Exploring the Swimming Holes of Ouachita High Country

by Jim G. Miller

photography by Jeremy Rodgers

Swimming holes heal the body and the soul. Before the advent of air conditioning, it didn’t really matter how poor one’s family was, if people were lucky enough to live near a good hole of water then they had very few cares in the world, especially on an August day in south Arkansas. This still holds true today: when the temperature rises, we recognize the gracious resource of water that abundantly flows down from the small foothills of the Ouachita National Forest littering the landscape with brilliant miniature Shangri-La’s. Some  of  these  “pools of paradise” are easy to find, whereas some are only found after a concerted journey or hike. A winding map of scenic highways and country-road beauty begets more beauty on the path to these natural pools of enjoyment.

Before embarking  on  the  pursuit  of a new favorite swimming hole, one must ask, “What truly makes for a good swimming area?” Some define a swimming hole as an area of water at least waist-deep where they can cool themselves on a hot sunny day. An example of this would be the creek at

Gulpha Gorge Campground, located on Gorge Road between Highway 7 North and Highway 270 East. There are a lot of small creeks with fine swimming spots scattered on the Arkansas map, with some being more appealing than others. Skip a rock and one will most certainly find one.

An out-of-the-way swimming spot is the increasingly popular Cool Pool. Located off Highway 7 on a little patch of the old highway, the dead end road is now called Bluebird. Drive to the end of what’s left of the old blacktop and follow the sound of small waterfalls gushing down from a natural beauty of creation. The water flow of this rather cold spring has created a nice little spot to get wet while also affording the opportunity to play beneath a small waterfall.

A popular creek area for many is off Bull Bayou Road near National Park College and Mid-America Science Museum. A small tributary that flows into Lake Hamilton, this swimming area divides the border between Hot Springs National Park and Garland County and affords a  brilliant cliff face view.    Anunusual landscape carved for centuries by the flow of the creek, this area is not quite as cold as other swimming areas and offers a good mid-day respite from the heat.

The Blue Hole is, of course, a mecca of swimming areas in the area primarily because of its size and its reputation among people throughout Arkansas, Texas and many other states in the region. Through the ever increasing speed of technology, people have managed to discover this massive hole of water by viewing shared pictures and social media posts. Originally a mine for bauxite, the crew eventually hit a natural spring that filled the entire excavation site and ceased mining operations. Rumor has it that there is still major machinery left at the bottom, though in order to discover it, one would need scuba gear. The deepest swimming hole around, the Blue Hole goes down hundreds of feet. The mere depth of the Blue Hole has, of course, led a more adventurous sort to jump in from areas as high as twenty to forty feet. A brave few have even ventured to jump from higher elevations, however, this is not at all recommended. If you are feeling energetic and brave, the view from the very top of the Blue Hole offers a marvelous perspective of the entire landscape.

The spillway at Lake Balboa has been engineered into a fantastic spot to swim in Hot Springs Village. Why would one check out the spillway when there’s an excellent beach already on Balboa? There’s an excellent waterfall that can literally be climbed into–there is just something about feeling the rush of water flow over you. The constant running of a creek, river or stream is a reminder that there is vibrant life all around. Charlton Recreation Area is also another very popular swimming area. Open  to the public during specific portions of the year, the State Park Service  maintains  the campground and the swimming area throughout the summer. A cold spring-fed swimming area, Charlton is just between Hot Springs and Mt. Ida, which is also a major area for those interested in quartz crystal digging.

There are many other interesting pockets and pools of water that are maintained and cherished by those who have adopted them as their own special summer getaways for recreation and relaxation. For many, these are nostalgic spots from their youth. For others, these places provide something to look forward to when the sun is at its most brutal.  Swimming holes are a reminder   of the accidental beauty that results when the forces of nature shape our landscape. These sunny sanctuaries were not put here for just locals to enjoy, but for everyone, including the wildlife of Arkansas. Exercise caution when visiting them and please be conscientious about recycling your trash and anything that may have been left behind by others. Public littering is one major threat to swimming spots, and by leaving no trace of yourself and others, you will help preserve these areas for future generations to enjoy.

Enjoy your summer, watch for snakes and other wildlife, and regardless of where you swim, choose your holes wisely and stay cool my friends.