Unlike the ledge falls below, this is a cascade into a modest, parallel-sided pool about 25 feet long that gets eight feet deep. That empties onto a large slab about the size of a dance floor. Best when water levels on Red Creek are higher. On the eastern side is a nice little stack of rock. The best thing this has going for it is privacy. It doesn’t seem to get lots of people, even though the trail on the western side is pretty apparent. There’s potential rump bumping above the cascade with relatively smooth rock running for 150 to 200 feet. The angle is kind of shallow, though. There’s also a pocket of sand about the size of a double bed.
Perhaps more interesting than the swimming holes is the wildlife, specifically the number of deer in the Monongahela National Forest and its surroundings. In the evening it’s not unusual to see 40 or 50 deer grazing on a hillside.
They’re not plentiful, but since they’re in the wilderness they’re not hunted and as such are very passive.
One man from Elkins said that during a boyhood trip into the Dolly Sods Wilderness she carried a wooden hiking stick. Each time he got close enough to a deer to throw it and hit the deer, he carved a notch in the handle. At the end of five days he had seven notches in his stick.
A couple of spots in the Dolly Sods Wilderness formed in finely bedded, brittle stone. The rock is aligned on the same plane as the water flow on Red Creek, so it’s smooth rather than badly fractured as you might expect from such stone. At the lower fall, water comes off the lip in a couple of broad scallops. The pool below is modest, about 10 feet long and not quite as wide. Not much size, but pretty and lots of sun with close to 1,000 square feet of slabs relax on. If you have a Teflon tailbone you might test it for water slide suitability, but it looked marginal for that use.
Upstream is a slightly higher fall, a little more rambunctious and more blocky. It’s not as pretty, doesn’t have the aesthetics of the downstream fall, however the pool is far bigger and much deeper. This, because there is a hole at the bottom of the fall that catches all the rock and leaves the swimming hole unobstructed and deep. Not nearly as much sky as its downstream cousin, plus it’s east facing so it gets cool in the afternoon.
Stern Warning: Do not plan overnight trips in this part of the Monongahela National Forest. You’re not supposed to camp so close to water, for starters. In addition heavy visitorship and campfires have damaged the area. It’s bad enough that people unconcerned about the environment are spoiling watersheds; it’s worse when people who should care are doing the same thing.
A family spot about 150 feet long. The best part is where the North Fork South Branch Potomac River bumps up against some of the bedrock and makes a deep hole. The rest of the water stretches more than 100 feet downstream in a placid basin. There’s a large gravel beach deeply shaded with sycamore and several rock perches on the other side of the river at the bottom of the crag. The namesake cave is bored into the rock over there. Difficult to find, but fun to look for.
Above is Seneca Rocks, one of the most recognizable features in West Virginia. It’s a formation of very hard Tuscarora sandstone that was uplifted and eroded over 400 million years until it looks like a pale dorsal fin rising 900 feet above the North Fork South Branch Potomac River. It appears incongruous among the moderately sloped, mixed forests of eastern West Virginia, but several similar formations dot the landscape, they’re little known and less visited because they’re on private land.
Seneca Rocks has been a Mecca for eastern rock climbers for decades. The Monongahela National Forest recently built a plush visitor’s center to accommodate sightseers. There’s so much parking around it, so many signs that say Seneca Rocks, that the swimming hole a little difficult to find.
A modest feature in the Monongahela National Forest, but it gains points for being wilderness. Water is so clear that you can count the whiskers on a crayfish walking across the bottom of the creek. It’s a low fall across a ledge 30 feet wide. A couple of large rocks offset from one another form a constriction that makes water flow fast enough to prevent the pool from filling entirely with sand and cobble.
At about 20 feet across, the pool is big enough for a couple of strokes, but that’s not its best use, according to Tom Easton, a DC area carpenter and back pain sufferer.
He said that walking up the trail to Big Beechy helped relieve pain and release some fluid from two discs that he herniated on the job.
But if the Cranberry Wilderness seems a long way to go for occupational therapy, listen to this:
“In January and February the level is really up,” Easton says. “There’s a special seat off to the left as you look at the falls. Sitting in the fall with the cold water pounding on my back really reduces swelling.”
He says that after a couple of treatments, he felt so much better that he fed his Vicodin and Flexeril to the chipmunks…not really, but I can report that the ground squirrels at the campsite adjoining the fall did seem unusually relaxed in his company.
If you don’t think you can convince your kids to hike four miles into a wilderness spot in the Monongahela National Forest, you don’t want to carry him and you don’t mind crowds, then welcome to the Woodbine picnic area. The Cranberry River has a bedrock bottom here and long, low limestone ledges that produce a good channel of water that’s highly accessible. A rock outcrop below and a collection of about one-half dozen boulders slow the water and make it deep enough for a rope swing.
Locals advise that if you try to swing straight out perpendicular to the river, you’ll be out over a blind ledge when you let go. Rather, wrap the rope over the tree from the downstream side of the river. That makes the rope swing in an arc instead of a pendulum and puts you out into deeper water. This info courtesy of Nicole Anderson of Richwood. That’s her older sister Miranda pictured above demonstrating more technique on water entry.
A couple of swimming holes, one better during higher levels, the other during lower water. Early in the season when water is higher, go a little over 400 yards upstream from Camp Splinter to the remnants of a cable crossing. The Cranberry River is a little deeper here due to some upstream boulders that apparently catch a lot of free stone that might otherwise occlude the bottom. Some people call it Swing Hole. However, the concrete footing and the steel poles that formed the anchors for the bridge are badly bent and barely high enough for a rope swing.
During low water conditions in the Monongahela National Forest, head downstream from Camp Splinter to a point about 50 yards below the portion of the river that’s marked as catch and release. There’s a basin about 30 feet long and when the sun hits the pale bottom just right, the color is beautiful. You’ll likely have a couple of small, steep sand beaches to sit on. The sweet spot is about 12 feet by eight feet and it’s overhead deep. Visit during higher water levels and it will of course be deeper, but there’s not going to be anyplace to sit.
A magnificently large rock the size of a small home splits the Meadow River and forces a bend in it. On the near side the river has banked up a pile of sand that’s probably 15 feet deep. It slopes smack into the fat part of the pool and at such an angle that you can sprint downhill, kicking up sand as you pull off your shirt, fling it behind you and dive into the water. There is an equally good, perhaps better, pool on the other side of the rock. It’s got a rope swing, but doesn’t have any seating.
