Strapping the hydration pack on, lacing up trail shoes, and pulling a ball cap onto your forehead doesn’t always sound like the best idea on a 100-degree Utah summer day. But thanks to a few watery trails that act as a saving grace, you don’t need to languish in the air-conditioned solace of your basement, watching ski movies with a spiked limeade for company.
No, there’s a better way, one that that involves Chacos and muddy toes, drenched t-shirts and happy campers. Here, as a perfect send-off for the last few days of summer, check out a few of these water-centric hikes, which feature Utah swimming holes, stream sloshes, cliff jumps, and frigid alpine dunks.
Mill Creek in Moab
Amidst the arid desert surrounding Moab, a sweet little oasis exists just a few steps outside town. Mill Creek lacks guidebook fame but maintains serious cred in our minds because of its many refreshing stream crossings and the delightful swimming hole at the end of the trail.
You can access Powerhouse Lane on the outskirts of Moab, drive to its eastern end, and hop out on the obvious singletrack trail. Follow the main stream course up until you get to the main swimming hole, fed by a cascading natural waterslide above. People frequently cliff-jump into the swimming hole, but beware that it’s not very deep, so many a jumper has found him- or herself with unfortunate injuries as a result. This swimming hole is best for lounging in, not back-flipping into.
This humble little hike is a highlight during anadventure-packed Moab weekend, because there’s nothing quite like a cool stream soak on a hot redrock day.
Bell’s Canyon in Salt Lake
Bell’s Canyon is technically in Salt Lake’s watershed, which means no swimming is allowed. But the stream that runs the length of this hike offers natural air-conditioning, countless good picnic spots, and something cool to just dip your toes into.
The trailhead leaves from Wasatch Boulevard just a few minutes south of 90th South. It’s clearly marked with a parking area off the side of Wasatch, with a trail that briefly winds through residential homes before leading to a lovely little reservoir. The reservoir is the end-point for most families, and from here the trail continues for miles up the steep and striking Bell’s Canyon. The trail is accompanied closely by the canyon stream for almost the entire time, pausing halfway up at the famed Bell’s Canyon waterfall.
This waterfall is an exquisite landmark to check out, but don’t get near the slippery rocks at the top. Many a hiker has suffered woeful injuries by slipping and falling at this very spot. So give this beauty the respect it commands, and enjoy the cooling spray from a couple feet away.
Wall Lake in the Uinta Mountains
The Uintas: chock-full of lakes, 20 degrees cooler than Salt Lake, gorgeous, and accompanied by an après stop at The Notch on the way home. And amidst all the many lakes in the Uintas, Wall Lake is a very short, mellow hike, and it’s primo for a little swim or cliff-jump.
To get there, drive about 39 miles along the Mirror Lake Highway from Kamas, and turn left at the Crystal Lake turnoff. Veer toward the trailhead parking lot at the top of the road, and set out following the sign to Wall Lake and Notch Mountain. A mere one-mile hike lands you at Wall Lake, a large, icy-cool green pool perfect for jumping into.
The cliffs at the far edge of the lake look nice for cliff-jumping, and we’d have to confirm that yes, they are. The water is deep enough here that hopping the short distance from top to bottom is no big deal—as long as you’re prepared to swim back to shore in the chilly water.
You can hike well beyond Wall Lake if you have time—there are countless little lakes on the tiered rocks above, many of which make primo backpacking camp spots. You can also continue onward to Notch Mountain ahead and still make it back in time for a sunset beer.
Rock Cliff Trail in Francis
Jordanelle Reservoir lies just 30 minutes outside Salt Lake, and its proximity makes it an extra popular place among locals. But most speedboaters and their ilk gather in the reservoir’s busier western marina side. The quieter Rock Cliff trailhead is on the far east end of the reservoir, just outside the little town of Francis. If you park at the road’s end and start up the clear doubletrack trail that borders the reservoir, you can enjoy the sage-scented terrain and take advantage of the many opportunities to hop into the water for a cool-down.
This trail is mellow enough to be a great trail run or beginner-friendly mountain bike ride. Or just take a little amble on a warm day and know you can hop in. Fishermen, swimmers, paddleboarders, and kayakers love to congregate in this quiet inlet.