Hot springs, warm springs, and cold springs are just a few of our favorite things.
It really weirds me out when people don’t at least partially plan their road trips around the best places to swim.
From a young age, I’ve always been most at ease when surrounded by water. That’s one of the reasons Samus is my soulmate dog. We both find everything to be better by the water.
A hike cannot be perfect without a water feature, and neither can a camping spot. Even if it’s not necessarily a “swimming hole”, I feel drawn toward shorelines, falls and springs.
With that being said, I have been on a lifelong journey to explore all the best swimming holes. I don't necessarily want to "compare" or "rank" them, because it's not as if once I find the perfect body of water, the search will be over. No, every swimming hole has value, even if it doesn't measure up to my ideas of perfection.
- Clear water
- Dogs allowed
- Camping nearby
- Not crowded
- Free- or at least low cost
Bonus Points Awarded for:
- Both hot and cold water sources.
- Extra-special scenery.
The top contenders (in no particular order):
Black Rock Hot Spring,Taos, NM
We first found this spot about a year ago. If you didn't know, it's been our dream for several years to move to New Mexico. Last year, we were scouting out a few properties in the area and were spending the night on the mesa above Taos. I don't even remember how I found the hot spring, and this was one of the places that really began our love for naturally hot water. We've not yet been there with the dogs, but are planning to go soon.
The natural rock pools are bordered by the Rio Grande, where you can cool off between soaks. The desert canyon setting is serene and the water is the perfect temperature.
Really, the only downside is that it is quite well-known, so you should plan a time to visit when most other people aren't likely to be there:
Bonita Beach Dog Beach
Forever one of our favorite places. The Bonita Beach dog beach is located between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach, Florida. It's a magical place where dogs are allowed to frolic and poop freely. It's one of our favorite places to paddleboard because there's a little protected cove right around the corner and a "private" beach where we can avoid the people and often loud music. The crowds are definitely the downside.
Old Fort Niagara, New York
Right on the Canadian border, Old Fort Niagara Park allows you stunning access to Lake Ontario in all its glory. The water is immaculate and COLD, so this should only be a swimming hole during the summer months. The park itself is really cool too and has a lot of interesting history.
Pactola Reservoir, Black Hills, South Dakota
I've mentioned before that I love weird history, right? well this reservoir located in the Black Hills definitely fits the bill. It's rumored that there is an entire flooded city concealed beneath its waters, and many people are attracted to the area to scuba dive the lake and see for themselves. As for us, we just enjoyed the refreshingly clear waters and peaceful atmosphere. Only a few other visitors were using the area at any given time and we were able to camp at a little pull-off right beside the water.
Crystal Geyser, Utah
Another one for the weird history lovers, the crystal geyser is a partially man-made soda geyser that spews CO2-powered water into the air up to several times a day. It is obviously best if you make it to the geyser when it's erupting, as we did. The clear, carbonated water tumbles out of the constructed pipe that was installed nearly 100 years ago when crews were drilling and discovered the presence of CO2 near the water table below. The water then cascades over the decades-old mineral structures and visitors are free to play in it to their heart's content. We even watched one brave young man take off all his clothing and stand on top of the erupting geyser, but that's definitely not recommended. As the water tumbles down into the Green River, it creates curious waterfalls across the orange and white travertine-coated surfaces that are really something unique to behold. One of the best things about it is that there's free camping surrounding the geyser.
Mill creek falls, Moab, Utah
I have an entire blog post about this spot, so make sure you check that out for the full rundown.
This is a busy hike right in town, but if you're patient and up for a little hike, there are plenty of tranquil spots tucked away between the red rocks.
Granite Creek, WY
This place might be the closest thing to perfection. Just outside of Jackson Hole, Granite Creek runs through USFS land and hosts many serene camping spots. We found a spot right on the creek with beautiful views of the mountain, and the best part... it's only about a 1.5 mile hike to a hot spring underneath a waterfall! Camping in the National Forest is definitely recommended, otherwise you have to park on the opposite side of the chilly Granite Creek and make the trek across to access the springs. There is also a private man-made pool farther down the main road where you can pay a small fee to soak in the healing waters of the hot spring located there.
Verde Hot Springs, AZ
The site of a burned down 1920's hotel, Verde Hot Springs is one of a kind. It has become a kind of hippie hangout (so if you're like us and hate people, don't go on the weekend) and has loads of space to soak, even one private hot pool that's still enclosed by concrete walls. The bathing pools are set into the rock on a platform above the Verde River and excess steaming water cascades from numerous small waterfalls down to mingle with the cold river water. The road in is a tough 20 mile washboard dirt road, but somehow quite a few people make it back there each weekend. Keep in mind that the access road requires a permit from April 1- Oct 1.
Fossil Creek, AZ
Neighboring Verde Hot Springs is the glorious Fossil Creek. Fossil Creek's crystal clear cold waters are the antithesis to Verde's hot springs. Still, this spot boasts the most stunning water I have ever seen. It is a natural cold spring and the water pours from the headspring at 20,000 gallons per minute. This means you have a constant source of refreshing, replenishing crystal clear water. It truly is incredible to experience the contrast between the hot midday desert sun and the frigid waters. Because of the spring activity over centuries in the area, fossilized critters and artifacts encased in minerals are abundant (hence the name). As with Verde Hot Springs above, a permit is needed from April 1- Oct 1.
Clear Creek, AZ
In the same general area south of Flagstaff near Camp Verde as the previous two candidates, Clear Creek is another cold spring blooming magically from the desert sands. There is free boondocking on the desert mesas approaching the spring, just be careful of bumps and rocks (and coyotes). The BullPen hiking trail takes you along Clear Creek's banks and gives you plenty of opportunities to wade or plunge into the clear water.
Jemez Springs, New Mexico
Located in the Jemez Mountains outside of Santa Fe, Jemez Springs is known for its multiple hot springs that, amazingly, contain no sulfur. There are multiple areas where a quick hike into the woods will bring you to a beautiful, natural hot spring.
Spence Hot Springs is located in one of the most beautiful settings. The rock pools are carved into the side of the mountain, and the lukewarm waters are perfect to relax during the Fall and Spring. Though it's called a Hot Spring, the waters at Spence are not exactly hot, but are about body temperature, the warmest water being found in the little cave located at the top of the first pool. We arrived just after sunrise to have the place to ourselves and stayed in the cave most of the time as the larger pools were not quite warm enough to combat the chilly morning.
Soda Dam is another extremely unique location in Jemez. It is a dam naturally formed by centuries of spring activity, and it's very conveniently located right beside the road to the village of Jemez Springs. If you climb to the top of the dam, you can dangle your fingers in the hot water flowing out from the fissure in the formations.
There is also a really cute pool just across the roadway that is right on the edge of the street. We did not soak here because it was super awkward but I can just imagine coming around the corner to see bathers in the very public little pool! I believe there is also another pool a short hike away from this one, but the area was still closed because of the pandemic.
There are several more hot springs in the Jemez area, and New Mexico in general if you're feeling adventurous!
If you have a lead on an amazing swimming hole we need to check out, or have questions about any of the ones I've listed above, feel free to DM me on instagram @poopin.all.over.the.world!