The rock island is 15 feet high at its tallest, that’s at the upstream edge. It’s only six to eight feet on the near side, however the lack of depth of the water between this rock and the beach may make jumping a little risky at lower levels like those pictured above.
The hole clearly gets use from foot traffic and perhaps ATVs. Not a scrap of litter though. Could mean people are exceptional citizens or that volunteers cleaned up right before I visited and that there are normally many beer cans and bait containers.
Just a big, big slackwater pool. A limestone ledge on the opposite side sort of mirrors the shape of the sand bar, more of which later. It’s a very flat swimming hole. Nothing you can jump from. The best use is probably bobbing up and down with your beverage of choice. ‘Nother great sand beach — 300 feet curving around the Meadow River. Trees are evenly spaced and that helps for shade and probably contributes to the deposition of sand. All this sand might be due in part to the strip mining that was carried on above. At any rate, the mines were closed long ago.
Moderate visitation and, thankfully, conspicuously clean when I reviewed it. Even unopened canned goods left behind from an earlier campout had been neatly stacked on a vinyl covered bench. If youre lucky to experience it by yourself as I did, it’s a treasure.
Start looking for this hole about 20 minutes into the hike. The tip off is a corrugated steel shelter big enough for a couple automobiles. The hole is right beyond that.
A champion. Big enough to float a battleship and deep throughout. It’s 180 feet on the major axis and 80 feet across. It happens where the river travels east to west through a rapid, then runs up on a highly eroded slab tilted against the Meadow River at a 35-degree angle. From there the river turns northeast and immediately flares into the main hole. Downstream towards the bottom of the hole is a nice sloping rock that you can sit on while dangling your feet in the water. Easy to jump off the nose of it. Bring sandals with sticky rubber because the steep angle makes the rocks difficult to remount for subsequent jumps.
Back at the top, there is a rope swing on the near side. You have to get some good clearance to make it into the sweet spot, but there is no really good launch. There is one spot to leap off, but there are substantial rocks in front. You best be able to tuck your knees up under your chin, or you’re apt to have your toenails torn off.
Shade and seating: the top part of the hole is shaded with mixed forest, especially hemlock. The sand bar has lots of growth that detracts from seating. Best makes it over to the slab at the top of the hole. It has a king-size declivity that makes a perfect three-person lounge chair. Faces west, also. Killer afternoon spot if you’re visiting the Gauley River National Recreation Area.
The pools occur at the bottom of a rock garden. On the near side is a nice glob of rock that stands at the top of a great big hole. The rock is about six feet above the water and with plenty of room for a small group. Be forewarned that the Lower Meadow River is perhaps the most dangerous stretch of whitewater in the state. When it’s pumping you can hear the deep grating sound of huge boulders being shoved downstream. Undercuts produce so many powerful holes that one paddler says, “you might be looking back at one of your buddies, then turn around seconds later and he’s gone. Just disappeared underwater.”
Of course those are not swimming conditions. Guides say that optimal paddling on the Lower Meadow is about 750 cfs. Locals say swimming shouldn’t be considered at anything above 400 cfs. In my opinion it’s even lower. Wait until the Mt. Lookout gauge is below 300 cfs or approximately 4.4 feet. Alternately, you can judge safety the low-tech way.
Break a branch off a tree and toss it into the hole. If it washes out the bottom before you can get your clothes oft, you should think twice about getting in.
Bonus Feature: If you’re on a bike and want some more exercise, pedal to the confluence with the Gauley River. There’s a huge sand beach. But it’s a party spot for ATVs.. Not worth a stay, but perhaps a visit. On the way there you pass through a long tunnel. At one point it’s entirely dark, you can’t see the light on either end. Spooky.
A true day-long swimming hole. It has a mondo sunning rock big enough for you and all your friends. Nice and flat on a slackwater pool on the Meadow River with low-angle dives in all directions. You have to swim to get there, but over on the eastern side you get the good afternoon sunshine. If you arrive earlier in the day, you can get sun at a small sand pocket on the near side. No high vertical. Settlement higher on the river means that the water quality is only good.
It can be difficult to find. When you get to the rail grade there is a berm that separates the trail from the creek. Shortly after the berm flattens out, start looking for a barely discernible trail descending to the river. There might be a rock about the size of a boombox stacked on top of another rock to mark the trail.
Suitable for mountain bikes, also. There are a couple of steep bends on the descending road that amount to a fun few hundred yards of advanced mountain bike trail. After that you’re in the Gauley River National Recreation Area on a rail grade which is smooth and flat enough to play marbles.
Pictures were taken at very low water, 3.45 feet on the Mt. Lookout gauge or just over 100 cfs.
Another high adventure spot on Summersville Lake in the Gauley River National Recreation Area. ‘The Whip” is a sheer, west-facing wall that rises about 80 feet off the lake level. It’s a popular climbing spot, due in part to the setting and also because the rock is mainly sheer. It’s got great adhesion for climbing since the rock is so fresh, only recently exposed when a chunk cracked loose leaving an impressive roof at about 60 feet off the water. Anchors at the top mean you can lower to a ledge about 40 feet off the surface.
Alicia Landis, a climbing goddess, has a tiny scar on her chin that she earned at The Whip just after uttering what are statistically the four most dangerous words in the English language, “Hey guys, watch this.” “If you’re climbing and want to turn it into a dive, get a good push off,” she says fingering the knick in her mandible.
The nice thing about The Whip is that you don’t need to use a boat to get there and, unlike most other places on the lake, it’s not so convenient for motorized watercraft to visit. So there is some peace. Open sky to the west and south means that it gets toasty warm. There is a place about the form of a king-sized bed six feet above the anchor. Not a lot of comfortable shade, though. All the cover is low and brushy.
Sick and twisted cliff jumping. Depending on the level at Summersville Lake, the ride can be as much as 100 vertical feet into water deep enough to stop a load of bricks. One regular said that she wears a ski vest to soften the impact and to keep her afloat if she gets knocked out.
The only practical access is from the water and you need to have solid climbing skills. Consider that you’ll have to climb with wet tips and toes, plus you have to be a stud to make the overhanging comer to the best release spots. Robert Thomas (pictured top, left) qualifies.
“The overhanging corner is the best release spot,” he says. “If you lose it, you won’t have to push off at the last second. Once you’re on that corner you can climb ‘til you start getting shaky and then just let go.”
