How to Build a DIY Natural Swimming Pond (with Pictures)

Want to build your own DIY Natural Swimming Pond? There’s a certain joy to having a peaceful, natural body of water to relax by in your back yard and we’re here to help you.

It’s important to know that despite it being a huge project, building your own DIY swimming pond is a very straightforward process and can be accomplished if you are determined. If you gather the right tools and materials, do proper research, and follow the correct steps, you’ll be floating in your natural swimming pond in no time.

This step-by-step build, courtesy of reddit user power-cube, will show exactly what you need to do to build your own DIY natural swimming pond.

DIY Swimming Pond Build:

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

So let’s start things off with a few “After” pictures.

I wasn’t going to post this project for another year to let the landscaping come in fully but I have had some requests to see the build now after I posted a picture in a comment asking about building a pond so I’m pulling the trigger a little early. You will just have to use your imagination on what the landscaping will look like given another year.

I’m sorry this album is so large but this was a 3+ year project and ultimately this is really a mega album of all of the little sub-projects that came together into this final form.

This is looking from the sand beach into the “natural” end which has fish (bass, bluegill, catfish, grass carp).

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

From a different angle looking at the sand beach and the natural “swimming hole” on the right.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

This is from the far end of the natural pond looking back toward the swimming hole. You can also see both waterfalls – the large one that feeds the swimming hole and the smaller one that controls the water level on the swimming side.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

This project was just a little bit of work so I think I deserved this break. 🙂

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Yep. Still here. I have strategically placed low voltage LED lights that turn on at dusk.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

This is the beginning of the second full year and the water is starting to clear nice. It will probably take one more season to get it super clear. I have flagstone that I will be putting down on each of the seating areas as i am not happy with the mortar finish I did on them.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Aerial view to get a better understanding of layout and scale.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

And one last shots before we go through the build. Some of you might remember Hallie Beary. She was a good ol’ girl and really loved getting to enjoy this pond that last year of her life.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

The most important thing I will focus on here are the mistakes – and there are many – so if anyone is masochistic enough to want to try this maybe you can avoid some of my costly mistakes.

So here’s a shot of the roughed in natural pond end.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

I hired a friend that has an excavation company to do this part. In hindsight I wish I had done it myself. I just had never used an excavator before but I shouldn’t have let that intimidate me.

After this initial excavation I found that I could rent an excavator for a full weekend – delivery and pick-up included – for $300. I ended up renting one four times – three just to get the damn pump system installed and working correctly (I’ll cover that later).

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Here’s the rough excavation of the swimming hole end and the drop-in where the waterfall will be.

Once the basic excavation was completed I purchased a heavy duty pond liner – 200 x 50.

Installation was a two person job (thanks Wifey!) The liner is very heavy so make sure you place it in the right spot. It needs to be right in the center. Then as you unfold it in each direction you aren’t lifting as much and two people can handle it just fine.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

So you might be asking “did you need the liner”? Not really but after the rough excavation I filled the pond several times to test the seep rate. It wasn’t bad – about a half inch a day – but I felt like in our hot summers with evaporation included that might be more like 1- 2″ so I went ahead and popped for the liner so I’m really only dealing with water loss from evaporation.

With the liner in place it was time for some sand. In total I used 60 tons of sand. The hardest part was there was no way for the dump trucks to distribute the sand.

So time for some conscripted labor. Again, thanks wifey and son!

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Because I was doing the work on weekends I really couldn’t control things like getting all the sand in before the pond started filling from rain. So I would deliver buckets of sand with my bobcat around the perimeter and then work it out to flat with my feet. At least the water kept me cool.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Now time to start bringing in the stone. 70 tons of river stone by the time it was all said and done. Three sizes – large, bearclaws,…

DIY Natural Swimming Pond bed rock

and eggs (plus pea gravel)

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Starting on the swimming hole end I would bring in buckets of stones with my bobcat to get them rough located.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Then it was just heavy lifting. Positioning each and every stone by hand.

It was always a battle since I could only work on the weekends. Many times my first task of the weekend was to pump all the water out that had filled it during the week.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Next was roughing in the waterfall. I hand dug each “stair” of the waterfall and then put larger round river stones at the base of each step.

I know it doesn’t look like much but it’s coming together.

Next I added flagstone flats to each of the steps of the waterfall. At this point I wasn’t too worried about anything other than getting good coverage. Once I had the waterfall in place I figured I would hand adjust them as needed to get the best water flow and action.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond water pump

With the swim hole roughed in I turned my attention to the pumping system. MAJOR MISTAKES were made here.

