Where to swim in the Catskills

“Two Boys and a Dog in East Meredith” by Cindy Dunne. Second place winner of the 2013 Catskills Great Outdoor Experience Photo Contest.  

We could tell you where our favorite secret Catskills swimming holes are, but then we'd have to kill you. Odds are if you behave yourself and ask nicely, you can get a local to point you in the direction of a sweet spot for those in the know; in the meantime, here are a few publicly-accessible swimming spots, from lifeguarded beaches to blue holes in the wilderness. Leave them as nice as you found them, please.

Belleayre Beach
A summer favorite for families and picnickers, this man-made lake has it all: kayaks and pedal boats, barbecue grills, volleyball and basketball courts, horseshoe pits, swimming lessons, and a white sand beach. The sand definitely isn't local, but the vibe most assuredly is. Pine Hill. Route 28.

North-South Lake
These two lakes, joined by a narrow band of water, boast the biggest state campground in the Catskills, with over 200 tent sites. Two beaches -- North and South -- have swimming areas; as in all state parks, when the lifeguard isn't on duty, swimming is prohibited. Also on tap: Non-motorized boating, hiking, fishing and more. Haines Falls. County Route 18.

Mongaup Pond
Apart from New York City's reservoirs, this 120-acre lake in northeastern Sullivan County is the biggest body of water in the Catskill Park. Boat rentals, swimming beaches and good fishing. Livingston Manor. Mongaup Pond Road.

Big Deep
This beloved swimming hole on the Saw Kill, tucked into the woods just out of town, is public, but it feels wild enough. No lifeguards, no amenities, just a rope swing and a cool respite from the summer heat. Be warned: You may encounter the odd nudist. This is Woodstock, after all. Woodstock. East of town on Route 212.

Peekamoose Blue Hole
Off the beaten path, and well worth the trek: An icy cold, deep blue basin tucked into the woods near the border of Ulster and Delaware Counties. A little more popular in the last couple of years, since it got dubbed one of America's best swimming holes by Travel and Leisure magazine. Sundown. From Route 28A in West Shokan, go 10 miles southwest on CR 42.