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Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort

06.28.17

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Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
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  • Mill Creek Waterfall, a refreshing stop near the end of Fins N Things Canyon.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • A celestial scene of Upper Butte Creek Falls, where there is a great late-summer swimming hole.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Thornton Lakes and Mount Triumph (7,240').- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • The quickest way to cool off in Crater Lake's pristine waters is to jump!- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Abrams Falls, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Swimming holes near Mooney Falls in the Grand Canyon.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • The difficult access to the swimming holes near Mooney Falls is more than worth it.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Lower Calf Creek Falls and its picturesque swimming hole.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Upper Catawba Falls from the pool below.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Big Sur RIver Gorge.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
  • Jumping into a waterfall at Mill Creek.- Backcountry Swimming Holes Worth the Effort
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Team

On hot days in the middle of summer, those oases we retreat to in search of reprieve can fill up quicker than we’d like. It’s days like these, when you’re shoulder to shoulder on a sandstone bench with your feet paddling in waters occupied by more floaties than hiking boots, that make you wonder if there might be a better solution.

There is: take a walk. Heat makes us crazy, and in times like these we resort to the most readily available option. If you can tolerate the heat for an hour or two and hike to your cold-water salvation, you may find indeed a quieter, cooler pool without the chaos of crowds. Here are a few suggestions to get your backcountry excursion going in the right direction.

  • Fins N Things Canyoneering, Sand Flats Recreation Area, Utah: Squeeze through slot canyons on your way to the swimming holes along the North Fork of Mill Creek.
  • Butte Creek Falls, Willamette Valley, Oregon: Falls cluster around Butte Creek, and many of them, including Abiqua and Butte Creek Falls, are hidden at the end of gravel logging roads—some of them requiring four-wheel drive. Upper Butte Creek Falls has a great late-summer swimming hole when you’re finished awing over the falls.
  • Cleetwood Cove Trail, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon: The trail is only 1.1 miles long, but in that span it drops 700 feet. It’s the only way to jump into the caldera lake. Worth it? You decide.
  • Thornton Lakes, North Cascades National Park, Washington: Perched at the end of 10 miles and 3,500 feet of elevation gain, the Thornton Lakes have a 360-degree view to go with cool waters on a hot summer day.
  • Catawba Falls, Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina: The 100-foot cascade in the Blue Ridge Mountains boasts a small pool to swim in, and the hike in, 3 miles from start to finish, passes the ruins of a hydroelectric dam.
  • Abrams Falls Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee: The 5-mile hike to Abrams Falls and the nearby swimming hole is a long way to go to cool off in the summer, but the hike follows an idyllic course along the creek. Keep an eye out for river otters and rhododendron.
  • Mooney + Beaver Falls, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: The trek to Havasupai is long enough, and there are caves, slippery rock precipices, and creek crossings to consider on the way to Beaver Falls. Still, celadon waters in a desert oasis are more than compelling enough.
  • Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah: Hike through sand along a relatively short but slow-going trail to a 130-foot waterfall and a picturesque swimming hole.
  • Big Sur River Gorge, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California: A granite gorge off the beaten track, the swimming holes in Big Sur River Gorge are only accessible by walking the riverbed at low flow.
  • Mill Creek Swimming Holes, Moab, Utah: You can park your car and walk to a swimming hole in less than 100 feet, but the best swimming holes are a mile into the canyon and feature Native American petroglyphs.
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