So I started with a 330-gallon cistern. I cut out one side of it and a slot on the top with a sawzall.

Then I made a filtration basket for the center that would get stuffed with barley hay for both filtration and as a natural algae-cide.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond water pump

So what was the mistake you ask? Well I know nothing about pumps. I thought I understood them but I was sorely mistaken.

This picture is behind the “hill” that will have the waterfall. The small gray “house” in the background of this picture is the pump house for a deep well that I had dug to provide access to “top-off” water for the pond.

Because I already had electric at the pump house I put in I figured that would be a great place to put the cistern. I figured I could trench all the way to the other end of the natural pond end around the perimeter of the pond and bury 4 inch PVC. So long as it was buried below the bottom of the pond level I reasoned that the pipe would always be full of water and gravity would keep the cistern full.

Guess what? That doesn’t work. As I learned, high-volume submersible pumps are great at PUSHING water but they don’t really pull water. Once I had it all hooked up and turned on the pump proceeded to suck that water out of the cistern in nothing flat and then the pump was starved for water as the PVC pipe just was delivering water but not at pressure.

So next plan. The pipe I buried was 4′ pvc which has no pressure rating. Now I was going to need to move the pump to the opposite end of the pond so that it could “push” the water up to the waterfall.

That means pressure in the pipe. So I had to dig the whole thing up (destroying the pipe in the process) and rebury 3″ pipe that had could handle the pressure.

Of course moving to the other end also meant I needed electricity down there so I had to run a line from the barn.

Now with the pump setup in a way that SHOULD work I was ready to give it a try. Also note that I have added microfiber filters for a third level of filtration.

I immediately found that I needed to dig down further in the opening to the cistern area or the pump got starved.
Note all the stone behind ready to start filling in this end.

So first try and WE HAVE WATER! I may not look like much but there is a lot of water flowing over that waterfall. I just hadn’t arranged the flagstone yet so it was mostly running under and around the stones.

So now all drained down again I was ready to build in the separating waterfall that maintains the water level in the swim hole.

It took some trial and error but what I found worked well on this end to ensure the water contained was to pour dry mortar bags over and between the rocks. Then I would lightly spray them with a hose to clean off the faces and then let the mortar continue to suck moisture and dry.

Here I’m now doing the actual waterfall side the same way.

Next BIG MISTAKE. Never underestimate the power of water. If you look closely you will see that I did the waterfall pretty vertical. I also made the mistake of putting in the sand FIRST. So the rocks were sitting on top of sand.

As soon as I tried to test the waterfall it started out just fine and then within minutes the whole thing collapsed as the water found its way through and undermined the dam. Damn.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

No biggie. If at first you don’t succeed… So I dug out all the sand down to the liner. Rebuilt the dam and widened it to further relieve the pressure.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Bingo. Once I had it working I just added another layer of stones to cover all of the mortar.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Now I brought in several tons of pea gravel. When the natural pond side is running with its water level low this gravel gets exposed and I have a neat little stream bed that becomes active. Water still is running through the gravel and this acts as a natural filter for any larger debris.

Another trick I learned at this point is that where the different materials (pea gravel and sand in this case) meet there tends to be a natural “wash” and some of the liner ends up getting exposed. The easy answer is to simply add more accent stones where this happens (see next picture).

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Raise the water level in the natural swimming pond end and the gravel is submerged. In this configuration the gravel still catches most debris coming down.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Evening shot.

Okay. Back to work. Drained again it’s time to finish the natural swimming hole. Again I used dry mortar to get the stones that people might push against (those on the walls basically) locked in place.

Also time to cut in some stairs down into the swimming hole.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Stones and dry mortar complete the steps.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Now for the shallow wading/seating areas on each side. I filled them with dry mortar and then ran a rake through them.

I added more mortar to all of the side stones.

Then a nice light spray to get it set in place and to clean off the rock faces.

Looking good.

I usually have about 10 projects going at once so when I was pouring the foundation for my office/workshop I had some left over concrete so we just dumped it in the bottom of the natural swimming pond and leveled it out. No real reason for this. Just figured why not.

New problem! After some time I started to see places where the liner was “bubbling up” from under the sand in the natural end. This was caused by air bubbles that were stuck and as I added more and more weight with the stones it had to go somewhere and up was the only place to go.

The solution was to puncture the liner and let all of the air out. Then re-cover it with sand and stones.

