The Arizona landscape is dotted with recreation areas where you can drive to the water's edge, but these five secret swimming holes require a bit more hoofing. That's what makes them worth it.
Nearest city: Apache Junction
If you're up for a vigorous trek with plenty of solitude, Reavis Falls Trail in the Superstition Wilderness is just the ticket. This roughly 13-mile out-and-back trail starts off with a gentle ascent before dipping between rolling hills and traversing steep descents.
You'll also navigate stream crossings and clamor over enormous boulders. For your efforts, you're rewarded with an impressive sight: Reavis Falls, a 190-foot-high cascade rushing over the rocks below. Insider tip: Easy-to-miss trail markings add to the difficulty of this hike, so keep your eyes out for cairns marking the way.
West Clear Creek
Nearest city: Pine or Camp Verde
During the challenging, remote and breathtaking 8.8-mile round-trip journey along West Clear Creek Trail in the Coconino National Forest, you'll be tempted to take a dip early in the hike by the sounds of the creek that echo through this lush riparian habitat.
Stay the course and admire the greenery; you'll soon arrive at the rocky shores of the legendary Bull Pen swimming hole. The pool's depths vary from three to 10 feet, and water play ranges from the exhilarating to the relaxing—a brave leap from a 20-foot cliff, tamer dives from lower outcroppings or a leisurely float through the calm waters.
Bridal Wreath Falls
Nearest city: Tucson
The Douglas Spring Trail is a well-marked hike that stretches less than three miles in either direction, starting out flat, then climbing at a moderately steep slope. The path to the hidden falls is lined with diverse flora (mesquite trees, creosote bushes, saguaro and prickly pear cactuses) and fauna (javelina, deer, coyotes).
Take your time to enjoy the vistas before arriving at the tumbling waters of Bridal Wreath Falls. Depending on the time of year, the flow can range from a roaring 20-foot-plummet to a mere trickle.
Nearest city: Payson
The eight-mile Horton Creek Trail winds under the Mogollon Rim and through towering Ponderosa pines and seasonal wildflowers. There's plenty of shade, and the temperatures at this high-elevation spot make it a cooler-than-average hike.
If you arrive at Horton Spring after snow runoff or a monsoon storm, you'll be greeted with the sight of a roaring waterfall crashing over moss-covered boulders. While the spring-fed water tends to be chilly, and the pool itself isn't deep enough for diving, it's still an ideal place to rejuvenate aching legs.
Wet Beaver Creek
Nearest city: Sedona
Bell Trail follows Wet Beaver Creek to one of the most sought-after swimming holes in the region: The Crack. About 3.5 miles into the hike, you'll stumble upon this picture-perfect desert oasis—a clear, cold, deep pool wedged in a slot canyon. Rounded and smooth sandstone formations surround the waters and shady trees jut out of the rocks.
Whether you're cliff jumping off the Tongue of the Beaver, wading in the creek or just lazing in the sun, The Crack is what secret swimming holes are all about.
If You Go
Most of these swimming holes are dependent on rainfall or snowmelt. Always check conditions before setting forth on your hike.
Bridal Wreath Falls
Directions to trailhead: Travel I-10 to Tucson, take exit 257 and head east on Speedway Boulevard, which dead-ends after 17.5 miles at the Douglas Spring Trailhead.
Directions to trailhead: Travel 17 miles east of Payson on State Hwy. 260. Just east of Mile Marker 269 at Kohl's Ranch, turn left (north) on Forest Road 289 for one mile to reach the trailhead.
Directions to trailhead: From Phoenix, take US 60 east, then drive northeast on State Highway 88. After 25 miles of paved road and a few more on dirt, turn right at Reavis Ranch to reach the Reavis trailhead (TH).
West Clear Creek
Directions to trailhead: From Phoenix, take I-17 North to State Route 260 East. Follow 260 for eight miles to Forest Road 618. Turn left and take FR 618 for 2.2 miles to FR 215. Go right and continue three miles to the trailhead.