12 beautiful wild swimming spots in North Wales

Wild swimming is claimed to improve circulation, ease muscle aches and boost your immune system
Wild swimming is claimed to improve circulation, ease muscle aches and boost your immune system -Credit:Greg Martin/Cornwall Live

The North Wales coast has much to offer the wild swimmer. And, inlandthere are scores of dramatic lakes and hidden waterfall pools to tempt adventurous swimmers to take the plunge.

Some are well known and are already popular while others are off the beaten track. Where there are mountains, there are lakes and Eryri (Snowdoni)a has around 250 of them. Not for nothing is it known as the Lake District of Wales.

Irrespective of your abilities, wild swimming always comes with a health warning. Pools and rivers are often fed by the mountains, can be extremely cold and will catch out the unwary. Rocks can be slippy – the cause of many an accident. So before you venture out, check out our safety list below. There's a code of conduct too.

READ MORE: Lonely Planet has named its best 11 beaches in Wales - and what each one is suited to

Swimming is legal in most rivers but riparian land is often privately owned and crossing it carries the risk of trespass. Some landowners have been driven to distraction by the actions of a selfish few, and some have pursued civil claims.

To visit these places, you’ll need to get permission from the landowner. The same often applies to quarry pools as well.

In recent years some of the region’s best known spots have been closed. Two “blues” have gone – the Blue Pool at Golwern quarry, Fairbourne, has been blocked off, while the Blue Lagoon at Moel y Faen quarry on the Horsehoe Pass, Llangollen, has been drained.

One of the region’s most iconic spots is Dorothea quarry in Talysarn, Gwynedd. It even has a diving pontoon, though recent reports suggest this is now out of bounds. Swimmers here risk more than trespass: in the past three decades there have been more than 20 deaths at the quarry, and swimmers have been warned to stay away.

But hundreds more exist and from sparkling clear lakes to emerald green gorges and picturesque waterfalls. Listed below are places for swimmers of different abilities.

Rhaeadr Ddu waterfall in Coed Felinrhyd has a large plunge pool
Rhaeadr Ddu waterfall in Coed Felinrhyd has a large plunge pool -Credit:Nigel Brown/Wiki

Rhaeadr Ddu

Best for: Solitude

Coed Felenrhyd has stood largely untouched for 10,000 years. Its neighbouring site, Coed Llennyrch, is a 540-acre area of ancient woodland that was acquired by Coed Cadw (Woodland Trust) only a few years ago, so it too remains relatively wild and unspoilt.

Combined, they represent one of Coed Cadw’s largest woods in Wales. Sitting above the Vale of Ffestiniog near Maentwrog hydro station, they are fringed by the dramatic waterfalls and atmospheric pools of the Afon Prysor gorge.

Within Coed Felenrhyd lies Rhaeadr Ddu – not to be confused with its namesake at Ganllwyd near Dolgellau. The waterfall spills into a very large plunge pool which swimmers are slowly discovering.

The water’s cold, of course, but on a summer’s day it offers tempting respite from the area’s trails. In fact, the only thing that might disturb the solitude is the occasional gorge scrambler. More pools lie upstream.

Access can be an issue. The woodland entrance is next to Maentwrog power station and some layby parking is available a short distance away on the A496.

What people say: “A secret waterfall with a large plunge pool, well off the tourist track.”

How to find it:

Llyn Geirionydd, near Trefriw, is a favourite with families
Llyn Geirionydd, near Trefriw, is a favourite with families -Credit:Ian Cooper/North Wales Live

Llyn Geirionydd

Best for: Multiple watersports.

From the Conwy Valley, drive up along narrow winding country roads to Gwydir Forest Park on the lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains. The lake itself is a popular picnic spot with plenty of trails - and is the only lake in Snowdonia that allows powerboats and water skiing.

Kayak and paddle boarding is permitted too, so swimmers tend to stay away from the lake’s boat ramp. Another thing to watch out is the legacy of nearby metal mines, which has left the lake with few fish.

It is, however, a beautiful spot with good swimming, toilets and a car park. During the summer it can get busy at peak times. The lake is signposted from Trefriw.

What people say: “Lovely place for a wild swim. The water was crystal clear and the warmest ever. Toilets spotless.”

How to find it:

Circled in the estuary is the artificial island of Cei Ballast
Circled in the estuary is the artificial island of Cei Ballast -Credit:Daily Post Wales

Cei Ballast

Best for: Tidal treats

A small, low-lying island that hides in almost plain sight from Porthmadog. It’s entirely man-made, built some 200 years ago from the discarded ballast of ships returning from long journeys to take on a fresh load of slate.

