Boston is surrounded by the ocean, and there are plenty of beaches, but the waters can often be quite cold and rough. If you’re looking for calmer waters, there are luckily several swimming holes in the Boston area, some even accessible by public transport! Spend a sunny day lounging on the shore, splashing in the water with friends, or getting in your open water swim session.
Read until the end for a free, interactive map of these locations!
Freshwater Swimming Holes Near Boston
1. Crystal Lake (Newtown)
Crystal Lake is located in a quiet, posh neighborhood. The water is surrounded by trees and houses, and there are three main entry points: Cronin’s Cove, Levingston Cove, and Crystal Lake Beach (with a bathhouse and lifeguards). In typical years, you may only enter the water at the bathhouse, and swim in the designated areas.
A day pass costs $4-10 depending on your age, and residents may buy season passes. Parking is available at the bathhouse. In 2020, the bathhouse never opened for the season (due to the pandemic), and you could get in the water at any of the three entrypoints.
The water is relatively clear, but there are frequent bacteria concerns. In summer 2020, the lake was closed a few times due to high concentration of E.coli. If you decide to go, please check health reports. Despite these concerns, I’ve been multiple times and this is one of my favorite spots in Boston.
You can also enjoy fishing, paddleboarding, and kayaking in the lake. Crystal Lake is even accessible by public transport on the D Line. Get off at Newton Highlands, and the bathhouse is less than a 10 minute walk away. You can also get off at Newton Center and walk to Cronin’s Cove.
2. Mystic Lakes (Arlington, Medford, Winchester)
Mystic Lakes are two adjacent lakes (the Upper and Lower Mystic) that feed into the Mystic River, which feeds into the Charles. The Mystic Lakes are quite large compared to other swimming holes in the area, but swimming is limited to Shannon Beach, at the tip of the Upper Mystic.
The rest of the lakes are used for boating and fishing, though there are sometimes swimmers near the dock of the Medford Boat Club. You will also find swimmers in little pockets near the shore, as the beach often gets too crowded. Swimming outside of designated areas is technically not allowed, but if you do decide to do it, please be vigilant of boats!
There’s parking at Shannon Beach and the Medford Boat Club. The area isn’t super accessible via public transport, but you could take the bus and walk a bit (along a busy road, which isn’t ideal) or commuter rail to Wedgemere.
3. Arlington Reservoir (Arlington)
While you can’t swim in the Reservoir itself, there’s a separate swimming area that’s maintained with filtered water and a sand beach. There is a small entry fee and parking is available. You can bring your boat too, as long as it’s non-motorized. Those taking public transport can access the Reservoir by the 77 bus.
4. Walden Pond (Concord)
This is the famous setting of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. In fact, you can even visit the original location Thorau’s cabin in the woods. (The replica is no longer there, but there’s a marked-off spot).
The pond itself is a popular swimming spot, but reviews are mixed when it comes to the water quality. In Thoreau’s time, the water was said to be crystal clear (the pond was created by a melted glacier, after all). Today, some say the water is clear compared to other swimming holes, while others complain that it’s dirty (and likely caused by too many swimmers peeing in the water). I went in June 2020, and found the water to be pretty on-par with the other Boston area swimming holes I’ve visited. Either way, Walden Pond remains a favorite for families, friends, and competitive swimmers.
Parking costs $8 for MA residents (determined by license plate) and $30 for non-residents.
5. Morses Pond (Wellesley)
This small pond has a sand beach and playground for kids. Non-residents pay a small fee to enter, though the pond is residents-only in 2021 due to Covid. You can rent kayaks and paddleboards.
6. Lake Cochituate (Natick)
Lake Cochituate is actually made up of 3 ponds: North Pond, Middle Pond, and Upper Pond. You can swim in Middle Pond, which has a small beach and is staffed with lifeguards in-season.
Parking costs $8 for residents and $30 for non-residents. The lot fills up quickly, so go as early as you can on the weekends.
7. Pearce Lake – Breakheart Reservation Beach (Saugus)
This swimming hole is small and full of algae, but if you’re in the area, it could be worth stopping by. The beach is within a larger park full of trails, so if you don’t like the lake, you can always go hiking. To reach Pearce Lake, you’ll want to park near Northeast Metro Tech and walk .5 miles along a paved path to the beach. There are no parking fees and entry to the lake is free.
Map of Swimming Holes Near Boston
Here’s an interactive Google Map of all these spots. Click the icon on the top left to see the names of these places.
Leave No Trace
Since these are natural areas, I just want to remind you to pack out your trash! There may not always be a trash can when you need one, but littering is not the solution. It’s damaging to wildlife and makes these parks less pleasant for others. Bring a plastic bag with you, and you won’t need to worry about looking for a trash can right away.
Similarly, try not to pee in the water, as that can lead to algae growth, which blocks the sun and throws off the lake’s ecosystem.
The more respectful you are of these spaces, the longer we can enjoy them!
If you’re looking for more summer activities in Boston, check out my guide to Boston’s vegan ice cream spots.