Summer hikes can be carefree, challenging, or even exhilarating. But almost without exception, they’re dusty and hot. That’s why finding Utah swimming holes along your path can be like stumbling upon a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Unfortunately, many mountain lakes along the Wasatch Front are watersheds that don’t allow swimming. So the next time you want to take a refreshing dip after logging trail miles, head out of the city and dive into one of these six destinations.
1. Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Escalante, Utah
Tucked among weathered stone monoliths, this desert destination is named for its former use as a natural pen for calves. Today, the mile-long trek to the falls takes you to a pair of verdant oases. The more heavily trafficked Lower Calf Creek Falls offers a deep natural swimming pool at the foot of a spectacular 130-foot waterfall. For a little more hiking and a lot more solitude, choose the steep and scrambly Upper Calf Creek Falls route instead. The waterfall is smaller, measuring just 88 feet high, but you’ll find peace and quiet (and a few smaller, jumpable falls) at the trail’s end.
2. Death Hollow Canyon
Box-Death Hollow Wilderness in Escalante, Utah
For a serious challenge with a serious reward, take a long weekend and tackle this 14.4-mile out-and-back trail. (Or, if you’re an experienced climber, you can tackle the super-steep “sneak route” that will get you in and out of the canyon in a single day.) You’ll wend your way through a steep-walled canyon of brilliantly colored Navajo sandstone. Beware the poison ivy that clogs much of the trail during the summer, and be prepared for frequent steep, technical scrambles.
Once you reach the water, though, you’ll enjoy virtual solitude in an emerald pool surrounded by mosses, ferns, and wildflowers.
3. Red Reef Natural Water Slides
Red Cliffs Recreation Area in St. George, Utah
This seemingly barren, sun-scalded area hides a secret gem. An easy 1.5-mile hike leads you past alcoves containing ancient pictographs to a slot canyon with a climbable waterfall. Along the way, a variety of pools will tempt you from the trail, and some even feature water-washed rocks at the perfect angle for sliding. This area is accessible enough to be popular with families, so consider a weekday visit if personal space is important to you. Several first-come, first-serve campsites offer an overnight option, while the day-use area is supplied with picnic tables and drinkable water. Bonus: The nearby .16-mile Silver Reef Trail leads to dinosaur tracks.
4. Mill Creek North Fork
Near Moab, Utah
Skip the fast-moving, murky waters of the Colorado River and head for a refreshing dip at this popular spot instead. Just a quarter-mile down the trail, you can choose from several shallow pools, many of which have current strong enough to propel you along natural rock slides. Farther upstream, cliff jumpers plummet into the pool at the base of the falls, but unreliable depths and hidden rocks make this a risky venture.
5. Mona Rope Swings
Rather skip the hike and walk straight up to an idyllic swimming spot? Just half an hour outside Provo, the tiny town of Mona is home to a series of large, spring-fed ponds lined with old-fashioned rope swings. Grab on, hold tight, then sail out over—and into—the waters of the Burraston Ponds. Pack a picnic lunch and a kayak or canoe if you’re in the mood for a paddle. Table sites go quickly on weekends, so plan an early start.
6. Monkey Rock
Near Rexburg, Idaho
For an adventure a little further from home, head north to this popular splashing spot located near BYU-Idaho. Scale the rocky falls, then plummet— if you dare and have checked the water’s depth first—into the sparkling pool below. Not feeling like such a daredevil? The swimmer-friendly waters and photogenic setting make Monkey Rock a relaxing destination even if you’re not looking for an adrenaline rush. A word of warning: Stay out of the waters above the falls. They’re deceptively fast-moving and can sweep unwary swimmers over the edge and onto the rocks.
Wherever you swim this summer, be sure to follow posted rules and stay away from the water if a storm is brewing. Flash flooding can quickly turn a calm swimming hole into a danger zone.