For wild swimmers, the otherwise nondescript place hides secret pools that can be quite deep but which are welcoming when sun-warmed. Located in the mouth of the Glaslyn estuary, just beyond the Cob, Cei Ballast is one of Britain’s 43 unbridged tidal islands that can be walked to at low tide.

Across the estuary lies another tidal island with low-tide pools. Ynys Giftan has been uninhabited since the mid-1960 and the saltmarsh offers emerald pools in the shadow of Portmeirion.

What people say: “There is no other foreshore quite like it in Britain.”

How to find it:

Lakeside crowds at a warm and sunny Llyn Tegid
Lakeside crowds at a warm and sunny Llyn Tegid -Credit:Daily Post Wales

Llyn Tegid

Best for: Families

In the past 12 months, visitor numbers at Bala have soared and it’s not hard to see why. The town is a gateway to the mountains and its lake, Llyn Tegid, is the largest natural body of water in Wales.

Famously clear, the lake is accessible and even has a small beach. But its waters are cold and, even at its edges, it can be deep.

Swimming is allowed at any time but permits must be bought from the pay-and-display machines at Llyn Tegid’s foreshore car park. The foreshore is the safest spot, but children must be supervised at all times. Swimming is not permitted from boats out on the lake.

What people say: “Excellent fresh water lake for outdoor swimmers. Several places to park on the main road, with good access to the water. There’s also many easy places to get out.”

How to find it:

Beautiful Llanddwyn Island
Beautiful Llanddwyn Island -Credit:Catherine Chambers / Facebook

Llanddwyn Island

Best for: Beautiful scenery

Just off Anglesey’s southern coast, at Newborough, this magical island is surrounded by beautiful secluded sands with Snowdonia providing a stunning backdrop. Scenery doesn’t get much better than this.

It being an island, you can usually find sheltered water one side or the other. On the western side you can find secluded rock coves, while the east coast it where you’ll find sandy coves to swim from.

What people say: “Had an awesome wade over to Llandwyn island at high tide, which is beautiful. Then a short swim in the sea, which is really clean and warm this time of year (August).”

How to find it:

Pistyll Cain waterfall in Coed y Brenin forest
Pistyll Cain waterfall in Coed y Brenin forest -Credit:Keith Ruffles/Wiki

Rhaeadr Mawddach and Pistyll Cain

Best for: Combining with mountain biking.

These two waterfalls lie fairly close to eachother in Coed y Brenin forest, near Dolgellau. They can be accessed via a three-mile walk or by bike along the waterfall & goldmine trail from the visitor centre car park.

The walk follows the Afon Mawddach river to its junction with the Afon Cain, where the Pistyll Cain tumbles 65ft over a rock cliff. A little further on, on the main river, is the little visited Rhaeadr Mawddach which, while not as tall as its neighbour, it has a greater water flow.

At its base is a large and deep plunge pool, set among the ruins of the Gwynfynydd goldmine. Care needs to be taken when water levels are high.

What people say: “A bit turbulent when we went, wouldn’t recommend a casual swim when water’s high, somewhere to go back to when the water’s down a bit.”

How to find it:

Open water swimmers in Llyn Padarn, Snowdonia
Open water swimmers in Llyn Padarn, Snowdonia -Credit:Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Llyn Padarn

Best for: Accessibility

Many of Snowdonia’s lakes can be remote and hard to reach, but this one certainly isn’t. It may not be as secluded as some spots but it is no less a beautiful place to enjoy a swim.

There are plenty of routes available, so the Llanberis lake is ideal for all levels of experience. Snowdonia Watersports close to the lake offers supported and guided swims – and plenty of other water activities too.

The lake’s waters are monitored by Gwynedd Council and meet the highest EU guidelines. There’s lots of parking and a free public toilet too.

What people say: “It can be busy at weekends in the summer but if you swim in the middle rather than the lagoons it will be quiet. The bottom of the lake is very slippery as its a slate bottom. You can scratch and cut your feet, but the swimming is worth it. “

How to find it:

Llyn Cau

Best for: Experienced swimmers

A dramatic place for a dip – a glacial cwm on Cadair Idris with a towering curtain of mountain walls. It’s quite a hike up from the car park – it can take around 30 minutes – but at least you’ll arrive ready for a swim.

There's a small stony beach on the western side from which you can steep into the lake – though some people have been known to dive from rocks. As this is a remote spot, and the waters can be cold, any swimmers will need to be extra careful.

What people say: “With the sun on the lake it is wonderfully blue and clear. Lots of steps at the bottom of the walk but it was well worth it.”

