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10 Awesome Hike-to-Swim Adventures in the West

There’s no better way to cool off from a warm weather hike than by taking a dip in a lake, pond or swimming hole. Such bodies of water can be found in forests throughout the United States. Some are hidden gems, while some attract groups of people looking to cool off.  

Pack a towel, grab some sunscreen, throw on those Chacos and hit the trail to these 10 watering holes found in the western U.S. 

1. Big Dominguez Canyon: Grand Junction, Colorado

Image by Eyecrave Productions

Length: 8 to 14 miles round trip

Time: 4-plus hours

Difficulty: Easy

What to expect: The hike through Big Dominguez Canyon is epic all by itself. Along the way, you’ll view waterfalls, watering holes, petroglyphs and dwellings on this relatively flat trail. Bighorn sheep are often spotted as well. Hikers can decide how far they want to go into the canyon based on the attractions they want to see. There’s a waterfall at the most popular swimming hole around the 3.5-mile mark. Continue past to see the petroglyphs and dwellings at around 5.7, 5.8, 6.25 and 6.7 miles. This hike has no shade, so spring and fall are the best time to enjoy this watering hole, as the water also dries up come July. Be prepared with plenty of drinking water for this desert gem.

Fees: No fee

Pets permitted: Yes, but dogs must be leashed for some of this hike due to bighorn sheep. Signs let dog owners know where leashes are required. 

2. Dierkes Lake Trail: Twin Falls, Idaho

Image by Alex Frolov

Length: 1.8 miles round trip

Time: 45 minutes

Difficulty: Easy to moderate 

What to expect: Dierkes Lake can be found almost hidden along the Dierkes Trail, which has a mixed bag of surfaces, from steps and rock to singletrack and pavement. Surrounded by Snake River Canyon, the views are impressive. Along the way, you’ll also spot several small waterfalls and have the option to take trails to other lakes, including Echo Lake. 

Fees: $5 day use fee 

Pets permitted: Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail but not in the surrounding park.

3. Jones Hill Trail: Vernal, Utah

Image by NPS Photo/Jacob W. Frank

Length: 4.5 miles out and back

Time: 2.5-plus hours

Difficulty: Easy 

What to expect: The 15-foot Ely Creek Falls, within Dinosaur National Monument, features a falls-fed swimming hole. The falls happen to be in a part of the park that does not require an entry fee. The trail begins at the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery, which is worth visiting before you begin this relatively flat hike. The Jones Hill Trail has many exciting features from bridge crossings to petroglyphs as it makes its way to the falls.  If you want a longer hike, continue on the Jones Hill Trail as it follows the Green River for 8 miles round trip. Do not attempt to enter the Green River no matter how tempting—the current is deceptively strong. 

Fees: No fee

Pets permitted: No, dogs are not permitted along this trail. 

4. First Creek Canyon: Las Vegas, Nevada

Image by Jill Whitaker

Length: 4 miles round trip

Time: 2 hours

Difficulty: Easy 

What to expect: Although First Creek is located within Red Rock Canyon, this hike is outside the fee area and no reservation is needed. Many shade trees line this hike from willows to cottonwoods. Look for wild burro, desert tortoise and desert hares along the way, as these animals rely on the creek for water. There’s no maintained trail down to the falls or watering hole, but the path leads you to the top of the falls. The best time to hike First Creek is in late winter and early spring, when there will be water to wade in. 

Fees: No fees 

Pets permitted: Yes 

5. Jump Creek Falls: Marsing, Idaho 

Image by Anna Gorin

Length: 0.6 mile round trip

Time: 20 minutes 

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

What to expect: The 60-foot waterfall at Jump Creek is a highlight for those looking for a summer cooldown. The hike to this hidden waterfall is short but rocky. The area is perfect for spending the day cooling off, doing some cliff jumping and enjoying a picnic. Poison ivy is prevalent in the area, so stick to the trail. March through October is the best time to visit the falls. An alternative but longer and more difficult course is hiking from the upper parking lot for 1.9 miles, but dogs are not allowed on that trail. 

