It’s the Seattle paradox: Water, water, everywhere, but not the kind you’d want to swim in. While most of Puget Sound is too chilly for a good dip, various lakes, ponds, and riverbends provide natural lap pools.
Here comes the disclaimer: Most are not overseen by lifeguards or are even official swim spots, so consider wearing a personal flotation device. Cold water, hidden hazards, and even the current of a small stream can pose danger.
Lake Washington T Dock
Are you here to swim or are you here to be seen? Both are good reasons to flock to Leschi’s beloved hangout beach. The titular T-shaped dock juts into the lake from Lake Washington Boulevard, and on clear days Mount Rainier serves as a suitable backdrop for bathing-suit selfies. Midsummer, the buzz here almost makes us a beach town.
Watch where you swing that paddleboard, pardner—especially as you cross the circular thoroughfare of walkers, bikers, rollerskaters, and stroller-pushers. It’s a long walk from on-the-street parking spots to the waterfront, but it’s hard to begrudge the plentiful grass that separates the east side of the lake from the urban bustle. Green Lake Boat and Cafe rents boats in summer, and the floating dock is a veritable jungle gym of diving platforms. Expect warmish water, lots of kids and even more dogs—you might score a little more peace and quiet south toward Woodland Park, but this is a lake for sharing and socializing.
With more than 7,000 feet of waterfront, this suburban state park is basically a playground for all comers. Super calm waters make for easy boating, sandy shores turn into beach volleyball courts, a bathhouse offers changing space—and buoys separate swim areas from spots where motorboaters and jet skis create wake. Of the two beaches, Tibbets is ideal for boaters, with a rental shop set up during the summer. Sunset Beach has a brand-new beach cafe dishing snacks and espresso. Note that dogs aren’t invited to the splash party in swimming areas.
It can be easy to forget that Mercer Island is, in fact, an island—it’s more connected than half of Seattle’s central neighborhoods—but it does have plenty of shoreline. This little waterfront park, tucked in the fully residential south end, has concrete steps leading into the water for waders, plus a floating dock and a protected swim area. Picnic tables fill up with groups grilling hot dogs between floatie sessions, and the short downhill trail between the parking lot and shoreline helps it feel like a real escape.
Fish right from shore at a lake and park named for a German pioneer who lived on its banks in the late nineteenth century. Despite its significant size, the shape of the lake, mostly long and thin, keeps it calm and warm. Water skiers have to stay within a marked course on the lake. Swimmers can dry off on a large lawn near a new picnic shelter.
Hands down the most stunning swim spot in the state, the onetime sandstone quarry southeast of Olympia flooded in 1926 and is now divided into two sections, a shallow chlorinated kiddie area and a deep end under scalloped rock walls. Over here, the water is inky black, and before 2017 no one really knew what was at the bottom—until Tenino’s mayor dove 75 feet down and discovered an old steam engine at the bottom.
Pass this swim spot on a drive along Highway 2 and you may wonder why so many cars are crammed into the dirt pullouts between Index and Baring. The south fork of the Skykomish rushes just below the roadway, with polished rock serving as pool deck and launch point for brave cliff-jumpers. Though beautiful, the spot suffers from graffiti and garbage problems.
Green River Gorge
A local might need to point out the footpath north of Enumclaw through a conservation area to this rocky beach under a sandstone cliff. Trees cling to its vertical surface, creating a dramatic backdrop for a dip in the river. Kayakers may shoot past through the preserved Green River Gorge, a particular passion project of the late environmentalist and mountaineer Wolf Bauer who died in 2016 just shy of 104 years old.
Why does the sun always seem to appear right here when eastbound drivers hit the stretch of the interstate just past Snoqualmie Pass? Easton seems to signal where the dry, warm half of the state begins, and the just-off-the-exit state park is hangout central. When facing the forested hillsides across the water, it feels like a mountain lake—you may even spot high-up snow patches far into the summer. But the water is warm enough for a float. Hiking and biking trails and a nearby playground offer respite from the swim beach.
A mile hike up the Denny Creek trail near Snoqualmie Pass leads to nature’s waterslides, aka slick angled rock over deep pools. The falls themselves are just up the trail, but even the gentle rapids are prone to frigid temps. Coniferous forests form a tree canyon on either side of the river, so it’s a delightful picnic spot, regardless of whether you take the plunge.
We hope this park’s namesake, a Monroe teacher, liked the fact that his legacy would be a spot for skip days and summer vacation. The town’s largest park backs onto Woods Creek and the Skykomish River, and on warm days the slow-moving waters fill with swimmers (though currents can sneak up on you). An old steel bridge rises over the rocky riverbank as a gritty backdrop. Tubers who began upstream often use the spot as a take-out point.