighton, Pa. Free. dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/beltzville/.