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13 refreshing swimming lakes and rivers near Philly

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Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated with the most recent information.

Memorial Day is right around the corner, and it’s a perfect time to start planning some summer fun. Even though there is a ton to do in and immediately around Philly this season, sometimes it’s best to take a break from the city.

And what better way to take an outdoor break than by the water?

So pile up a cooler full of food and drinks, grab whatever swimwear you have, and round up your friends: this is your guide to 13 of the best refreshing lakes and rivers around Philly.

All of these spots include swimming or boating opportunities (or both!) and they’re all within a two hour drive of the city, so you can take off an afternoon and enjoy the outdoors.

Got another spot within two hours, give or take? Leave a comment, or send us a tip and we'll add it to the list.

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Bellmawr Lake

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This is a popular swimming lake in Bellmawr, just 15 to 20 minutes from Center City. It's open Mondays through Sundays, and there are places to picnic or buy food and drinks. Sorry, no alcohol or pets permitted. It's $6 and $8 for children and adults on weekdays, and $7 and $10 on weekends.

Atsion Recreation Area

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A 50-minute drive from Center City brings you to Atsion Lake in Wharton State Forest, where you can swim during the summers while lifeguards are on duty. This popular lake does fill up, so the website suggests to call ahead. If you want to make a weekend out of it, you can camp in the park, too.

In the foreground is a clearing between trees with two boats. The clearing is adjacent to a body of water. There are trees in the distance. Wikimedia Commons

Lake Absegami

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Lake Absegami is a little over an hour from Center City. You can swim, canoe, and kayak in the 67-acre lake when lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There are also hiking trails all around. Car entrance fees range from $5 to $20; walk-in fees are $2.

Union Lake

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Union Lake, the largest freshwater lake in New Jersey, is less than an hour's drive from Philly, in Millville. It's massive: The lake is nearly 900 acres and popular for fishing, swimming, and boating, and there are countless trails to explore, too.

Brandywine River

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Down in Delaware you can go tubing, canoeing, and kayaking along the Brandywine River. It's a shallow, but lovely river that meanders past historic spots and offers lots of breaks along the way to camp out and enjoy the scenery. Check out Northbrook Canoe Company in West Chester or Wilderness Canoe Trips in Fairfax, Delaware.

West Norriton Township-Schuylkill River

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A Curbed reader tipped us off about this section of the Schuylkill in West Norriton Township near Valley Forge. Here, you'll find triathletes with French Creek Racing training. The section of the river has fully-staffed lifeguarded swims twice a week from Easter through Halloween.

Blue Marsh Lake

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Blue Marsh Lake, a man-made lake just west of Reading, Pennsylvania, sits along Tulpehocken Creek and has a swimming beach (no lifeguards on duty), boat launches, hiking, bike trails, and picnic benches.

Lehigh River

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If you have your own gear (tubes, canoes, kayaks, etc.) and want to do your own thing, spend a day on the Lehigh River. Waters are a bit tamer here in the Lehigh Valley than other spots along the river. Locals suggest taking off from Canal Park in Allentown and ending in Sand Park.

Delaware River

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In less than two hours you can be tubing, kayaking, canoeing, or white-water rafting along the Delaware River up north. You'll catch a view of the Lehigh River Falls, and there's a sand bar to hang out and grab some lunch from your cooler.

Locust Lake

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Without traffic, you can get to this 52-acre lake in just under two hours. It sits on the edge of Locust Mountain and is a popular swimming and fishing spot. Note: There are no lifeguards, so swim at your own risk.

Tuscarora State Park

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Not far from Locust Lake is Tuscarora State Park. There's a sand beach along the lake and you can rent boats, too. This lake is also not monitored, so swim at your own risk.

