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  • Nicole Olsen

The Joys and Terrors of Swimming in Nature


While I can't say that we are excited about the oppressive heat that has just hit Virginia, we are happy for 3-day weekends without any rain, making it the perfect excuse to find a shady swimming hole just outside of Baltimore at Gunpowder Falls State Park. This was such a fun 1.5-mile back and in hike, with the option to do a loop and bump up to 4-miles. If you are interested in where to find the trail and swimming hole I will put a description and link below. I would like to say everyone in the family is down for a refreshing dip, but finding the courage to submerge yourself into murky water and feel around blindly with your toes for whatever is at the...wait...was that a stick ...It had to be...yep, I'm just going to go with stick... and try not to think about it... (you see, not always an easy task). So as I sat on the bank watching my kids hem and haw, playing roshambo to see who would go in first then immediately call for a rematch after losing to scissors, I knew it had to be me first if this family adventure was going to be a success. So I just jumped in/ slipped and fell in deciding to let the cold water hit me like a sack of bricks rather than easing into it. Hesitantly, I moved my toes in the sand, gingerly searching for a safe place to set them down. I do love to swim in lakes and rivers, but to be perfectly honest, I have no interest in feeling what's below. Floating on my back while I look up at the oaks or treading the water with high knees if necessary is most definitely my preferred method of swimming in nature. But on this occasion, I knew I needed to be firmly planted on the ground in preparation for the onslaught of children who would be hurling their bodies onto me. I maintained the strong stance necessary to hold up my 3 enormous sons as they used their strong legs, arms, and even toes to cling onto my body as to avoid any terrors that might be lurking just below us in the water. Sebastian was the first to let go. He always is. In no time he was fully submerged, head underwater, splashing and laughing, filled with joy, as if this swimming hole was what he had been searching for his whole life. Once the exhilaration of the chilled water had worn off he moved on to his new favorite activity, pranking his family with a long pokey stick. He used it underwater to gently brush against our legs and backs. The trick always seemed to work no matter how many times he did it. Someone would always shriek in terror followed by Sebastian laughing a deep belly laugh as he collapses into the water so amused with himself. Holden finally ready for some fun of his own was the next to leave, realizing the ground was not so far down and only made up of sand and sticks and not a nightmarish den of water snakes as he had imagined. He also got into the joking spirit and began pulling stunts like pretending to fall into a hole, or violently wrenching his body as if he were trying to fight off some lock ness monster threatening to drag him under. These tricks did not have the same effectiveness as Sebastian's shenanigans but that was a fact wasted on Holden who was too busy perfecting his maniacal laugh to care. Asher is always the last one to detach himself from my torso and usually not by choice. He had latched himself so far up my body that barely any of him was touching water. Being so top-heavy it was easy for me to lean to the side and send us both toppling into the water. Still clenching me but now soaking wet it only took a few more minutes of prodding before Asher finally ventured out. Now there was only Jedediah and Scout on dry land watching all the fun and looking very hot while doing so. No hope was really ever spared for Jedediah to jump in, murky river water is just not his thing. But Scout was a different story. Having never given the opportunity to swim we all wished she would take to the water like a fish. Nevermind, that Scout refuses to go out in the rain, runs away from the hose in terror, and gingerly tiptoes through any mud puddle she encounters, of course, she would swim in the river. And what may now seem not so shocking to you, but was quite a revelation to us at the time, Scout does in fact NOT love to swim. We discovered that Scout's love for water is false, but her love for exploring and hiking and wanting to be near her family is true. Desperate to not get wet, but even more desperate to be with her people she finally leapt towards us into the water, instantly realized it was terrible, swam back to shore, and decided never again. But all in all, we have decided it's for the best, as Jedediah now has a friend to keep him company on the shore.

The hike we did was Stocksdale to Sweathouse in Gunpowder Falls State Park just North of Baltimore only about a 70-minute drive from Alexandria. There is a parking lot at CHH4+4M Kingsville, District 11, MD. From here you will want to go under the bridge through the round metal tunnel to get onto the Stocksdale Trail (blue). You follow this trail straight along the river until it hits the Sweathouse Trail (yellow). Continue straight on the yellow trail continuing to follow the river, you are more than halfway to the swimming hole.

To reach the swimming hole you follow the yellow trail until you hit the river straight on. The trail will continue to the right but you will want to cross the river her and continue straight ahead. There is a yellow marker on the tree where you catch the path just on the other side of the river. Follow this path until you get to a clearing with a very large rock slab and a beautiful wide and not so deep swimming hole.

To return you can either go back the way you came for a 3-mile total hike or continue on the loop by crossing the river and making a left back onto the trail from where you detoured which will total 4.7 miles back to the parking lot.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Trail Map

All Trails Map


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