Before you ask, yes it is actually okay to puncture the liner. I don’t need it to be “watertight”. It is just to keep down the seep rate and there is no where for the water to go anyway once the liner is pressed against the underlying clay.

And as discussed earlier – where ever you run into a problem with some of the liner showing just add accent rocks to hold it down and cover it.

Now to do the natural swimming pond end. Same task – just a lot more stones to stack by hand.

I also added a large accent boulder in the middle that will be submerged several feet once the pond is filled

This wall was the hardest because there was no real slope to it. At one point I had settled on cutting some pines from the property and creating a submerged wood wall here. The books that I bought on natural swimming pond building explained that submerged wood will never rot.

However after thinking about the overall look I felt that would look too “man-made” so I stayed with stone even though it was a pain in the ass.

So as you can see toward the far end going with stone I needed a lot more rock to be able to get up the side.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

With the walls complete it was time for my next mistake – but not a big one. This shelf is going to be a bed of cattails. I decided to mix in peat moss to make the soil better. Nope. Don’t do that when you are going to submerge the ground.

Peat moss is light airy material – that floats. Ultimately most of this just floated around for a while and ultimately got filtered out so it was a useless expense.

Time to start the landscaping!! I bought cattail roots off of eBay for $2 bucks each. I planted 50 of them.

They come up fast.

And furious. Behind the cattails I planted a weeping willow tree that I bought on eBay also. It came as a little short stick and within a few months is as big as you see here.

Free landscaping is nice too. We were visiting family in Florida so I dug this water plant up and brought it back and planted it.

It liked the move into a natural swimming pond.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Then I added bullrush harvested from my beaver pond. And water hycinth also from eBay.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Canus around the bullrush from Pike’s nursery.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

This is a perennial that my wife picked out. I don’t know the name of it but it loves the location and is poised to really fill in this year. (UPDATE: Mexican Petunia)

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Some various grasses.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

And finally some water lilies.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

As you can see the water is quickly clearing with the pump running 24/7 through the filtration.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Here’s a shot with most everything coming in. Still waiting on some spotty grass that will fill in this year.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

And apparently the Egret is more than happy to use the pond even if it isn’t completely finished.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

A quick rest then back to work.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Next I needed to be able to “top off” the natural swimming pond whenever the water level got low from evaporation.

So I ran a water line off of the pump house up the back of the waterfall hill.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

And into the top of the waterfall.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

Whenever I want to raise the water level I just open the tap for a day. When I want to lower it I just wait for nature to do it’s evaporation job. It takes about two weeks for the pond to drop a foot on the natural swimming pond end.

With the water line buried now I was ready to add a viewing patio above the waterfall. First I temporarily bordered the area with a metal landscaping trim.

Then I added sand, tamped it, and then started laying out flagstone.

A bit more forced labor. My son went around and added sand between the cracks and planted zoysia grass seed.

Watered in.

And then swept off. We’ll get the grass up this spring.

We did the same thing on our front walkway last year so this is roughly what it will look like once the zoysia grass comes in. This walkway probably needs one more year to get to perfect.

On the backside of the waterfall hill I planted bamboo that I harvested growing wild. Within a year or two there should be 15′ curtain of bamboo that surrounds 180 degrees of this raised patio.

Now I added a six pack of solar lights from Home Depot.

Now moving on to the fire pit. I scribed a circle on the ground and dug it out. Using my cement mixer I got a good footer poured.

Then I used landscaping bricks from Home Depot to form the firepit. I did not mortar these in place. The last fire pit I did and I regretted it. Over time the bricks can get cracked.

Keeping them lose fit makes it easy to remove and replace individual bricks if one breaks.

We added a little fun winding wood wall with some split firewood.

Now for some final hard-scaping. There are a lot of large rocks distributed around my property. Using my bobcat I found ones I liked and strategically placed them around the natural swimming pond.

Like here.

For some of the bigger ones I needed more than my bobcat. Fun fun.

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

And there you have it!

DIY Natural Swimming Pond

A few bonus pics. The grasses in bloom around the waterfall.

The cattails and willow tree at night.

I hope you enjoyed viewing this project. It has been a labor of love and we are just now starting to really get to enjoy it.

Remember I had no idea what I was doing when I started building this DIY natural swimming pond. I just did it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Just start doing it. You will make mistakes. You will learn. You will figure it out. Now have fun and go build something!

If you enjoyed this DIY natural swimming pond build then check out our other photo documented DIY project examples.

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