Cue tropical bird sounds. The scene is a first-person, GoPro video vantage of someone (you?) hiking along a shaded forest path. After rounding a corner, the foliage finally parts to bright sunlight streaming in through an opening in the dense canopy. High above is the rim of a cascading waterfall. The light gleams, touching the mist from the falls to form a rainbow dipping into a deep, turquoise-blue pool. It’s the quintessential private waterfall fantasy -- perhaps on an island. Wherever it’s located, your dream dip -- skinny or suited -- can be a reality. Depending on your definitions of “hidden” and “remote,” sometimes it matters when you go -- and how far you are willing to trek in order to leave the crowds behind. As illustrated in these spots, local knowledge and just a little additional hoofing can net private pools and hidden waterfalls.
God’s Bath, Sonora, California
For water junkies who want more with their falls, God’s Bath is an apt name for this secluded swimming hole. Situated just outside the sleepy town of Sonora, in the remote foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, waterfalls, pools and rock formations make for epic cliff diving, swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear water. Boulders above deep pools make the perfect base for jumping or diving, while shallow sections invite lolling and sunbathing. Be sure to pack boots along with your suit, as a moderate, 2.5-mile hike is required to reach these paradisiacal pools.
Havasu Falls, Arizona
This one is “hidden” in the Grand Canyon. Located in a remote area considered sacred by the Havasupai Indians on their reservation, the falls are an oasis of fresh-water spouting from the deep-red canyon walls into placid pools. The tribe’s name actually translates to “people of the blue-green waters,” and the remote swimming holes here take on their hue from high mineral concentrations. If it was more accessible, Havasu Falls would no doubt be packed, but the required 10-mile trek on foot or by mule is more than enough to ensure a sparse crowd at most.
Kuang Si Falls, Laos
A favorite spot among locals and tourists to Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls and its cooling pools are often crowded. However, the “hidden” part here involves leaving the lower pools to hike up trails to more secluded spots. Actually, a series of falls dropping from pool to pool of inviting, deep-blue water, the falls culminate with the main chute that produces a spectacular, 200-foot cascade. The visitation fee charged by locals goes to upkeep the stairs and trails that wind throughout the area around the falls. Other attractions include Luang Prabang itself, the capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos, where you can explore its culture while checking out temples and shopping its busy markets. Nearby Buddhist monasteries and the historical Royal Palace Museum are other highlights.
Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada
From ice to nice, this natural formation of calm pools fed by falls formed during the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago. On the southern tip of Vancouver Island, some 25 miles west of Victoria, Sooke Potholes Provincial Park isn’t far off the beaten path, but there’s plenty of room to roam -- and plenty of potholes to go around. As you head farther upstream on the creekside trail, you’ll eventually encounter a picture-perfect fall dropping through moss-shrouded boulders into shallow, clear pools. Most visitors don’t even make it this far, but for an assured private swimming hole, you can hike an additional couple miles on the Galloping Goose Trail, where ever more remote pools await. While encounters with fellow humans might be rare at this point, keep an eye out for locals like bald eagles, black bears and even elk.
Rio Celeste Waterfall, Costa Rica
Getting to this secluded fall takes some gumption. If you’re up for it, the trek consists of several hours on rambling bus rides before embarking on a hike up a steep, dirt track. From that point, the Rio Celeste Waterfall is accessed by a winding, descending stairway comprising 250 steps. Whew! Was it worth the exertion? That’s up to each adventurer to decide for themselves as they first catch sight of the tall, thin vertical fall, a blue ribbon draping into an idyllic pool far below, all set in a tapestry of deep jungle green. Hidden deep within the forests of Tenorio National Park outside of San Jose, Rio Celeste provides plenty of picturesque privacy for those will to go the extra mile(s).