There doesn’t appear to be a nontechnical way to the top from water level. Rather, you have to drive to the airport, park and hike into the Gauley River National Recreation Area for about two miles to the point, then have a boat waiting to pick you up after you jump. I didn’t see any bolts at the top that’d allow you to run a rope down to water level. Any natural anchors were several yards back from the vertical face. If you’re still tempted to go from the top, be advised this can be a fatal plunge.
The Flume is actually an abyss, a crack that swallows the Opalescent River in a chasm 25 feet deep and barely more than six feet wide at the bottom. Jump into this and you’d be ground into cat food. However, there’s a good to fair pool at the bottom. Rather than climb the log steps that parallel the flume, turn into the river and boulder hop 20 yards upstream. You’ll find a pool about 20 feet long and one-third as wide. You can recognize it from the sheer, solid wall on the right as you look upstream. Depth is marginal and there is no place to sit, but it has the merit of being the highest practical place to submerge in the headwaters of the Hudson River.
It’s far from the only place you can jump in the Hudson headwaters. On the way to The Flume you pass another spot on the Opalescent near a cable footbridge. The pool below the bridge is about as deep as the one below the flume, but the surroundings are more attractive, very open and sunny. Very heavily traveled, though. Just about anyone visiting Adirondack State Park and hiking to Mt. Marcy will pass through here.
The Opalescent River is simply a string of pearls draped over the left shoulder of Adirondack State Park. What the Boquete River is to the eastern slope of the wilderness, the Opalescent is to the western slope. At this hole, a high-angle cascade enters via a stream five feet wide and breaks into hundreds of fractures as it comes stair-stepping down into a kidney shaped hole that’s around 40 feet wide. Distance between the face and outlet is 12 to 15 feet. In the middle of the channel are some medium-sized boulders, possibly fracture block that formed the lip of an earlier, higher fall that was undercut and broken off. The fracture block splits the water and forms about the only place you could sit and relax.
Steep ledges on the east (trail side) prevent direct access to the swimming hole. Rather, you must descend from the trail at the outlet of the pool and cross to the western side of the river where it’s more user friendly. Careful not to wash over the downstream end. The water can be fast and violent. A good practical measure would be that if you can’t cross the log dam at the bottom of Flowed Lands without getting your ankles wet, this place may be too dangerous.
No really luxurious seating on the western side. Nothing to dive from either. Best place to park and enjoy the south facing canyon are the boulders in the middle of the river. Water will be comparatively warm since Flowed Lands collects lots of solar energy, but still best to consider this a late season spot.
Short trip, small dip. A cable footbridge leading to the High Peaks from the west has a couple of nice falls with small pools adequate for rinsing off the mud. Above the bridge water travels over a solid ledge of rock about six feet high. Just before the lip the rock has been dished out, creating several nice, small rooster tails and potholes three to four feet deep.
The swimming spot is below the bridge. It has a shorter fall than upstream, but the bottom broadens into a basin. Boulders clutter the streambed and inhibit the pool depth, but there is an open spot five to six feet deep and ten feet square. You’re not likely to find privacy, but Calamity Brook is a good place to freshen up on your way down from the high country. That way you don’t have to drive home with the windows rolled down to endure the odor produced by several days of sweating through trails in Adirondack State Park.
The hike up follows red trail discs through unbelievable trail erosion and compaction. Some tree roots are more than 12 inches above the surface. Lots of corduroy, lots of rocks, from suitcase size to steamer trunk. At first it seems like an annoyance until you realize that were they not there you might be walking through serious mud. All the high stepping and weaving means you’ll actually be covering more distance than if it were a smooth dry trail, so the hike is more tiring than the map would suggest.
Here starts what’s arguably the finest five miles of the Hudson River. Lightly forested rock walls rise as much as 200 feet above the river at the very top of the Hudson River Gorge in Adirondack State Park. A sharp bend creates a relaxed arc running 200 feet immediately above the gorge with rapids named “Big Nasty” and “Gunsight.” Dick Lilliston and his family have visited Blue Ledges annually from the time they had to carry their daughters down to the river in pack baskets.
“Rafters come around the bend dressed in all their trim and tackle, outfitted for class five rapids. The guides have been giving instructions about all the hazards ahead. By the time they round the bend upriver, they’re gripping those paddles with white knuckles. And what’s the first thing they see? A family placidly backstroking across the Hudson River.”
The pools along with the sand beach are great big and can absorb lots of people. Good thing, too. You’ll likely encounter lots of kids from nearby summer camps. I even found a couple of cars at a trailhead on a weekday with rain threatening. Trail conditions are apt to be very muddy.
Bonus Feature: Ospreys reside on the ledges above the river.
This is a slackwater spot that’s a popular canoe landing with a huge sand beach near the ranger outpost. The river bed here is wide and rock filled. What’s exceptional are a couple of large rocks within a small cove. The smaller one splits the river’s flow and drives it toward the larger rock where it wraps around the base. Kids favor this spot for low altitude cannon balls. The jump is around 10 feet.
Ben Woodard is Adirondack State Park labor supervisor at the interior outpost nearby. He tends the grounds surrounding what was a backcountry hotel until the 50s. “There used to be lots of different gardens,” he explained, “mint, oregano, rhubarb. There’s also lots of milkweed. Monarch migrate here in the fall. There’s easily an acre of butterflies.”
Reports are that during dryer levels there’s a nice jacuzzi near the trailhead at the Lower Fall, but it’s best to avoid this chute unless you know the river intimately. The Upper Fall is pretty, but too forceful to jump in. There’s an eddy south of the fall that might not drag you immediately to your death, but is still dangerous.
Come for the rock jump; stay for the amphibians. The pond is an easy trip from Lake Placid. It’s about 300 yards wide and almost perfectly round, so you can see any part of the lake from any other part. That reduces privacy further at an already popular destination. Visibility is no better than six feet. Good rock structure at many points along the shoreline means you can spread out, although most activity is concentrated at the jumping rock on the north end. It’s around seven feet high, an ideal scale for kids who find it fun, not scary.
In between trips from the top of the rock, the kids I interviewed enjoyed catching tadpoles – big tadpoles. One just beginning to get rear legs was four inches across! Conditions in Adirondack State Park during the summer of 1996 so favored amphibian reproduction that regulars said they were big enough to water ski on.
