Arizona summers are brutal. “Yeah but it’s a dry heat” holds no credibility when it’s 115+ outside. Luckily, there are oases scattered all over the desert perfect for cooling off in the summer heat. Some of them require permits and some hot hikes, but many are just a short drive away. If you call Arizona home (like I do), these are the five best swimming holes to beat the heat.
Havasupai gets the obvious mention because it’s the best swimming spot in the United States… if you can access it. Permits are very hard to come by and when they do go on sale every February 1st, thousands of hopefuls scoop them up in just a few days. But if you do have a permit, the 10-mile hike down the Grand Canyon is worth every step for breathtaking falls, bright blue water, and simply a place that looks like pure Photoshop.
- The village has a few places to eat and a general store, so you can pack less food to lighten the load.
- Overnight permits are required, the tribe does not allow day hikes.
- You can use mules to carry your gear, but the treatment of the animals is highly questionable.
- There’s also a helicopter that can fly you out, but, c’mon.
- These permits are so hard to get. If someone asks you to go because a spot opens up you say yes.
2. Slide Rock
The Travel Channel lists Slide Rock as one of the 10 best swimming holes in the country. Sedona is already famous for its red rocks against the blue sky, but there is also a naturally-formed water park hiding between the canyons. The 80-foot-long slide is extra slippery thanks to the algae underneath the flowing water (it’s not as gross as it sounds) and it’s surrounded by small pools to wade around.
Parking/Trailhead: Slide Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona
Permits Required?: No, $10-30 park entrance per car, depending on time of year
Hike Required?: No
- Slide Rock gets busy on the weekends so plan accordingly.
- This is a perfect post-hike swim spot after Devil’s Bridge.
- Cap off the day with a beer at Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona.
3. Fossil Creek
Fossil Springs is Havasupai’s kid sister. Its natural springs keep the blue-green water a consistent temperature year-round and the various waterfalls are perfect for some sweet cliffside cannonballs. Fossil Springs Wilderness switched to a permit system in 2017 which is a double-edged sword. You don’t have arrive at 5 a.m. to find parking, but getting a permit during summer weekends isn’t easy. Plan a month or more in advance if you want to see this oasis during the summer months.
- The road is ungraded and rough. Passenger cars are doable but unpleasant.
- Bring a GoPro for crystal clear underwater shots.
- Explore up and down the creek for more secluded spots to swim.
- Trash is an issue along the creek. Follow Leave No Trace principles by picking up after yourself and even others.
4. Water Wheel
If you really want to escape the summer heat, try the high-altitude waters near Payson, Arizona. Water Wheel sits at approximately 4,800 feet and its chilly waters are guaranteed to cool you down fast when temperatures soar. Most visitors know Water Wheel for the falls and stairway carved into a downed trunk, but hike along the flow and find cascades up to 40 feet high.
Parking/Trailhead: Water Wheel Day Parking, Payson, Arizona
Permits Required?: No, $6 fee per vehicle (bring exact change)
Hike Required?: No
- The nearby Mogollon Rim has some amazing dispersed camping.
- The water is cold but feels amazing on hot days.
- Look for some of the whirlpools nearby.
5. Romero Pools
An Arizona swimming holes article wouldn’t be complete without something for Tucson. Romero Pools parlays a challenging hike with a chilling payoff. The pools are formed by moisture-retaining basins in the smooth granite and perfect for after a heavy rain (but the water there is perennial). You’ll swear during the hike the canyon is bone dry, and then the pools appear out of nowhere.
Parking/Trailhead: Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona
Permits Required?: No, $7 fee per vehicle to enter the park
Hike Required?: Yes, a moderate 3 miles each way
These are just five of the many swimming holes across Arizona and everyone has their favorites. Which swimming holes do you think should make the list? List them in the comments below.