When temperatures rise, there’s nothing better than cooling off at a pool deep in the wilds—and nowhere in the West more beautiful than these jaw-dropping spots
For Bucket-Listers: Havasu Falls, Supai, AZ
Sometimes the best things in life are free; other times they require a $40 permit—and either hiking or riding a pack mule down 10 steep miles to access. (Okay, you could also charter a helicopter.) But the payoff is worth it! Located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, this never-crowded, jaw-dropping pool fed by 100-foot Havasu Falls (pictured above) is one of the true gems of the Southwest. The bluer-than-blue water, the copper canyon walls, and a water temperature hovering about 72 degrees year-round are the stuff of dreams.
For Families: Hamilton Pool Preserve, Austin, TX
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You have to make a reservation for this popular swimming hole located about a half-hour drive from the city proper, but the advance planning and mini road trip are so worth it. From the parking lot, you’ll hike a few minutes to this big, deep-blue natural pool where you can get welcome respite from the oppressive Texas heat. A portion of the swimming hole is sheltered under a grotto, so you can opt to catch some rays or have it made in the shade. Here you’ll find many families cavorting in and out of the water, with some picnicking thrown into the mix.
For Tropical Adventurers: ‘Ohe’o Gulch, Maui, HI
You drove the iconic Road to Hāna and now you’re ready for a little adventure? Head straight to the enchanting Kīpahulu area along the coast, which contains the can’t-miss ‘Ohe’o Gulch (‘Ohe’o translates to “something special”—deservedly so). From the Kīpahulu visitor center, take the easy Kūloa Point Trail to a series of seven connected waterfalls bottoming out into swimming holes, otherwise known as the Seven Sacred Pools. Depending on the water level, you can wade or fully swim in them, but proceed carefully, as the pools’ rocky floors can be slippery and sometimes waterfalls can deposit unforeseen debris. Regardless of the occasional hazards, the pools are a majestic sight to behold. Want to make it a romantic trip of a lifetime? Pitch a tent at the adjacent Kīpahulu Campground overlooking the ocean.
For Urban Getaway Seekers: Jump Creek Falls, Marsing, ID
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This spot about a half-hour from Boise is a weekend winner. A quick quarter-mile trail leads to a 60-foot cascade spilling into an idyllic swimming hole nestled in a vibrant canyon in the Owyhee range. Channel your inner daredevil and go for the running jump over the edge of the falls, followed by some lazy floating in the pool below. Make it an afternoon: Pack a picnic and explore the surrounding rugged landscape, all the better to work up a sweat and come running back for another cannonball.
For Would-Be Nature Photographers: McCloud Falls, McCloud, CA
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For a somewhat less crowded waterfall-fed swimming hole experience, head to this ultra-scenic spot in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, about four hours north of San Francisco. You can reach any of the falls’ three tiers by car or on foot (on average via an easy 1.5-mile hike), but the middle section offers the best views of the 50-foot cascade as well as access to the 80-foot-across pool made for a picnic-and-a-dip afternoon.
For Forest Fans: Opal Creek Pools, Jawbone Flats, OR
Tucked into a pocket of the Willamette National Forest that’s equidistant from Portland, Eugene, and Bend, Opal Creek Wilderness merits a summer weekend road trip not only for woodsy frolicking and hiking, but also for these stunning emerald-green pools. You’ll have to work for ‘em a bit; the pools are situated along an easy (we promise) 7-mile loop hike through the largest old-growth forest in the Cascades. Once you reach the pools, you’ll find a variety of rocky outcroppings to jump off of (or sunbathe on), ample space for picnicking, and of course the swimming area itself.
For Scuba Divers: The Blue Hole, Santa Rosa, NM
Scuba diving…in the desert?! Yes, it’s true. The renowned Blue Hole, located off Route 66, is a geological wonder. The 81-foot-deep pool is one of seven cenotes, or sinkhole lakes, connected underground. What makes this one special is its astounding visibility (100 feet!), making it a huge draw for divers; the crystal-clear phenomenon is a result of the spring-fed water completely renewing itself every six hours via the underground aquifer. What’s more, its temperature remains a constant 62 degrees, a most refreshing respite from summer heat.
For Adrenaline Junkies: Devil’s Punch Bowl, Independence Pass, CO
Located about nine miles outside Aspen, this pool is fed by several small waterfalls and flanked by nearly vertical 20-foot cliffs that tempt one’s inner daredevil. Up to the challenge? Your bravery will be rewarded with icy cold, emerald water fed by the Roaring Fork River. Not to be confused with a swimming hole of the same name near Crested Butte, this spot is not for the faint of heart.