Discover a Charlottesville Swimming Hole

Blue Hole swimming hole at Sugar Hollow, outside of Charlottesville

"Swimming hole."

Did you feel that zing at those words? That promise of sunshine and frayed jean shorts and hidden trails through the woods? 

Okay, maybe not everyone gets as excited at labyrinthian adventures through the trees as I do, but when I stumbled upon info about the Blue Hole swimming hole at Sugar Hollow while researching a recent trip to Charlottesville, I got jazzed! We were going to celebrate the Big Kid's birthday, a kid who loves rock climbing and bug watching and forest exploring, and I couldn't imagine any way better to do it than by hiking to this pool in the woods.

The Drive

The drive getting there is its own little adventure. You can set your GPS for Sugar Hollow Road, but it won't get you all the way to the parking lot for the swimming hole.

  1. Take Barracks Road northwest out of Charlottesville, driving on a two-lane road that rolls and weaves over beautiful horse country past stately black fences and tiny country stores with tons of character. Grab water and snacks for the hike at one of these charming stores.
  2. Barracks Road turns into Garth Road.
  3. Then here's the tricky part: At the Piedmont Store (exactly 11.0 miles from the intersection of 250 and Barracks Road, according to Google Maps), continue straight onto the lesser road of Sugar Hollow Road, and DO NOT take the swinging right turn onto Browns Gap Turnpike. This comes up fast and would be easy to miss. Look for the Piedmont Store, which you should drive past on your right.
  4. Now you're good to go. You'll spend awhile time on a gravel road, passing country homes and camp retreats, until you get to the Sugar Hollow Dam and the Charlottesville Reservoir. Continue uphill on the narrow pitted road, past the tranquil reservoir with trout the size of my forearm (I'm not kidding; get out of the car and take a look), until you reach the sizable parking lot.

View of the Charlottesville Reservoir from the Sugar Hollow Dam

The Hike

A swimming hole wouldn't be a swimming hole if there were pointed arrows and easy pathways to get to it. Apparently there is a well-maintained trail to a larger swimming hole known as Snake Hole. But that's not where we adventurers are heading.

  1. Stand in the middle of the lot with your back to the dam and reservoir behind you. Bramble and a small creek will be on your left. 
  2. Cross through that bramble. You will see small pathways through it. Cross the creek. On the day we were there, the water was low enough that we could skip over on the rocks. 
  3. Clamber up the embankment on the other side. At one spot of the embankment, there are stair-like rocks to make the clamber a little easier. 
  4. An obvious pathway leading up the hill is on the other side. We had to climb over a downed tree to get to it on the day we were there. If you don't see the path at the top of the embankment, walk to the left for a bit. You'll run into it. 
  5. Fortunately, once you're on the path, it's a straight 1.5-mile hike to Blue Hole. There's some uphill and stream crossing, but no turnoffs that could lead you to hiking around in circles.
  6. You have to climb down from the path to reach Blue Hole, but there are several obvious paths down to it and the sounds of the small falls are unmistakable. You won't miss it.

The Swimming Hole

That bracing water coming down from the Blue Ridge Mountains and roaring into Blue Hole is cold and clear, even near the end of July. Bring towels! And a friendly spirit. Looking for our own private adventure, we were disappointed when we climbed down to the swimming hole to see other people there. But soon, we were all joined in the renegade, swimming-hole spirit. There are a couple of large boulders perched on the side of Blue Hole that provide a 12-foot leap into the pool, and strangers shouted encouragement to reluctant leapers and cheered the ones courageous enough to go. (Note from a Mom: That pool is less than 10-feet deep. DO NOT DIVE!!!) There are pools and smaller falls above Blue Hole perfect for quieter moments away from the crowd. Or to indulge your explorer day dreams.

Strangers quickly become compatriots at the swimming hole

The big jump and the finish

Thank you to Adventures in Parenting, Healthy in Cville, and Hiking Upward for helping me figure out how to get to Blue Hole in the first place.


In-Between Tip: A great place to fuel up before your hiking-and-swimming adventure is Ace Biscuit & Barbecue in Charlottesville, a tiny, brick hut that serves meat -- pulled pork, spare ribs, fried chicken, brisket -- over biscuits with lots of delicious sauces, fixings and sides to choose from. 


DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE SECRET OUTDOOR SPOTS IN THE DMV? MIND SHARING? I'D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT THEM IN THE COMMENTS BELOW OR ON MY FACEBOOK PAGE. I PROMISE I WON'T TELL ANYONE ELSE.