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Hike to Swim Adventure Tips

Take a Hike to Swim Adventure

With record highs being hit across the United States (even in locations where summers are usually mild!) outdoorsy families may question the possibility to get outside with their kids when the mercury rises to 90+ degrees.

I’ll admit, we struggled with this while living in Texas, preferring to hike our hikes in the shoulder seasons and winter months (which often still provided plenty of warm days!), and stick to local pools during the summer.

But hiking in hot weather isn’t impossible, especially when you are prepared and pick spots with flowing, fresh water to jump in and cool off.

A woman in a light blue shirt stands in a river; she has a baby in a backpack, and two other kids standing next to her on their hike to swim adventure.

This summer, my family and I moved to Western North Carolina, where warm weather and an abundance of creeks, streams, rivers, and waterfalls makes for the perfect “hike to swim” conditions. We are just starting to explore the local trails and swimming holes, taking our experience from Texas to our new locale.

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How to choose a swimming spot to hike to

Depending on where you live, there may either be an abundance of swimming holes or very limited options in the summer months. Even in dry climates, it’s usually possible to find some place to wade, even if it’s a bit trickier.

In touristy locations, the watering holes might be crowded and will require planning times to go outside of peak hours, like Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The type of water source will also affect your planning. For example, rivers, lakes, and similarly-reliable sources of water won’t require as much planning ahead as in drought-prone regions where creeks and streams may or may not have flowing water at any given time.

In Texas, during prolonged drought conditions, many of our favorite swimming and wading spots stop flowing and become stagnant, full of algae, or even dry up completely. We had to choose carefully during these times, lest we hike all the way there in the hot sun and not have water to even splash in safely.

A little kid stands on the edge of some stagnant water, in a rocky creek bed.
Hiking to a popular swimming spot, but finding it drained and stagnant due to lack of rain, is a huge bummer!

Check conditions before you go: I do this through local “hiking” Facebook groups or by word of mouth (in Austin, there is even a website that monitors depth and flow of the creek on our local greenbelt).

Consider weather conditions

Of course, you want to make sure that you have sunny weather without thunderstorms on the day you plan to hike and swim, but did you know you also need to think about the weather in the days prior to your adventure? I didn’t realize this until other outdoor mamas at Free Forest School alerted me when we first moved to Austin.

For creeks and ponds that are in urban regions, a good rule of thumb is to wait at least 24 hours (some even recommend 48-72 hours) after a rainstorm, when drainage from sewers and yards enter the watershed and can cause gastrointestinal upset due to the presence of bacteria and other contaminants. This is especially important with younger kids, who might find it more tempting to submerge themselves and swim underwater.

What to wear for a hike to swim adventure

Hike to swim clothes for kids

While I usually recommend swimsuits and rash guards when swimming, these can often be too hot for hiking or spending prolonged time outside of water since they don’t ventilate well. For hikes where you plan to end up at a swimming spot, look instead for clothing that’s not only breathable, but also works well in the water.

Four kids sit atop a rock, there are some plants nearby. One kid is wearing a floatie and a hat. They are all looking away from the camera.

Additionally, choose clothes with SPF-factor protection, and avoid heavy clothes like cotton or jean shorts that will be uncomfortable when wet. Wet cotton t-shirts are also not as protective against the sun as polyester or wool clothing, so be careful when relying on those when swimming.

A kid in a purple sun hoodie is holding navy blue Keen sandals on a rocky outcrop.
Patagonia Capilene hoodie – this is an older version with thumbholes that we love!

My kids love to wear sun hoodies (our favorite is the Patagonia Capilene hoodie) and quick-dry shorts (like Patagonia baggies).

For more inexpensive options, check thrift stores for lightweight “athletic” clothing, though watch out for thicker polyester that won’t dry as quickly or will weigh a kid down in the water (for example, my son loves to wear Adidas sports shorts, but they are not great for swimming).

Hike to Swim Clothes for Women

I always find dressing my kids for adventures to be so much easier than myself. They seem cute and comfy in almost anything, while I have a harder time finding clothes that are functional, fit well, and make me feel great about my body.

This is especially true when it comes to hiking to swim, where I want items that are comfortable for hiking long distances (potentially with a pack on), to swimming and drying quickly to hike back to the car or bike. The wrong item might leave you chafed and uncomfortable, which can be torture on a slow hike with tired kids.

A woman in a black sports bra and beige skort stands in the woods. She has a fanny pack, trucker hat, and sunglasses on.
lululemon’s High-Rise Hiking Skirt is super comfortable, stylish, and functional for outdoors life!

For the mamas out there, lululemon has a “Hike to Swim” set that seamlessly moves between the trail and the swimming hole. The hike to swim shorts and swim bra are made out of quick-drying EscaTM fabric that also contain Xtra Life Lycra® to resist deterioration from saltwater or chlorine.

The set does run a bit small, so make sure to size up! I sized up one size in the bra and shorts, but could have gone two sizes up in the top. But although it’s a bit tricky to get on and off, I appreciate the extra compression to keep things in place while swimming, hiking, and jogging.

The longer length of the shorts means they also prevent chafing while hiking or during a day on the beach. I also love the swim top is full-coverage, so you don’t have to worry about things shifting when diving into the water.

A woman in a black sports bra and shorts  sits on a boat. She's wearing a hat and sunglasses.
The lululemon Hike to Swim top and shorts provides great coverage for water and land activities!

I swim for exercise too, so I tested these out on a long-distance, open-water lake swim. There was almost no drag, and the four-way stretch fabric did not impede my movement. I wore them while biking to the community pool, and the shorts function great for cycling too!