The trail is short but steep. As a guideline, I’d say it’s limited to people who smoke no more than one pack a day. Privacy is unlikely. I found 10 people on a cloudy weekday. The area seemed well picked up and cared for.
Note: it’s pronounced simply “Cooper’s Pond.”
One big wad of rock put smack in the middle of the North Fork of the Bouquet River. The water, rather than going around the obstacle, barrels through it by means of a gap that’s miraculously aligned on the precise axis of the river’s flow. Viewed from the top, it’s a pile of rock 15 feet with a chimney through which water drops ten feet into a spectacular hole.
The sides are straight and square as a shoe box. Depth is at least 12 feet throughout. The downstream side is a ledge that’s been undercut by several feet. Above it, the water rolls out of the hole over an impossibly smooth slab that distributes a perfectly even carpet of silver rolling toward the main stem of the river. Sunning slabs are 55 feet wide and so smooth that I was able to take a nap on bare rock. The only minus is that you’re likely to find a couple of other groups from Adirondack State Park visiting here on a summer weekend.
Some lesser places downstream. A nice pool a little more than 600 yards from the trailhead and a better spot 100 yards farther on with a smooth knob that slopes toward the afternoon sun. Good sand beach, too. Water’s just about six feet deep during good conditions. Also a smashing hole right above the stone highway bridge where you park, but far too heavily visited. Two even better ones below the bridge with jumps 15 feet high.
Swimming holes below the cable bridge. Good quality, but not the size of places lower on Johns Brook. The fall comes down in a couple of steps into water that’s around 10 feet deep. A ledge about nine feet high stands over a narrow sweet spot. The best way to reach the hole is not directly from the bridge. Rather, 100 yards downstream on the southern bank, look for a bushwhack to the swimming hole. Lots of traffic crossing the foot bridge into the high country, not all of it human.
At The Garden I parked next to a couple of guys coming down from the High Peaks. They were taking off their packs when one of them looked up the trail and said to his friend, “There he is! Hurry up, get in the car!” Standing at the top of the trail was a small, black and white goat scanning the parking lot.
The goat was a mascot for the ADK branch. When his owner joins the group for trail maintenance in Adirondack State Park, the goat comes along. It had wandered off for several days before he fastened onto these two hikers.
“We gave him some peanut butter last night, and some toothpaste this morning. He followed us all the way down the trail,” the hiker said through a crack in his car window. “He’s very persistent.” The attendant at the parking lot phoned the owner and he was reunited with his goat.
Water rolls in a gorgeous sheet, thin and continuous over a broad surface of smooth rock. There’s enough room to host a wedding reception. Finally, the water rushes toward the center of the creek and into a chute that sends a rooster tail hollering into the main pool. All of which adds up to Adirondack State Park’s most popular water slide. The main chute is wide enough for a 40-inch waist. The pool itself is pretty fair. It’s wide like the cascade that feeds it with a small deep end right under the rooster tail. At the top of the slide is a really nice pothole, six feet deep and twice as long. Other smaller potholes abound.
Continue walking the streambed about 100 yards to a pair of cascades falling over wide ledges. They are short plunges that come down in three pieces. They land on slabs and exits through a notch and into a slightly larger pool about 25 feet in diameter.
I like this place more and more each time I visit. Finding it the first time can be challenging. Picking up the Southside Trail from the ford of Johns Brook may require some route finding. Look for a red trail disc, then turn right on an old haul road. Very muddy in spots. After the second stream crossing start looking for the slides.
Ledges zigzag on both sides of a hole 60 feet long. Only about half of it is swimmable, though. The downstream half is filled in with sand and cobble. The upstream half has excellent depth, but several small boulders obscure the bottom and keep the hole from being deep and continuous.
The best part is the rock. The southern ledges rise as high as nine feet above the creek, but the lower, northern ledge is more attractive and user friendly. It’s sunnier and that inhibits moss, lichen and all the lower botany, leaving cool, bare rock to sit on. It’s also got excellent access to the deep end.
The cascade above the swimming hole is unremarkable, but above the cascade are extensive slabs of hard rock. Not water slide-able, but a very open and comfortable place to hang out. It’s within view of Southside Trail; however, there’s a nice picnic area on the north bank, just beyond view of the falls that adds some privacy.
Water quality in all of Johns Brook is excellent. Not the tannic murk common in Adirondack State Park. Expectation of privacy is good. You may want to visit here in the unlikely event that Tenderfoot is crowded.
A short slot with a couple of tubs. Walls go up 40 to 60 feet, and the bottom is only ten feet wide. The best tub is right in the middle of the slot at the bottom of the descent. It’s just the right size for a couple and there is a small lounging rock adjoining it. Also note a gravel pocket the size of a single bed tucked up on the left as you look down canyon. It’s shaded by a small sycamore tree and it makes for a really nice place to escape into the shade. Trouble with this tub is that to be more than six feet deep requires a rate of flow which could be a little dangerous.
But nothing compared to the danger this area was famous for at the end of the 19th century. The notorious “Pleasant Valley War” was a feud that made the Hatfields and McCoys look like an ice cream social. Two rival ranching families, the Tewksburys and the Grahams, carried on a range war between 1886 to 1892 that left as many as 50 dead. It finally ended when the last Tewksbury killed the last Graham in Tempe.
Although the hole is clearly known, as evidenced by fire rings upstream, usership does not appear nearly as heavy as other places on this part of Haigler Creek.
This marks four holes, closely spaced with each one bigger than the next. At the top is a hole with a cabin-sized boulder on the left and a nice sycamore tree next to the boulder. A rope is fixed on the wall just behind the boulder, suggesting it was placed for mounting the rock and jumping.
The middle is a twin fall that has the rarest of things, shade. Willows cover the cobble beach directly across from the fall. Shade is also available to the left under a ledge that shelters a smooth slab. Very nice. The pool is about 50 feet wide and 30 feet long. The depth probably won’t be that great since the impound is created by a cobble beach. That said, there are some really tempting jumping rocks about 15 feet high directly between the falls. The third feature is a plunge pool with sheer walls that top out on a terrace about 50 feet above the water. The fall that feeds it is the same height. Depth in the pool is undetermined, but you can bet it’s profound. Reach it via a minor, 90-foot chimney. You can probably downclimb it, but I used a rope, ’cause I’m a sissy.
