Take a dip in the high desert at Utah’s best swimming holes

Woman Sitting in front of the Lower Calf Creek Falls, Calf Creek, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, south Utah, USA; Shutterstock ID 335456882; your: Brian Healy; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: Best beaches in Utah
Like many swimming areas in dry Utah, Lower Calf Creek Falls rewards those with a sense of adventure © Kris Wiktor / Shutterstock

A desert state not exactly known for its wide sandy beaches, Utah has several fantastic swimming areas and freshwater lakes perfect for a dip – provided you have a sense of adventure.

Finding a good beach or swimming hole in Utah typically requires a bit of hiking or off-road travel – and these oases are certainly worth the effort to get to on a scorching summer afternoon. Whether you want to seek out a desert waterfall or wade into the Western Hemisphere’s largest saltwater lake, here are some of Utah’s best and most interesting swimming spots. 

Enjoy an oasis at Sand Hollow State Park 

Located just outside the town of St George, Sand Hollow State Park is a literal oasis in the middle of the vast red-rock desert. This striking blue-green reservoir is surrounded by red sandy beaches and colorful rock formations, with the surrounding sand dunes providing a boundless playground for ATV riders. Compared to other Utah reservoirs, Sand Hollow’s waters are delightfully warm, making it one of the best places to swim in the state. You can find paddle boards, kayaks, jet skis and ATVs available for rent at the south end of the park. 


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Take a post-hike dip at Lower Calf Creek Falls

Water plunges over a 126ft-high sandstone cliff to form a lovely swimming hole at the base of Lower Calf Creek Falls. This dead-end canyon was used as a natural corral for cows back in the late 1800s and is now one of the most popular destinations at the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

Off Scenic Byway 12, 15 miles east of the town of Escalante, the hike to and from the trailhead leading to the falls is about 6 miles round trip. While the hike itself is relatively flat, deep sand can make it strenuous, especially in warm weather. Parking is limited at the trailhead and summers are extremely busy, so be sure to get there early in the morning to find a spot. Better yet, visit on a weekday or in late fall or winter – though you’ll need a strong constitution to take a dip in the cold. 

An aerial shot of a boat crossing the blue waters of Bear Lake at the Utah-Idaho border
Thanks to its blue waters, Bear Lake at the Utah-Idaho border is known as the “Caribbean of the Rockies” © Brett Taylor Photography / Shutterstock

Plunge into the turquoise waters of Bear Lake

Located on the Utah–Idaho border and nicknamed the “Caribbean of the Rockies” thanks to its intense turquoise-blue color, Bear Lake is a huge, natural, freshwater lake popular with swimmers, boaters and paddle boarders. North Beach on the Idaho side of the lake is a great place for kids to swim since the water here is shallow off the shore, offering plenty of space for kids to splash and play without any sudden drop-offs. 

Savor the beauty of the Uinta Mountains at Wall Lake

Many of the alpine lakes in the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City are located in protected watershed areas, which makes them off-limits to swimmers. Thankfully, the Uinta Mountains are less than an hour away and are home to hundreds of natural lakes perfect for a cold-water dip. Just a mile hike from the Crystal Lake Trailhead, Wall Lake is a local’s favorite swimming spot, and the tall cliffs at the southeastern end of the lake make for exhilarating cliff jumping. 

Several swimmers about to jump off a cliff by a waterfall to join other bathers in a swimming hole at Millcreek Canyon
After a hike through Millcreek Canyon near Moab, a dip in the cool freshwater pool is a refreshing reward © Christophe Klebert / Shutterstock

Skip the Colorado River and head to Millcreek Canyon in Moab

If you’re looking for a place to cool off in Moab, skip the muddy Colorado River and head to the Mill Creek North Fork Trailhead just southeast of town. With several crystal-clear pools, plenty of shade, and even a natural rock slide and waterfall, Moab’s Mill Creek Canyon is home to one of the best swimming holes in Utah. 

The first pool is located just a few hundred feet from the parking area – but to get to the best pool, hike a mile upstream along a well-traveled trail to a large swimming hole and waterfall. Mill Creek used to be a bit of a local’s secret, but now that it’s well-known among visitors, the swimming holes can get crowded. Avoid weekends if you can, or arrive early on a weekday morning if you’re hoping to have a pool to yourself.   

Feel the warm waters at Fifth Water Hot Springs

Getting to this popular hot spring requires a 2-mile uphill hike from the Three Forks Trailhead in Diamond Fork Canyon, about an hour south of Salt Lake City – and it’s totally worth the journey. The trail leads to a series of warm pools dammed off from the cold waters of Fifth Water Creek in a lovely forested setting, with a picturesque waterfall flowing down into one of the upper pools. Fifth Water Springs draws a crowd on weekends, so visit mid-week if you can. Better yet, make a night of it and stay at one of the backcountry campsites just downstream from the springs. 

Blue, orange and gold light of sunset reflected by a pier on the Great Salt Lake
Even if you opt not to swim in the extra-salty Great Salt Lake, the sunsets over the still waters alone are worth a visit © NickOmanPhoto / Shutterstock

Get a bit pickled in the Great Salt Lake at Bridger Bay Beach

Taking a dip in Great Salt Lake is truly a unique experience, and makes a fabulous day trip from Salt Lake City. One of the best places to access the water is at Bridger Bay Beach at Antelope Island State Park. The water is so salty – ten times more so than the the ocean – that most people will float with very little effort. The high salt content in Great Salt Lake can be harsh on clothing, so wear an old swimsuit if you have one; also, avoid the beach in May and June, when the biting gnats are out in full force. If swimming in Great Salt Lake does not appeal, it’s still worth heading to the beach to watch the sunset over the lake: the colors reflecting off the still, endless waters of the lake are fantastic to photograph.   

Marvel at Toquerville Falls near Zion

This series of picturesque cascading pools is the perfect place to cool off after a visit to nearby Zion National Park, though getting here can be quite the adventure. The 5.5-mile dirt road to reach the falls is rough and a 4x4 vehicle is strongly recommended. Without a suitable vehicle, hearty travelers can always make the 11-mile round-trip hike in and out. Whichever way you get there, the beauty of the falls is totally worth the effort. 

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