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3 Must-Visit Open-Water Swimming Destinations

Sick of following the black line? Tired of always smelling like chlorine? Dive into these open-water swimming spots—no flip turns necessary.


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Swimmers in the water in La Jolla. Photo: Glenn Koenig/Getty Images

The Spot: La Jolla, California

The Draw

There’s a reason triathletes and marathon swimmers have been flocking to the waters along this glittering gem of craggy coastline only a 20-minute drive from downtown San Diego. Part of the 6,000-acre La Jolla Ecological Preserve that runs from Scripps Park to the cove, a swim here all but promises peeks of underwater wildlife, like sea lions, sea turtles, seals, whales, dolphins and plenty of fish. Plus, with temperatures hovering around 68 degrees F from July to October, it’s a refreshing spot to swim throughout the summer and fall (although it’s not unusual to see hearty swimmers here year-round).

Dive In

Several swim and tri groups regularly meet at La Jolla Cove, including Tri Club San Diego (triclubsandiego.org) and La Jolla Cove Swim Club (lajollacoveswimclub.com). Both are welcoming to visitors and newbies—even those who prefer wetsuits—just reach out beforehand to confirm timing. Can’t link up with a group? If you’re planning to swim solo, you can aim for the buoys placed 1⁄4- and 1⁄2-miles from the shore (or shoot for the Scripps pier, a 3-mile round-trip swim). Just be sure to check with the lifeguards about currents and any potential hazards.

Eat Here

There are some 200 restaurants in La Jolla alone, so you’ll have your pick of places to refuel post-swim. Brick and Bell (brickandbell.com) is a popular coffee shop among local swimmers, while Brockton Villa (brocktonvilla.com)—a converted weekend cottage built in 1894—offers a tasty brunch with a view.

Stay Here

While there’s no lack of places to stay in San Diego, you can truly lean into the local scene by checking into the historic La Jolla Cove Hotel (ask about the brand new “Pines” rooms and suites; lajollacove.com). Slightly farther inland, the Shoal La Jolla Beach (theshoallajolla.com) is an affordable option with a beachy-chic vibe.

Cabins at Saguaro Lake Ranch, Mesa, Arizona. Photo: Laura Doyle/Getty Images

The Spot: Saguaro Lake, Mesa, Arizona

The Draw

Nestled within the Superstition Wilderness of the Tonto National Forest about 40 miles from Phoenix, Saguaro Lake is a 1,200-acre, canyon-rimmed reservoir. With 22 miles of shoreline, a swim here brings refreshing temps (ranging from around 50 degrees F in the winter to 80 degrees F in summer and fall) and stunning scenery—from soaring canyon walls to a desert landscape dotted with prickly Saguaro cacti that grow as tall as a house. Saguaro’s water clarity is said to rival the Caribbean’s. Just don’t freak out if you see massive fish while in the water; the lake is known to be home to 12-pound largemouth bass, 30-pound carp, and others.

Dive In

The place to be in Saguaro is Butcher Jones Beach, which requires a 2.5-mile hike from the beach road. There, you can swim safely while sighting on the two buoys placed to mark the “No Wake” and “No Boat” zones, at 302 and 155 meters from shore, respectively. While on shore, keep an eye peeled for wild horses, which are known to hang out along the beach. For a more organized adventure, check out Swim Trek’s Arizona Canyons trip, which includes swims in Saguaro and nearby Apache and Canyon Lakes (swimtrek.com).

Eat Here

Fill up at the ShipRock restaurant (saguarolakeshiprockrestaurant.com) with a deck overlooking the lake and a menu of stick-to-your-ribs fare, including an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays after 3 p.m.

Stay Here

You could make it a day trip from Phoenix or Mesa, or you could settle in the nearby Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch (saguarolakeranch.com)—think: no TVs and spotty Wi-Fi—yet neatly-appointed cottages perched by the banks of the Salt River, which feeds into the lake. Breakfast is included, and the ranch also offers boxed lunches and a sit-down dinner to fuel any adventure.

Torch Lake, a popular vacation spot in northern Michigan. Photo: Getty Images

The Spot: Torch Lake, Northern Michigan

The Draw

What Torch Lake lacks in warmth, it makes up for in its gemstone-hued, crystal clear water. Temperatures are wetsuit-only, hovering around 50-59 degrees F in the summer. Located about 40 miles from Traverse City, it’s Michigan’s second largest inland lake at just under 19,000 acres and 19 miles long. It was carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age and reaches a depth of 285 feet. Though a popular boating destination (the sandbar parties are legendary), there are plenty of access points for safe—and scenic—open-water swimming, especially in the summer months.

Dive In

Head to the William K. Good Day Park in Torch Lake Village for a small strip of beach and restrooms, as well as easy, shallow entry into the lake; you can swim along the shore from there. To find local swimming partners, check the Torch Lake Triathlon’s Facebook page. The low-key race typically takes off from the southwest part of the lake each September.

Eat Here

Dockside Torch Lake (docksidetorchlake.com) on the east side is a perennial pick for waterside dining—head there in the early evening to snag a view of the sunset. And for sips and small bites, try the handful of wineries, breweries, and distilleries in the area. Contact Torch Lake Tour (torchlaketour.com) to schedule your own excursion.

Stay Here

For a chill, homey atmosphere, check out Torch Lake Bed and Breakfast (torchlakebb.com), where innkeepers serve a homemade breakfast each day and offer complimentary kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and fishing from the dock.