The little trail led us past wild roses, buttercups and forget-me-nots. It was a hot June afternoon — at least by northern Minnesota standards — and we needed a swim.

Somewhere over our left shoulders, not visible for much of our hike, flowed a frisky North Shore stream downbound for Lake Superior. Its waters dance over long stretches of relatively flat country, but in some places, the tannin-stained water plunges over ancient rock formations in modest falls. Below these drops, the river has carved out pockets a few feet deep.

Swimming holes.

Phyllis was up ahead on the trail, and the yellow dog was beyond her, snuffling up scent.

We are certainly not the only ones who know about this river’s swimming holes. On occasion, we see others who have come here to cool off and appreciate the spirit of a wild river. Most of these plunge pools are big enough to accommodate only a few swimmers at a time, though, so if we see another party, we keep moving upstream.

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We arrived at our favorite swimming hole and peered down the bank to check for other swimmers. Nobody home. It was ours.

We clambered down, shucked most of our clothing, then dipped toes into the current to take the river’s temperature. Excellent. Not quite as warm as when we had been there a few days earlier, but basically perfect.

The yellow dog always has to be the first one in, but then she’s probably hotter than we are because she's wearing all that fur. We plopped off the smooth riverside rocks, into a pool the color of iced tea.

On the upstream side, three tongues of white water spilled over a rock ledge into our pool. Farther upriver, the water frothed over several other small lips, dancing its way on down to the prime swimming hole.

We were giddy with this initial plunge — the sensation of buoyancy, the sound of tumbling water, the cool current sliding over our skin. We gazed up at old pines leaning out over the river and the deep-blue sky beyond. Phyllis spotted an osprey flying downriver.

We bobbed about like toys in a bathtub, just grinning at each other. The yellow dog swam circles around us for a short time, then clambered up and out of the pool to catch some rays on a high rock. Working on her tan, we figured.

We eased up to the falls just to feel the force of the water coming over. We surface-dived and peered through the bubbles. We lay back and just floated, gazing skyward.

Winters are long here. We deserved every bit of this.

We are not the only creatures who swim this river. Up and down the North Shore, Lake Superior’s big rainbow trout ascend streams to spawn, leaping these falls at high water to deposit their eggs miles upstream. They do this in April and May, when the water temperatures are in the 30s and 40s. They are tougher than we are.

We floated and drifted about for a long time, the afternoon sun smiling down upon us. When we had had enough, we slithered out onto the rocks and joined the pup in the sun, basking like seals.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at