Take a dip in Seattle’s secret swimming holes

Secret lakes. Photo: Wendy Pitt Reeves
Secret spots for summer swimming. Photo: Courtesy of Wendy Pitt Reeves

The plan didn’t sound all that ambitious at first: It was a hot day in the city and we needed a break. So, we were going to go back to middle-school days and bike to all the swimming holes in the city, stick some money for ice cream in our backpacks and get ourselves underwater.

Seattle is surrounded by water, but some of it can be hard to get to.

The Puget Sound is too cold. Lake Union, right smack in the middle of the city, is, like any true urban water body, too gross. Lake Washington is surrounded by huge houses.

But, luckily, the city has a secret.

It’s not well promoted, but, because of a 1996 city ordinance, any street that ends by water is technically public access. If there’s no driveway boxing you out, that waterfront property is yours — or ours. There’s a slightly cryptic city map that shows all of them.

They range from sandy secret beaches to slices of grass between big houses. That’s part of the fun; it feels like you’re getting away with something.

In the spirit of claiming our civic property, and because it hadn’t rained in weeks, we went on a mission to swim in as many places in the city as possible.

Within city limits. Photo: Alex Wigan
Lake views within city limits. Photo: Courtesy of Alex Wigan
And, it turns out, that’s kind of overwhelming.

We biked down the shore of Lake Washington to East Lee Street, where we could swim from a tiny sandy beach. Then we headed north, toward the arboretum, and the hidden docks on Foster Island. Speedboats and kayaks floated by us as we jumped off the docks. It would have been perfect for a picnic. There are plenty of others, some tree covered for sneaky late-night skinny dipping, some big and open enough for a party.

Lulled by the lake, we barely hit two water bodies before we burned-out and headed for ice cream, but that’s the nice thing: Summer’s just getting started and they’re not going anywhere.

Plus, Seattle’s not the only place that has in-city swimming holes.

There are beaches in Chicago and river access in Denver. You can take the Blue Line to the beach in Boston. Your city probably has them too; you just have to do a little bit of research. You will be better for having gone in them.

Sure, take a shower after, but also embrace the fact that you didn’t have to drive to the wilderness to get yourself into open water.

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