The lower fall (shown opposite) is the biggest pool so far. Walls rise from the bottom of the fall for 130 feet. A tall, proud fall lands in a funnel-shaped pool, about 70 feet long. Getting there is difficult. I photographed from above, although it appears there’s an approach leading down to it from where I stood.
This waypoint marks a pair of holes. The first (not pictured) is a plunge pool. The fall is a single chute, around 15 feet high and angled to the left as you look up canyon. Water exits over one layer of rock, falls seven feet, bounces off a ledge and falls another seven feet into a pool. The water at the bottom is around 40 feet long and bounded on the downstream end by a spit of cobble and gravel substantial enough to support a modest growth of low trees. Not the best place to sit, though. Better to stretch out on rock slabs next to the fall, and you can walk right down into the water. No dives, though. The right wall is too steep and narrow to clamber up onto.
The lower pool is 120 feet below the first. It’s comprised of three pools, none of them good enough to merit a review. But the cascade at the top along with a couple of potential slides that connect the pools are really pretty.
First the cascade. It’s up at the top of the series. Water enters through a chute maybe two feet wide, then splits into a hundred pieces. The rock below is a wedding cake five tiers tall that creates a horsetail fall 15 feet wide at the bottom. Of the slides, the middle one has the best potential and the pool it empties into is about three times larger than its upstream cousins.
A couple of holes located at the bottom of a steep, rocky descent. Lots of traversing ledges and downstepping. At the canyon bottom the rock bed is angled at 15 degrees toward the stream flow. The result is smooth, expansive slabs that create perhaps the best spot to sun in this book. Entry and exit are simple. Shade is sparse. The best tactic for a summer day is dunk, dry, repeat.
From the overlook, take a moment to examine the 300-foot tall canyon wall. Ledges begin downstream, then slope toward you. To reach “B” and the holes reviewed on following pages, you need to bushwhack downstream along the terraces.
Because of the way those terraces are angled, you must bushwhack and scramble to a point above and downstream from the destination. Then walk the ledge in the upstream direction, descending toward the destination. Although this is rugged, rugged country, the paths are easier to follow than I imagined. That’s not to say clear.
Vertical scrambles of 15 feet may be necessary and you may need to rely on route-finding skills. Close examination will show disturbed soil and minor evidence of trodden grass. Where travel up and down rock chutes is indicated, you’ll notice small areas of rock polished to a light brown by contact of hands and feet.
The pinkest granite in the Southwest. Centuries of spring runoff from the Mogollon Rim has shaped rock into smooth, pre-Cambrian lounge chairs. There are two spots to visit here. At the top is an enchanting pool with emerald water collected underneath a mammoth ledge large enough for a circus tent. Downstream are the aforementioned lounge chairs. Water pools most notably in a tank that’s 45 feet long and 15 feet wide. The seats face upstream, so you will be pointed into the current as you sip your afternoon cocktail and consider what to have for supper.
Local resident Ron Tofoya recommends crawfish. Tonto Creek is thick with them—a delicacy—and that’s not just his opinion. On one trip to the creek Tofoya set a group of scouts to work collecting the crustaceans.
“There was probably six or seven pounds. I cooked them with some red wine, onions and chili. I guess everybody liked them ‘cause there wasn’t nothing leftover.”
Catching the critters by hand might be a good way to keep a group of pre-adolescents busy. An option is to trap them using a section of hardware cloth and a piece of bacon securely fastened to the center of it. Attach string to each corner of the cloth so that you can lift the screen out of the water after a suitable number of crayfish have crawled to the bait.
A weekday classic, also referred to as Cold Springs. Broad granite slabs play home to one-half dozen pools. The premier spot is at the bottom of a two-tier fall that’s about 40 feet high. The tank is 35 feet across and around eight feet deep in the center. My favorite feature is a dynamite sunning rock at the bottom of hole. A huge tree trunk is wedged parallel to the fall and has some steps cut into it. No real purpose to the steps, you can’t dive from it since the water’s not nearly deep enough. It’s just something to scramble around on, fall and get injured.
The trunk probably washed down after a 1990 fire that burned 24,000 acres at the top of the watershed. Dead trees and disturbed soil tumbled downstream, depositing lots of silt in this otherwise deep hole. Officials reseeded the burn area immediately, but say it still took two years before the siltation even slowed down. Since then they planted trees, but it will be many years before restoration is complete and places like Ellison Creek reach normal depth.
Pity the person who arrives here on “senior ditch day.” Ellison Creek is a high school party spot. Many fire rings and broken bottles at the parking site. There are also some steep pools on the East Verde just below the road crossing. Pretty, but who wants to swim in water that minutes before was rinsing hubcaps on cattle trucks?
A swimming hole that smiles back at you. It’s an oval approximately 50 feet long with a gravel bottom that rises smoothly to the end of the pool. What makes it so delightful, apart from the lovely color of the water on Fossil Creek, is the contour of the hole. The top of the pool is bordered by a large boulder on the left that’s approximately 15 feet high. The rest of the arc is completed by a set of ledges that look as if they were drawn with a compass. The upper tier rises above the water at an average height of 20 inches. The lower tier is submerged, creating a crescent that looks like a travertine grin.
The water is deep enough for shallow dives from the ledges at the top. The boulder on the left is difficult to climb and the water isn’t deep enough for jumps anyway. The hole isn’t visible from the nearby road, so it escapes most traffic. Expectation of privacy is excellent.
Ledges, logs and undercuts on this part of the stream are important habitat for many species. A couple of soft-shell turtles live here, among other critters. In addition to the usual admonitions about not tramping grass, here’s one bit of etiquette you might not have considered. Wildlife biologist Cheryl Carrothers at the Payson Ranger District advises that you not turn over rocks. Reptiles, insects, spiders and small mammals rely upon this type of cover, she said. And that’s part of a turtle’s diet.
Impossibly lush. A spring produces more than 15,000 gallons of mineral rich water each minute. These deep holes of clear, blue water at a constant temperature of 72 degrees are among the best loved swimming holes in the Southwest and generations of visitors are evident in the soil erosion around tree roots.
And it’s not just people. Many visitors bring their dogs. Officially it’s discouraged and in most cases it is a bad idea for the dogs. The rocky trail is like torture for pads accustomed to nothing rougher than park grass. However, some exceptions should be made: Take Oscar, a pit bull mix.
“He was a pound dog. My mom got him as a Christmas gift for me,” said Steven Aaird of Phoenix. “He started jumping off the rocks with us. He’s like that. He sees us doing something and he wants to try it.” Then Oscar saw them use the rope swing. “Every time we come here he gets better and better,” Aaird said.
