There isn't a more welcoming oasis in the desert than a swimming hole in Arizona. In this state famous for giant cacti and triple-digit temperatures, there are actually many hidden canyons that flow with cold, clear water. If you know where to look, you can find relief on even the hottest of days in Arizona.
Note that all riparian zones are sensitive ecosystems, and this is especially true of water in the desert. Keep these places clean and enjoyable for others by leaving no trace. Stay on trails, pick up trash, don't disturb plants or wildlife, and respect other users and private property.
Additionally, many of these swimming holes are within narrow canyons that are at risk for dangerous flash floods. For safety, be sure to always check the weather forecast and be aware that isolated storms can cause heavy rainfall and high water in a very short amount of time. See our article about summer monsoons for more information.
- Lower Salt River: A surprisingly short drive from downtown Phoenix reaches the Salt River, where runoff from the distant mountains waters the desert. Here you can swim, float, and paddle among huge cacti, towering cliffs, and a herd of wild horses.
- Acacia Recreation Site: Along the Apache Scenic Byway, more of the Salt River awaits upstream. Canyon Lake is one of the most beautiful water bodies in the state. Acacia Recreation Site is situated with pristine views along a quiet shoreline.
- Boulder Recreation Site: Another beautiful spot on Canyon Lake, Boulder Recreation Site features picnic shelters and is close to the marina for food, supplies, and rentals.
- Upper Burnt Corral: Near the eastern end of the Byway is Upper Burnt Corral on Apache Lake. This secluded spot offers rustic camping, a shallow cove, and amazing scenery tucked away from the road.
- Fossil Creek: Probably Arizona's most famous swimming hole, and for good reason, is Fossil Creek Falls near Camp Verde. This perennial spring-fed stream cascades down many waterfalls, including a few big ones that form perfect swimming holes at the bottom.
- West Clear Creek: From afternoon outings or a multi-day treks, West Clear Creek has it all. The swimming hole at Bull Pen Day Use Area is easy to access and fun for the whole family, but it is fed by waters flowing from a remote wilderness area where further adventure awaits.
- Slide Rock: The namesake swimming hole at Slide Rock State Park is a family destination famous for its beautiful emerald water that cascades down red rock banks, forming a natural waterslide. Located along the highway between Sedona and Flagstaff, it is easy to access and extremely popular on summer weekends.
- Grasshopper Point: Often overlooked because of its proximity to Slide Rock, Grasshopper Point is another great swimming hole on Oak Creek. It features a pebbly beach, cliff jumping, and a pretty little cascade surrounded by lush vegetation along the river.
- Red Rock Crossing/Crescent Moon Ranch: This creekside hideaway in Sedona is well known for its gorgeous views of Cathedral Rock, and it is also a great spot for wading and swimming in the cool water of Oak Creek.
- East Clear Creek: Swim or paddle in the cool reservoir near Winslow. East Clear Creek hides beneath steep canyon walls that drop out of flat plains and shelter the stream from summer sun. The water stays cool and inviting even on the hottest days.
- Havasupai: Havasu Falls is one of the most photogenic waterfalls anywhere, and it is located in the most unlikely of places. Far below the rim of the Grand Canyon is a Native American village on the banks of a blue-green creek fed by springs in the canyon walls. These sacred waters flow over several falls and into heavenly swimming holes that are only accessible by a long hike with a permit in advance.
- Water Wheel Area: This exceptionally beautiful canyon contains waterfalls, boulders, cliffs, and a log ladder. Multiple access points and hikes of varying distances access different parts of the creek, offering something for everyone and ways to escape the crowds.
- Wolf Creek: Huge waterfalls feed pristine pools when snowmelt or monsoon rain fills Wolf Creek. A hike through pine forest leads to this hidden treasure, which is in easy proximity to downtown Prescott.
- Seven Falls: Spring runoff and summer monsoons make the steep gorge of Bear Canyon flow in spectacular falls. The cascades fill several swimming holes that are only accessible by a desert hike, but it is well worth the trip.
- Tanque Verde Falls: Another canyon trek leads to a stream that runs close to Saguaro National Park. As the sun heats the desert in spring and snow melts from the mountains, Tanque Verde fills with rushing water and brings the desert to life.
- Romero Pools: Another seasonal swimming hole can be found in Catalina State Park, but it is guarded by a steep and rocky hike through the desert. The journey up Romero Canyon is well worth it when the stream is flowing and the pools are full.
- Frye Mesa Reservoir: A shadowy canyon near the foot of Mount Graham shelters a desert oasis with rare trout and many recreation opportunities. Swimming, paddling, fishing, camping and canyoneering are all excellent here.
- Gila Box: This is a national conservation area with abundant wildlife and plenty of opportunities for escaping the heat. Here the Gila River narrows through a gorge that flows with whitewater in early spring, but it later lessens to reveal inviting pools for swimming.