This shocking Caribbean-blue pool—on the bottom of the Grand Canyon near the Native American community of Supai—is for the most tenacious of swimming-hole devotees. There are only three ways to get to Havasu Falls: hire a helicopter, hike 10 miles, or ride a pack mule. Plus, you'll need to purchase an entry permit, and, unless you're a hardcore trail runner, book a night at the Havasupai Lodge or campsite. But it's so worth it. Pancho Doll, who wrote two books on America's swimming holes, calls it the best in the world. After a long desert trek, even the mist from the 120-foot cascade is refreshing. Swimming behind the torrential falls or floating on your back and taking in the view is the real reward.
What's Nearby: Supai has a small grocery store and cafe. It's also one of two places in the country where U.S. mail is delivered by mules.
Lower Calf Creek Falls
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
It's a parched land, Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But the 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls are miraculously resilient, with a year-round flow into a lush oasis and pool. Set out early to beat the desert sun on the five-and-a-half mile round-trip trail. The loop, which starts at the Calf Creek Campground, cuts through a deep canyon and past Anasazi pictographs before coming to the falls. Here the water tumbles down and drenches the mineral-streaked Navajo Sandstone walls that surround a swimming hole too clear, cool, and inviting to pass up.
What's Nearby: See the monument area's sculptured slickrock and hoodoos at Devil's Garden or the petrified wood at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. In the town of Escalante, grab an outdoor seat at Kiva Koffeehouse and take in the incredible view.
Shenandoah National Park, Va.
For swimming-hole enthusiasts who think one is never enough, there's Whiteoak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park, 75 miles from Washington, D.C. Here, just off of Skyline Drive, you can go pool-hopping at the base of six different waterfalls that are linked by steep, rocky trails that wind throughout the canyon. Check out the trail map and envision working up a sweat on treks between plunges. The Upper Falls is the canyon's highest waterfall, but the huge pool at Cedar Run Falls makes a better end-of-day finale, with rocky ledges for jumping and, depending on the water level, a natural waterslide.
What's Nearby: In the park you can go trout fishing or arrange a guided trail ride on horseback. Explore heritage sites, including battlefields, presidential homes, and historical landmarks, on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a National Heritage Area along Route 15.
Baker's Bridge/Animas River
In the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's famous jump scene, bank robbers on the lam, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, make a death-defying leap into a steep river gorge. The jump was filmed on the Animas River in Durango, just upstream from a popular local jump spot: Baker's Bridge, off Highway 550. For kids who grow up in the area, a bridge jump is a ceremonial rite of passage. The crazy feat requires channeling the tough-guy nerve of old Western movies. Jumpers wait for calm waters on summer days and usually show up in old shoes to show off with backflips.