Oscar lunges from the bank, seizes the rope in his jaws and swings out into the water. At his best, he can create a six-foot arc before releasing. Other times he hangs on for the ride, paddling swiftly at the air for a minute or more. Then he’ll drop and do it again and again and again.
“Last time I had to make him stop. His gums were getting all bloody.”
At the dam below the main spring there’s a super deep pool. The most interesting feature is in the rock to the right of the main current. The creek apparently bored a wide hole so deep that it forms a short underwater passage connecting to the main channel of the creek. The passage is around five feet under water and about six-feet long.
There are some spots where you can find privacy on Fossil Creek. This isn’t one of them. On a holiday weekend you can expect to find as many as 50 cars parked at the trailhead. David Stover of Mesa tells what he witnessed one Labor Day.
“There was a brand new, black BMW. A big one. This woman got out of the car and put on a new pair of hiking boots, I mean the kind of boots you could do Everest in. Meanwhile the guy stayed in the car, air-conditioning on, motor running. When she finished, they walked about 100 feet down the trail and had lunch. That was their Labor Day weekend hike.”
Most visitors do make it to the springs, however. It takes one hour to descend about four miles and 1,700 feet from the trail above. If you approach from the bottom along the Flume Road it’s a little shorter and only about 1,000 vertical feet of hiking.
More vertical walls, more long water. The hole is a damn sight longer than an Olympic pool. Depth will average about six feet, but that can change season to season since it’s a spot that appears to collect lots of sand. Regardless, it’s a great place to blow bubbles. I swam laps for the better part of an hour and my only complaint was there was no stripe painted on the bottom.
Midway through, the bottom rises to become little more than waist deep and paradoxically that’s where the fun begins. On the left is a small gravel bar, 15 feet long and hard up against the left wall. A fringe of alders turns it into a bed with a curtain of privacy drawn around it. It’s especially precious since it’s so rare to find a beach–much less trees –smack in the center of a sheer rock where the flow runs hard during high water. There is even more shade at the bottom of the hole under sycamore and alders.
One caution—it’s best to approach from the left bank rather than directly upstream through the mud and vegetation at the bottom of the hole. This because riparian habitat is sensitive and lots of little critters need it to survive in a climate that doesn’t favor water loving species. Tread carefully.
The main feature is not the swimming hole itself (which is really nice) but a smooch seat and snuggle shelf carved out of the granite wall on the left side. The seat is more like an out-sized reclining chair with upswept sides and a tall back that provides privacy in the unlikely event of visitors approaching from downstream. It’s just a killer spot to be with your love interest.
The snuggle shelf is about the size of a large dinner table. During low water it will be raised a little more than a foot above the water line. It’s smooth and the horizontal surface is slightly concave and filled with sand and small gravel. If you’re rugged, a towel should be all you need to lie on. However, if you anticipate more pressure might be applied consider bringing a sleeping pad to keep the rocks from poking you or yours in the back.
The hole itself is a pretty oval shape about 60 feet long. The bottom is clear with no boulder clutter and a fat deep end. The left wall is around 80 feet tall. Best thing about Tonto Creek here is that it’s a low water spot. Visit during dry years or on either side of the monsoon season, late spring or early autumn. Big, big afternoon sun with only the barest shade at the bottom of the pool under some immature willows and a sycamore.
More pigeons than people. Big walls create nesting spots like in an urban high-rise. This part of the canyon is much more like a narrows than the overrun swimming hole downstream known as the “The Narrows.” The left wall is 100 feet high and sheer. Rock on the right is not nearly as high, but presents its own challenge, more of which later. The pool is 50 feet long and 20 feet wide with a little fall at the top.
Depth is overhead in most places, but scattered boulders make that factor variable. That same boulder clutter is also responsible for the fall at the top of the slot. The only jumping ledge is adjacent to the fall. This is also the spot where you climb 15 feet up and around to reach the holes reviewed in the following pages.
To get around the fall you have to climb one of the cracks on the right. The one that appears to be the easiest isn’t. Instead, move a few feet farther upstream and start on a crack about 15 feet downstream from the fall. The climb is not more than a couple of moves. The difficulty is around 5.4. But remember, you’ll be doing this with wet hands and feet. For non-climbers in the group, somebody who does have rock gear should bring a #7 or #8 stopper for something to grab on.
Note: Usability is a problem. There’s no comfortable place to sit other than on cobbles at the lower end and the only shade comes from your hat brim.
It’s the same basic design as Lower Calf Creek, only the surrounding walls are not as high. The fall is 87 feet high. Just to the left of the fall a steep rock ramp runs 35 feet, all of it covered with slimy, lower plant life. This greases the surface well enough to use it for a slide, as demonstrated by visiting Boy Scout troops. Choose the descent carefully, though. God only gave you one tailbone.
The fall has carved a bell-shaped space out of the sandstone and created a cool, humid place inside the bowl that supports a succulent grasses that literally grow up the wall. Wild roses complete the effect of a soft nursery of green surrounded by sun and sandstone. The pool is 10 feet deep and about 60 feet in diameter, but since this is basically a sand and mud impound with lots of surrounding vegetation, there is no good place to sit. It’s much warmer early in the season than at Lower Calf Creek Fall. By late June, it’s apt to become a muddy hole. The spur trail is well marked and less than ¼ mile long. Please stay on the trail and don’t wander or you risk damaging the fragile riparian fringe like the wild roses.
This is the same trailhead as Top Calf. Only difference is that to reach Top Calf you pass the descending spur and continue about 200 feet up the trail.
Call this the law of unintended consequences. Or how Mormon pioneers attracted Frenchmen in Speedos.
Nineteenth Century settlers around the town of Tropic got thirsty. They peeled off a piece of the Sevier River and sent it down an otherwise dry canyon toward their town. Soon the alfalfa was thick and the cows were fat.
Now fast forward 100 years.
Places like Bryce Canyon and Zion have become vacation destinations for thousands of people, among them a high proportion of Euro’s fascinated by the vastness and colors of south Utah. Here, where an exotic plume of water companions with the famed Pink Cliffs, you get French people hiking in teeny, tiny swim suits.