How to find it:

Afon Cwm Llan cascades down Snowdon near Watkin Path. Bathing in the pools by the path has become increasingly popular
Llyn Cau in the embrace of Cadair Idris

Watkin pools

Best for: Insta envy

This is a series of pools and falls close to the Watkins path on Snowdon. Until recently it wasn’t renowned as a Snowdonia hotspot but during the pandemic its popularity has exploded on Instagram.

If you do take the plunge, and pose for photos in the clear mountain waters, be aware that you will probably be overlooked by envious walkers trudging up the mountain. On warm days it makes for a perfect cool-down.

What people say: “5 star turquoise waters – the kind of place that makes you feel like its summer on the darkest day. Crystal clear, ice cold, delicious. Children adore it.”

How to find it:

Llyn Gwynant, in the distance, is surrounded by the beauty of the Nant Gwynant valley
Afon Cwm Llan cascades down Snowdon near Watkin Path. Bathing in the pools by the path has become increasingly popular -Credit:Eryl Crump/North Wales Live

Llyn Gwynant

Best for: Making a splash

This roadside lake near Beddgelert is easily accessible with some parking available on the A498. As the location for several Hollywood films, it’s a popular spot for swimmers with a small “beach” by the road and a larger one at Llyn Gwnant campsite.

Both ends of the lake are shallow which means it can be pleasantly warm in the summer. This also makes it a great spot for younger kids to paddle.

The more adventurous can swim out across the lake to Clogwyn y Fulfran (Cormorant Rock), known by many as the Elephant Rock. This offers a great perch for jumping and making a splash. However, swimmers are warned to check below before jumping in case of temporary obstructions such as logs.

What people say: “Swam here with my family about 11am and it was amazing.”

How to find it:

Llynnau Diffwys beneath Cnicht in Snowdonia
Llyn Gwynant, in the distance, is surrounded by the beauty of the Nant Gwynant valley -Credit:Getty Images

Lynnau Diffwys

Best for: Getting away from it all

Enjoy some proper upland swimming in the shadow of Moelwyn Mawr above the village of Croesor, Gwynedd. There are two small tarns here, giving views of Cnicht and out to the Dwyryd estuary and Porthmadog.

These are two lakes that offer great reward for the weary walker on hot days. The area has plenty of other lakes as well as the spectacular slate ruins of Rhosydd mine.

What people say: “Water very pleasant. No litter. In parts there are large amounts of detritus and the rocks at the bottom are pretty slippery.”

How to find it:

The magical Fairy Glen near Betws Y Coed is a riot of green in the summer
Llynnau Diffwys beneath Cnicht in Snowdonia -Credit:Peter S/Wiki

Fairy Glen

Best for: Magical experiences

Fairy Glen (Ffos Anoddyn) is an emerald green ravine in a narrow gorge near Betws y Coed that is popular with walkers and nature lovers. It is possible to swim along the deeper sections in the middle of the River Conwy and there as some large bounders on which to perch.

A larger pool lies at the River Conwy’s confluence with the River Machno. This has grassy banks and is less shaded.

Parking is at the dedicated Fairy Glen car park (£1 per vehicle, £1 per adult & 50p for children); or the Clough Williams-Ellis-designed Conwy Falls Cafe (Adults £1.50, U18s £1, U5s and locals £1).

What people say: “Plenty of shallower areas for paddling. Not recommended in high water for a swim.”

How to find it:

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Swimming safely

Reservoirs, lakes and rivers are tempting for swimmers to try to cross. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble. Here are some basic risks to consider from the Royal Life Saving Society:

  • The shock of cold water can make swimming difficult and increase the difficulty in getting out of the water

  • Lack of safety equipment and increased difficulty for rescue

  • The height of the fall or jump if tombstoning

  • The depth of the water – this changes and is unpredictable

  • Underwater objects and hazards may not be visible

  • Obstacles or other people in the water

  • Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away

  • Uneven banks and river beds

  • Water quality, eg. toxic algal blooms and industrial/agricultural pollution

Code of conduct

The Outdoor Swimming Society has produced some guidelines for the responsible swimmer. These include:

  • Leave no trace, taking all litter (away with you.

  • Be sensitive about numbers and the impacts on popular swim spots, and go elsewhere if it is busy.

  • Be aware of fire risk and avoid starting a fire or causing damage with barbecues or cigarettes.

  • Do not pick, uproot, damage or trample plants or trees, including waterweed

  • Avoid removing rocks or disturbing land features

  • Avoid disturbing livestock or wildlife, including animals, birds, fish and invertebrates.

  • Keep clear of areas important for fish breeding and spawning

  • Be bio secure – check, clean, dry swim gear for organisms after swimming

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