Fees: No fees 

Pets permitted: Yes 

6. Lake Serene: Gold Bar, Washington 

Image by Jamie Coupaud

Length: 7.2 miles round trip 

Time: 5+ hours

Difficulty: Hard 

What to expect: This 7.2-mile, out-and-back hike is rated “hard” for many factors.  It features uneven and steep terrain and many switchbacks, though those help with some of the elevation gain. Several smaller waterfalls and wild berries, including blueberries and huckleberries, are found along the trail mid-summer. Hikers may also take a half-mile detour to see Bridal Veil Falls up close. Be aware that the water in this mountain lake is cold even in the hottest months, but will feel quite refreshing after the challenging trip. The rocks around the lake offer a nice spot for a picnic or for drying off post-dip. This hike is very popular in the summer, when weekdays mean more parking and fewer crowds. 

Fees:  $5 per vehicle per day, or a valid $30 recreation pass

Pets permitted: Yes, leashed pups are allowed on the trail. 

7. Opal Pool: Lyons, Oregon

Image by Samson1976

Length: 6.6 miles round trip

Time: 2.5-plus hours

Difficulty: Moderate 

What to expect: A walk through mining history waits for you before you reach the Opal Pool, named after Opal Elliott, the wife of early National Forest Service ranger Roy Elliott. You’ll pass Jawbone Flats (the mine) and the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center before you reach the emerald green waters. The former Merton Saw Mill site and the 30-foot Cascada de los Ninos (Waterfall of the Children) are also highlights along the trail. The old-growth forest features towering trees over 700 years old. Spur trails lead to several watering holes and waterfalls along the route. This watering hole is a popular cool-off spot in summer, so be sure to arrive early or choose a weekday visit for fewer crowds. 

Fees: $5 per vehicle per day or a valid $30 recreation pass

Pets permitted: Yes, dogs on leashes are permitted.

8. Popo Agie Falls Trail: Lander, Wyoming

Image by Jamie Pilgrim

Length: 3.2 miles round trip

Time: 1.5-plus hours

Difficulty: Moderate 

What to expect: This trail follows the Popo Agie River with mist from the river cooling hikers along the way. Wildflowers line the trail, which also features views of Sinks Canyon. This trail also highlights a natural rock formation known as the Popo Agie Waterslide.The first part of the hike is easy but it gets harder as you make it to the falls. In total, it climbs over 650 feet, making a dip in the water all that more rewarding. Indeed, this hike is especially popular during those dog days of summer. 

Fees: No fee

Pets permitted: Yes, dogs on leashes are permitted. 

9. Slide Rock Route: Sedona, Arizona

Image by Bruce Carr

Length: 0.3 miles 

Time: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

What to expect: The 0.3-mile Slide Rock Route is primitive and follows Oak Creek. The trail descends steps and crosses a footbridge. During high runoff, visitors may have to stay on one side of the creek, as the footbridge may be covered in water. A swimming hole and natural water slide great visitors looking to cool down. Along the trail, hikers can view a historic rock cabin from the Pendley Homestead. Two additional short trails, the Pendley Homestead Trail and the Clifftop Nature Trail, offer different looks into the homestead and the Oak Creek Canyon area. If you’re a fan of westerns, you may recognize the site from the filming of Gun Fury or Broken Arrow. This area is very popular, especially during the summer months—arrive early because parking is limited. 

Fees: $10 to $30 per vehicle depending on the time of year and day of the week 

Pets permitted: Yes, dogs on leashes are permitted. 

10. South Yuba River State Park: Nevada City, California

Image by Senatorek

Length: 0.25 mile to 5 miles

Time: 15-plus minutes (depending on route)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate 

What to expect: Within South Yuba River State Park, there are several watering holes along the Yuba River to hike to. Old-growth pine and emerald waters greet hikers with a variety of hike lengths to various swim spots. Some of the recommended trails include Hoyt’s Trail (1.2 miles), Point Defiance Loop (2.8 miles), South Yuba Loop (5 miles) and Kneebone Beach (0.25 miles). The wheelchair-accessible Independence Trail flows 1.5 miles either east or west. Snow melt makes the water cooler but feels great on a hot day. Early mornings, weekdays or evenings are the best times to visit for smaller crowds. Choose late summer or early fall to walk through the water to avoid the runoff where water levels are high and the current is swift. 

Fees: Free to $10 depending on time of year and parking lot.Pets permitted: Yes, on some trails. Check ahead before you bring your pup.

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