The Ditch is a visual attraction apart from the Frogs in Spandex. The diversion runs a mostly flat course through the Pink Cliffs until is gets to a shelf about 15 feet high. It a beautiful plunge, but the pool at the bottom is barely deep enough to be reviewed here. The rock type in Bryce is just too brittle to make a nice deep hole. It seems that whatever the water removes is back filled by more crumbled rock.
The farthest thing from a clothing optional swimming hole you could imagine. This is well off the tourist trail. Water Canyon is the local swimming hole for Hilldale, an isolated community on the Utah-Arizona border. Isolated, but well known. It’s situated at the bottom of a little canyon called Short Creek. Locals, a rustic group, pronounce it, “cshaort crick” and it has become shorthand for the 10,000 or so polygamists who live here. They’re called “Crickers.”
The women wear dresses patterned after 19th Century pioneer garb. Both sexes wear long underwear day and night, year round as a symbol of their covenant with God. Long sleeves are the rule and men working in the fields will not even roll up their cuffs on the hottest day of summer for fear of being considered immodest. It’s all very odd, but if you visit please exercise restraint in your bathing attire to avoid scandalizing the populace.
These are small pools. The main one is immediately below a tiny natural arch. There is also a pretty little set of falls above. Historically these pools have been deeper, but when reviewed it was hardly deep enough for a jump off a small rock. Local kids have attempted to raise the level by piling rocks and even pieces of plywood and plastic at the bottom. It looks a little bit ugly. They call it “wheel barrow” after one that was left there as part of the effort to build an impound.
For all the attention that the Zion Narrows attracts, it doesn’t offer much in the way of swimming holes. Water is cold since the deep canyon gets little sunlight. Nevertheless, consider a couple of pour-offs in Orderville Canyon where the early afternoon light is rich and the vegetation is gorgeous. Springs and seeps in the canyon walls support populations of western columbine, shooting star and penstemon. They climb up the vertical rock like pastels hung on a museum wall.
The pools are less eye catching, more like tubs and buckets, really. The lower pools are within a couple of hundred yards from the mouth of the canyon. The middle pool is a small slot with a good looking fall. The pool at the bottom is little more than a few feet wide and chest deep. To get on the top, look for some tiny steps carved into the stone on the right.
The upper pool is more difficult. You have to swim through a brief slot or complete a scramble with a couple of tricky steps and a potentially injurious fall. The pool is no more than six feet deep, not user friendly and difficult to reach. The best feature is a small alcove/pothole carved into the canyon wall on the left about twelve vertical feet above the channel. The floor is a flat, level patch of sand just big enough for a pair of reclining bodies to stretch out in the shade and admire the verdant walls.
The fall is what most people see on lower Pine Creek. It’s only about one-quarter mile from the road. There’s a marginal pool at the bottom and the fall is worth a picture. The backdrop is out of this world. Mythic sandstone walls that people spend days climbing. What’s more, visitorship is relatively light given the location and ease of access. But there’s a better swimming hole about another quarter mile up Pine Creek.
It occurs where two big, blocky boulders fall flush against each other, creating the head wall. A similar collection of cabin-sized boulders completes the impound of an irregularly shaped pool 30 feet long at the broadest. Visitors regularly jump and dive from the boulders at the top of the pool. Heights are between five and seven feet. The bottom is sandy and it’s entirely possible there will be too much sand and not enough water for jumping and diving.
In fact, it may not be deep enough to dive on Monday, then be clear and deep on Friday. Apparently it’s difficult to guess whether a storm will fill a spot with wash or blow one clean down to the rock bottom. You just have to wade in and check it out.
Swimming on a human scale. Here the Virgin River cuts through some limestone outside the village of Virgin and creates a small gorge that is unlike most places in the Southwest. Just about every other place in the region is epic—tall cliffs, long approaches, fast water. It’s difficult to find a family swimming hole that the little dippers can make it to. Well, here it is.
The slot is little more than 100 yards long. The rock bench on the southern side of the river slopes down to meet the rapids at the top of the hole. At it’s highest the ledge is less than 20 feet above the water. The ledges step down into what’s usually deep water. Signs prohibit diving, though it still goes on. It’s worth noting that it only takes one gully wash to change the bottom. What was safe to jump into last week might not be safe next week.
There are picnic tables, views of the sagebrush and even a couple of backyards. The approach is easy enough that you can bring the smallest members of the family. Heck, you can even bring grandma.
It is to weep. The first fall is a cascade 15 to 20 feet high that stair-steps in six-foot increments, landing on a slab. No pool under it. The second is the swimming hole. It’s about a ten foot plunge into a pool with the sides undercut by as much as six feet. The shape looks like a jug. There is a broad terrace to view the fall. Getting down to it requires some slipping and sliding on loose rock. Jumping is fun, but it takes two or three minutes to scramble back to the launch spot. Easily among the 20 best swimming holes in the southwest, but not a hiking destination. Not even a place to go without ear plugs on the weekend.
The bad news is that a dirt road goes up either side of the creek. You can even ride a motorbike across the lip of the fall. Beer bottles on the road and down by a really nasty fire pit. Bozos and yahoos abound. To wit: When I visited, a pickup driven by a young man with green hair was tailgating me and driving recklessly. I let him pass and three miles later I saw the truck hanging over the side of a 200 foot slope. A rescue attempt only sent it further down the slope.
“Same thing happened to me,” one of the rescuers offered. “Three years ago. I was about half in the bag. I swerved to avoid some ATV and I went over the edge just like that.” All of which is to say, be really careful driving this road. Especially on weekends.
Zion’s back door. During the peak month, the park receives 12,000 visit per day, most of them in the southern portion. Only a tiny fraction, the cognoccenti, make it to the northwest corner and La Verkin Creek. There are several pools separated by a couple of hundred yards. The pattern is pretty consistent: Cascades and short falls nourish medium-sized pools all with little rock shoulders that are good to sit on or jump from. Really great backdrop, too. The stream is 200 or so yards from tall cliff walls, that although not absolutely sheer, rise an impressive 1,000 vertical feet.
The middle pool is the largest, about 25 feet in diameter. Not a big vertical description, though. Five chutes run 12 to 15 feet next to a deeply undercut rock wall. There’s really no impound other than rocks and boulders. That limits depth and sand in the bottom can reduce depth further still. As a result, the sweet spot for jumps might be no more than six feet in diameter, so if you make a dive it better be a flat one.
