Swimming Holes: Emerald Pool

I enjoy being able to include other voices and other experiences in this blog. My most recent guest blogger is no stranger here: He’s my husband, Jim Collins. On a hot, muggy day recently, Jim took Ursula and Virgil to one of his favorite swimming holes. Here’s his story.

When you grow up in rural New Hampshire, it’s easy to develop some expertise on swimming holes — or at least some strong opinions. When I say “swimming hole,” I don’t mean a lazy river or a quarry: I mean places where the quirks of geology and hydraulics have created beautiful or fun and sometimes magical little places to swim in fast-moving water.

Over the years, I’ve visited dozens of swimming holes, each different: Slippery rock sluices. Small, perfectly formed “Jacuzzi seats” in frothy whitewater. Secret ledges behind water falls. Cascading pools. Covered-bridge canopies. Bleached granite boulders in wide-open sunshine. Shaded, ferny glades. Wide flat surfaces with supplies of perfect flat skipping stones. High and low ledges for jumping and diving. And now that Ursula and Virgil are growing up in New Hampshire, too, we explore them together. The criteria have moved along with the kids’ ages, though the best swimming holes offer multiple attractions.

This week we hiked in to one of our favorites: Emerald Pool, off the Baldface Circle Trail in Evans Notch. We got onto the trail just north of AMC’s Cold River Camp. It's a good jumping-off place for the hike in to the pool.

As White Mountain swimming holes go, Emerald Pool is on the small side, like a gem. It’s a little over half a mile of easy walking from the trailhead. For adults, that’s just far enough to work up a sweat and feel as if you’ve earned the swim. For the kids, it’s close enough to keep the focus on the swimming and not the hiking, but far enough away from cars and roads to create the feeling of a separate, hidden world.

The day was hot and steamy. The kids, along with a couple of their friends, skipping and dashing ahead of me, heard the water first, several minutes before we reached the cut-off trail down to the stream. That’s another nice feature here – the gradual building of the anticipation. That anticipation has been rewarded, on earlier trips, by the sudden, startling appearance of Emerald Pool itself, whose shimmering green water gives the pool its name and whose sun-dappled, fairylike setting can, indeed, make this feel like a separate, hidden world, especially when we’re the only people there.

This week, the sound of rushing water was joined by shouts and laughter, so we knew we wouldn’t have the place to ourselves. As it turned out, teen-aged girls from a camp in Oxford, Maine, were making a day trip here. One after another after another, the girls jumped off a 12-foot-high ledge into the middle of the pool, splashing and laughing and scrambling up the wet rocks and muddy bank to do it again. Run-off from heavy rains overnight had carried silt into the stream, not enough to muddy the water, but enough to turn the green pool to gold-amber. Ursula, who values emerald, fairylike settings almost as much as she does water, frowned in disappointment. She led her friends through the woods, upstream from the swimming hole, choosing to explore the rocks and mini-pools and eddies while waiting for the crowd to leave. Alas, the girls were in no hurry. One of the campers and one of the counselors had set a goal of 50 jumps off the high ledge, and as they got closer — 47, 48, 49 — each jump was met by shouts of encouragement and cheers.

Ursula eventually gave in and came back and joined in the fun. She jumped off the ledge herself into the icy water, and beamed as she popped back up in the current. And did it again, and again. Her friend Mercy overcame her nervousness and jumped from a lower ledge on the opposite side of the pool. I didn’t ask questions, but it seemed like a first for her. The fearlessness of the campers might have inspired her.

On the way home we stopped at the Stow Ice Cream Place on Rte. 113 for cones scooped high with another summer treat, Maine-made ice cream. And I was reminded: each swimming hole is different, and sometimes the same swimming hole is different at different times. And each trip has its own rewards.

Learn more
- If you have some extra time, combine your swim at Emerald Pool with a first-class White Mountain day hike on the Baldface Circle Trail.
- The editors of New England Waterfalls have included Emerald Pool in its list of the premier 30 swimming holes in New England.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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