Along with the Hike to Swim bra and shorts, I also prefer to choose quick-drying, breathable, and lightweight tops and bottoms when I’ll be hiking in warmer weather or I know there will be the option to swim or wade during the adventure.

lululemon’s hiking line offers versatile items that give coverage when you need it (hello, tick and mosquito season!) but can zip-off for swimming or ventilation. For example, the Convertible High-Rise Hiking Jogger pants have all the features I look for in hiking pants for myself:

  • Zip-off pant legs let you cover your legs in the woods, but wear them as swim shorts in the water or when the temp rises;
  • Zippers at the cuff means the pants are easy to take off without removing shoes – another great feature if you want to wear swim bottoms underneath; and
  • Functional cargo pockets (!!) that are big enough to hold a phone, car keys, or a snack.
A smiling woman walks in the woods, pine straw covers the ground. She's wearing a hat that says "Hike" and is carrying a fanny pack and backpack.
lululemon’s Convertible High-Rise Hiking Jogger offer zip-off legs, huge cargo pockets, and a soft, breathable fabric.

If you don’t need full coverage, lululemon’s High-Rise Hiking Skirt (really, a skort because it has built-in shorts, which are amazing when hiking with kids!) is so cute and perfect for the transition from hiking to swimming. It fits like a glove, and has a stretchy waist and drawstring to customize. The fabric is light yet durable and dries quickly.

A woman sits by a stream, she's wearing a black sports bra and beige skirt, and a hat.
The hiking skirt from lululemon is perfect for sitting by a stream with kids or squatting down to play or help, all without worrying about flashing your fellow hikers!

Ultimately, I tend to focus on function over fashion, but with lululemon’s new line of hiking clothes, I can get both, along with long-lasting, quality gear.

I also grab a sun-protective hoodie for myself on most hikes, since I tend to burn easily and applying sunscreen to my own back without another adult has not gone well in the past. I love Mountain Hardwear’s Crater Lake Hoodie: the fabric is buttery soft yet perfectly lightweight. The synthetic fabric can smell after a while, and I’ve been considering splurging on a merino wool hoodie (like this one from Ridge Merino): merino wool is lightweight, keeps you cool in the sun and protects against UV rays, and resists smells – it’s basically magic fabric.

A mom and preschooler squat next to a stream, the little girl is wearing a pink swim pants and top, and the mom is in a purple-black hoodie and skirt.
I love my sun hoodie to protect against burns and skin damage.

What to pack for your hike to swim adventure

Sunscreen

Sunscreen sticks are a great option to bring along rather than a heavier bottle of liquid. It also makes swiping kids and yourself down a bit easier when the environment is sandy and the kids are wiggly. The ThinkSport stick is my personal favorite: it glides on super smooth and has a pleasant, light scent.

Two kids in the foreground and two in the background sit in a river and play with each other.
If you wear full-coverage clothing and hats, a sunscreen stick is usually enough to apply to exposed skin.

Floats and life vests

For younger kids who aren’t yet swimming confidently, bring along a life vest or float. If I know the water will be a foot or deeper, I will strap a puddle jumper to my pack for my not-quite-proficient swimmer, so I won’t need to stick right next to her the entire time we are playing.

A man in an orange shirt and brown running shorts carries a toddler in a hiking backpack. They are walking along a trail.
Strap a puddle jumper (or similar) life vest to your backpack for smaller kids.

For wild water that’s deep (over their heads) or swift, be sure to bring along life vests for the whole crew.

Inflatable toys and floats are also fun to bring along if you have the space in your pack!

Water filter

If you know you’ll be out long, consider a water filter as back-up if you run out in your hydration bladder or bottles. We carry a Sawyer squeeze along on most hiking trips, and my kids and their friends get a kick out of filtering water and drinking it. LifeStraws can also be fun for kids, drinking straight from the water source itself!

Post-swim meal prep with my Sawyer Squeeze and JetBoil.

Snacks, snacks, and (more) snacks

Don’t forgot to pack ALL the snacks! My kids become ravenous when outdoors, and even more so when they are swimming. Pack enough snacks to keep them energized and happy.

When exploring near water (with all the possible sand and dirt involved!) I like to choose easy snacks like squeeze pouches of yogurt and applesauce, granola bars, and goldfish or similar types of crackers. High-water content fruits (watermelon, oranges) can also help to hydrate little ones who might be more reluctant to drink plain water.

A toddler in a purple float and hat is walking in the water. She's carrying a yogurt. Hike to swim adventure.
Squeeze pouches of yogurt make for a great “on-the-go” snack during wild water play!

Packable Towels

For hiking to swimming holes, I use packable, quick-dry towels like from PackTowl. They come in lots of different sizes – we like the beach ones! While they seem pricy, they are so useful and last FOREVER. We’ve had one for five years, and it still looks brand-new after heavy use.

Wide-brim Hats

Finally, make sure everyone has a wide-brim hat to block sun from little faces! We love Sunday Afternoon hats: they offer great coverage and last forever.

The whole family wears Sunday Afternoon hats. I personally love the Trucker hat and the Adventure hat.

Hiking to swim: A fantastic summertime activity

Wild water play can not only be a necessity in hot weather, but can really add an extra element of fun to other outdoor adventures. With a little prep and the right gear, hiking to swimming holes, waterfalls, or creeks can become your summertime “go-to” activity to get your kids and yourself out into nature for fresh air, exercise, and relaxation.

Related Articles:

Hike to Swim Guide and Tips

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