Seating is tremendous at the middle fall. There is a deep alcove 50 feet above the second hole. It’s flat, sandy and the ideal place to put down a picnic basket or stretch out for a nap. The lower hole also has some shade trees to escape from the relentless desert sun. Save some water and energy for the return trip. There’s a one mile climb back out.
You’ll wear out several pairs of boots finding a slick rock canyon more sumptuous than this. The lower spot is really only a pot. The pool is trapezoid-shaped with lots of sand in the bottom. The fall and jump is only about six feet. It really needs a year or two of heavy snow runoff to rinse it clean. The better place is farther up where you find a little slot with a slide about seven feet high that spills into a rock walled pool that’s 12 to 15 feet around. It’s bounded by smooth, continuous red rock rising 50 feet. You gain the ledge above the pool by using some steps and an aid rope fastened above.
Expectation of privacy is zero. Gerald Grimmett has worked as the campground host since 1993. He describes Red Cliffs as an urban campground. On the Easter Holiday it can draw as many as 6,000. “We’ve got it pretty much under control now, but it used to be so rowdy that I wouldn’t walk out the door without my pistol.”
Average is three medical evacuations by helicopter per season, not all of them alcohol related either. The rocks produce a bumper crop of Moqui marbles which, when scattered on steep slick rock, means a quick trip to the bottom for anyone not extremely vigilant. A ranch upstream has water rights and if there is water flowing in the creek by Memorial Day, that’s usually when they begin to exercise their right. So this is only an early, early season spot.
Slot pools that aren’t going to change your life, but you’ll enjoy an excellent expectation of privacy. The destination is The Slide, a 20-foot ride with a four foot free fall at the end. The pool itself is really deep. Be advised, steep sides mean getting out once you’re in can be difficult. Twenty feet of rope would be helpful, but there’s no technical climbing required.
Between the descent and the destination are a couple of pots, one more than 40 feet wide and eight feet deep in the center. It’s shaped like a drinking gourd and deep along “handle” where water comes in. Jumps on the left.
Below the pot, route finding gets difficult. A deep slot with a square limestone chock stone hinders progress, then the slope walls out below. You cross loose slabs on the right to a small riparian area. Cross gingerly, foot print to foot print, to avoid damaging this fragile pocket of green in the desert. Once through the vegetation, resume the slope on the right side briefly before descending to The Slide.
Note: The drive in is long and rough. Also, hiking permits are required. They are $5 and available at the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation office way over in Window Rock, or by mail at: P.O. Box 9000 Window Rock, AZ 86515 (520) 871-6647 or 7307
Favorite activities include standing in a natural stone chamber and being showered with water from the Rainbow Plateau. Kaibito Creek produces Baroque shapes in Navajo Sandstone, right at a boundary with some harder limestone. The canyon floor above is flat and level enough that you could bring a Frisbee to toss around. Then the water pours off the limestone in a short, broad arc that erodes the softer stone below.
There might be dozens of thin rivulets comprising a cascade 30 feet wide, but only a couple of feet high. The water accelerates, carving countless troughs and curves before taking a 12-foot plunge. Individual streams of water tumble together into a collection of head-high chambers. There’s even an arch you can walk through.
During the summer season, the water won’t be more than waist deep, except after storms when it will be dark and gritty anyway. It’s no more than a three mile hike up from the lake, so best visit early in the season, when the lake is still low, thus the hike for boaters is longer. It’s a long trip from above. At least three hours along faint trails with several opportunities for wrong turns. When the arm of the lake comes into view, look for descending switchbacks and at the bottom turn up canyon.
Two-hundred feet high. It’s even taller than Niagra Falls. You can’t get closer than 30 feet from the fall without being blasted backward by the force of the water. Major floods in 1990, 1993, 1997 blew out most of the travertine deposits that created pools more than 20 feet deep. After 1993 you could walk up to the falls and touch them. But they have regenerated nicely since then. The pool at the bottom of Mooney is about the same size as the main tank at Havasu, although it doesn’t have as many associated pools downstream.
The campground is strung out between Havasu and Mooney Falls. When I visited, it seemed underdeveloped for the number of overnight guests permitted. Sanitary facilities were third world, but officials said they are studying different systems and hope to have eight or more composting toilets to improve service.
After negotiating the campground, the trail descends to Mooney Falls through two low tunnels and a series of steps and ladders cut into the rock. Primitive hand rails should give some confidence to those afraid of heights.
Really interesting travertine deposits with three or more swimmable pools stretching between the fall and the mouth of Beaver Canyon to the west. The drawback I observed was that the banks are either crumbling rock or exasperating brush. One might think that by the time you reach this part of the canyon two miles below Mooney Falls you would find a good expectation of privacy. While it’s true Beaver Falls gets fewer visitors from above, it’s close enough to the Grand Canyon (3 miles) that it attracts rafters doing day hikes upstream.
Kids from Supai sometimes come here to escape the crowds. During the school year though it’s an adults only village. Children are sent to boarding schools or to live with relatives in cities where they can attend classes.
“The first time they took me I felt like I was being kidnapped, said Roland Manakaja, natural resources director for tribe. “I thought we were just going for a bus ride. At the end of the school year, when the bus was coming to take us home, we’d stay up all night waiting to see if we were really going back.”
If you want to visit Beaver Falls you will definitely need to overnight at the campground unless you think you might value the experience of shuffling back up the grade by head lamp after 30 miles and 3,000 vertical feet.
The runt of the litter. Navajo Falls is dwarfed by its downstream cousins. The pool is nice sized, though. Around 70 feet on the main axis and deep enough for diving, although there isn’t anything to dive from. Instead of rocks, the pool is surrounded by dense vegetation. Consequently, the seating is very limited. But on the other hand, visitorship is relatively low. The trail to Havasu Fall goes past Navajo, but it’s on the other side of the canyon and screened from view. To reach it, you’ll have to cross about one-quarter mile below and turn back up canyon. Signs make it easy to find.
Havasupai means “people of the blue green-waters.” They say this is the most isolated reservation in the country. There’s no road, only a pack trail that descends nine miles and 2,000 vertical feet to the village of Supai. Historically, it’s not a year-round village. The Havasupai people farmed the canyon, but spent much of the year hunting and trading on the plateau with only a contingent left behind to tend the crops. That changed in the 19th Century, when settlers forced the tribe into the canyon permanently.
Now, teams of one dozen pack animals do the daily supply, carrying more than a ton of goods into the village of 350 people. Mail, too. And in the most isolated village in the country they still get junk mail.