Beltzville State Park

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This beautiful lake is just under two hours from Center City near Jim Thorpe. There's a 525-foot sand beach to park your beach chairs and towels, and canoes and kayaks are permitted. You can rent boats at the lake, too.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

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Just on the edge of the Poconos is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a massive 70,000-acre park that features countless waterfalls, swimming holes, and plenty of places to cruise along the Delaware River. Don't know where to start? The main headquarters is in Bushkill, PA, which is about a two-hour drive from Center City give or take.

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Bellmawr Lake

This is a popular swimming lake in Bellmawr, just 15 to 20 minutes from Center City. It's open Mondays through Sundays, and there are places to picnic or buy food and drinks. Sorry, no alcohol or pets permitted. It's $6 and $8 for children and adults on weekdays, and $7 and $10 on weekends.

Atsion Recreation Area

In the foreground is a clearing between trees with two boats. The clearing is adjacent to a body of water. There are trees in the distance. Wikimedia Commons

A 50-minute drive from Center City brings you to Atsion Lake in Wharton State Forest, where you can swim during the summers while lifeguards are on duty. This popular lake does fill up, so the website suggests to call ahead. If you want to make a weekend out of it, you can camp in the park, too.

In the foreground is a clearing between trees with two boats. The clearing is adjacent to a body of water. There are trees in the distance. Wikimedia Commons

Lake Absegami

Lake Absegami is a little over an hour from Center City. You can swim, canoe, and kayak in the 67-acre lake when lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There are also hiking trails all around. Car entrance fees range from $5 to $20; walk-in fees are $2.

Union Lake

Union Lake, the largest freshwater lake in New Jersey, is less than an hour's drive from Philly, in Millville. It's massive: The lake is nearly 900 acres and popular for fishing, swimming, and boating, and there are countless trails to explore, too.

Brandywine River

Down in Delaware you can go tubing, canoeing, and kayaking along the Brandywine River. It's a shallow, but lovely river that meanders past historic spots and offers lots of breaks along the way to camp out and enjoy the scenery. Check out Northbrook Canoe Company in West Chester or Wilderness Canoe Trips in Fairfax, Delaware.

West Norriton Township-Schuylkill River

A Curbed reader tipped us off about this section of the Schuylkill in West Norriton Township near Valley Forge. Here, you'll find triathletes with French Creek Racing training. The section of the river has fully-staffed lifeguarded swims twice a week from Easter through Halloween.

Blue Marsh Lake

Blue Marsh Lake, a man-made lake just west of Reading, Pennsylvania, sits along Tulpehocken Creek and has a swimming beach (no lifeguards on duty), boat launches, hiking, bike trails, and picnic benches.

Lehigh River

If you have your own gear (tubes, canoes, kayaks, etc.) and want to do your own thing, spend a day on the Lehigh River. Waters are a bit tamer here in the Lehigh Valley than other spots along the river. Locals suggest taking off from Canal Park in Allentown and ending in Sand Park.

Delaware River

In less than two hours you can be tubing, kayaking, canoeing, or white-water rafting along the Delaware River up north. You'll catch a view of the Lehigh River Falls, and there's a sand bar to hang out and grab some lunch from your cooler.

Locust Lake

Without traffic, you can get to this 52-acre lake in just under two hours. It sits on the edge of Locust Mountain and is a popular swimming and fishing spot. Note: There are no lifeguards, so swim at your own risk.

Tuscarora State Park

Not far from Locust Lake is Tuscarora State Park. There's a sand beach along the lake and you can rent boats, too. This lake is also not monitored, so swim at your own risk.

Beltzville State Park

This beautiful lake is just under two hours from Center City near Jim Thorpe. There's a 525-foot sand beach to park your beach chairs and towels, and canoes and kayaks are permitted. You can rent boats at the lake, too.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Just on the edge of the Poconos is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a massive 70,000-acre park that features countless waterfalls, swimming holes, and plenty of places to cruise along the Delaware River. Don't know where to start? The main headquarters is in Bushkill, PA, which is about a two-hour drive from Center City give or take.