6 of the West’s Best Swimming Holes You Can’t Get to by Car
Multi-day river trips are a unique experience, in part because they offer access to campsites and side hikes you’d ordinarily never get to see. Those side trips often result in stellar views, but the very best ones end at a swimming hole—preferably one with no other visitors. These hidden swimming holes offer a reprieve from the scorching summer temperatures that often accompany the best whitewater of the season (or, in a few cases, a relaxing evening soak). Take lots of photos, because these swimming holes’ remoteness makes them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
1) Jones Hole | Green River, Utah
A trip down the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument is like being transported back in time, and not just because the landscape looks much like it did when the first fossil beds were discovered there in 1909. One of the highlights of this run is a side hike to Jones Hole, where you’ll see ancient petroglyphs and pictographs and, if you’re lucky, bighorn sheep. Hikers have a long trek ahead—it’s over nine miles round-trip from the road—but if you arrive in a boat, it’s a short walk to see the sights. The best part? Ely Creek Falls, which sits just a quarter-mile off the trail, and is the perfect spot to cool off on a blistering northeast Utah day.
2) Blue Hole | Imnaha River, Oregon
The Wild & Scenic Imnaha isn’t as well known as its neighbor, the Snake River, which makes the Blue Hole all the more secluded. The most popular run on the river is from Cow Creek to the Imhana’s confluence with the Snake in Hell’s Canyon. It’s short—just under 4.5 miles—and with a gradient of 57 feet per mile, its Class III and IV rapids pack a punch. The real fun, though, is upstream from Cow Creek, where the Indian Crossing Trailhead offers access to the aptly named Blue Hole. Nestled in the remote Eagle Cap Wilderness near Joseph, Oregon, this stunningly clear swimming hole is just a mile and a half from the trailhead, but you’ll rarely run into another soul there.
3) Devil’s Gate | North Fork Tuolumne River, California
Thanks to its continuous Class IV and IV+ rapids, the remote Tuolumne River isn’t exactly the first place you’d associate with a “relaxing” whitewater trip. There is one exception, though: Devil’s Gate. You’ll have to work to get to this hidden swimming hole—the scramble up from Mile 15.1 isn’t for the faint of heart—but the reward is a natural water slide, plenty of rock-jumping spots, and the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. Once you’re done swimming, the action picks right back up: Pinball Rapid is just downstream, and you’ll have to tackle that before the takeout.
4) Little Colorado River | Colorado River, Arizona
The juxtaposition of the brown, often muddy Colorado and teal-green Little Colorado River in Grand Canyon is almost unbelievable. The Little Colorado’s heavy concentration of alkaline minerals make for a distinctive color, and its swift current and shallow waters mean it’s the perfect spot to cool off in the midst of the Grand Canyon’s often oppressive heat. Countless rafters have stopped off at Mile 62 to float down the Little Colorado, and it’s regularly considered a trip highlight. Best of all, this magical spot is only accessible by boat (it’s an arduous hike to the Confluence, and as of mid-2019, the trail is closed).
5) Tate Creek | Rogue River, Oregon
Thanks to the Rogue River’s Wild and Scenic status, it’s tricky to get to Tate Creek, and by far the best way is by boat. A quarter-mile up the Rogue River Trail, which begins just before River Mile 33, sits Tate Creek Falls. The waterfall itself is a good enough reason to make the side trip, but the real highlight is the water slide. It takes a little derring-do—you’ll have to climb a rope to the top of the waterfall, then slide 10 feet down and drop another five feet into the swimming hole—but it’s well worth the refreshing dip.
6) Radium Hot Springs & Jump Rock | Upper Colorado River, Colorado
Just below the gnarly Class V whitewater of Gore Canyon, the gentle flows of the Upper Colorado River wind their way through deep canyons and have only a handful of Class III rapids and some wave trains—it’s a gentle enough run that people regularly run it on SUPs and inflatable kayaks. The highlight is Radium Hot Springs, a decent-sized pool with enough room to accommodate a handful of boating parties. Once you’ve finished soaking, the daredevils in your crew can scramble up the nearby cliff (or, for a slightly less death-defying jump, paddle across the river to a twenty-foot jump rock) and take the plunge.