The Coolest Watering Holes in Southern Utah

Outdoor activities become more and more exhausting as the sun beats down. Luckily, there are still several places tucked away that are perfect for cooling off. Here are the top five best summer adventures (hint: they all include water).

Ashdown Gorge

Ashdown_3If you’re looking for an exciting water hike, there’s no better place than up Cedar City’s own canyon. Ashdown Gorge is a three mile hike through rushing rivers and climbing red rocks leading to plunge-worthy waterfalls.

The beginning of the trail is hidden in plain sight just off the Cedar Canyon highway. About 10 miles west on SR-14, to the left there is a large gravel parking lot just above the river. There, a subtle path leads down the steep hill into the water.

Changing into appropriate water shoes is highly suggested. The trail is almost completely submerged, with several stream crossings and slippery rocks.

Upon reaching the riverbed, the trail leads upstream, past Flanagan’s Arch, which can be spotted by gazing at the northern cliff skyline. Tom’s Head, a narrow red rock tower, appears a mile deeper into the canyon. Less than a half a mile up the slot is an intersection of Lake Creek on the left and Rattlesnake Creek to the right. Only a couple hundred yards in either direction ends at a refreshing waterfall.

Navajo Lake and Duck Creek

Duck Creek_1 (MITCH)Located at the edge of Dixie National Forest, 25 miles up Cedar Canyon, these two intertwining recreation areas are peppered with trees and ponds perfect for summer camping. Though they are open year round, they are best enjoyed during the warm months with terrain perfect for multiple activities.

Known for some of the best trout fishing in the southwest, Duck Creek Pond, Aspen Mirror Lake and Navajo Lake are full of fish year-round. This network of lakes and streams is safe for swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding.

The surrounding area’s sights include caves, lava fields and Anasazi ruins. Surrounding the lakes are several trails open to hikers, bikers and horseback riding. Hiking trails include destinations like Mammoth Cave, Cascade Falls and the Virgin River Rim. Regardless of which path is taken, travelers are guaranteed panoramic views of Zion National Park, Kolob Canyon Plateau and the Pine Valley Mountains.

After a day of hiking, visitors can return to the shore of the sparkling lakes to cool down for the evening. The forested campgrounds of Navajo Lake and Duck Creek contain over 80 separate campsites that are offered on a first-come first-serve basis.

Kanarraville Falls

Kanarraville_4The Kanarra Creek trail, commonly referred to as Kanarraville Falls, is a popular slot canyon east of Kanarraville leading to two picturesque waterfalls. The peak time to visit Kanarraville Falls is during the summer but it can often be overcrowded on weekend afternoons. Though the hike remains one of the most visited locations near Cedar City, it is a must for any resident.

The Kanarra trail is a moderate five-mile hike that leads around and through the rushing creek. The last half of the hike requires walking upstream in 5-10 inches of water, so hikers should come prepared with water shoes and appropriate clothing.

At the first waterfall, a log with steps is propped up against the slot canyon wall to allow hikers to ascend the falls without technical climbing gear. Climbing the trunk is relatively easy but can be wet and slippery. The second waterfall is a few yards deeper into the canyon. A rope is strung along the rock wall to allow hikers to climb above the falls. The real treasure, a small refreshing swimming hole, can be found if hikers choose to continue another half-mile deeper into the canyon.

The Kanarraville Falls trailhead has water fountains, restroom facilities and two dirt parking lots. Upon entering the grounds, hikers must pay $8 each, which covers parking charges. Dogs are permitted on the trail, but mountain bikes are prohibited. This canyon is located east on 250 North in Kanarraville.

Toquerville Falls

If Kanarraville falls is too crowded for your taste, just a few miles south lies a more discreet oasis. In the middle of the Washington County desert is a series of small creeks that all join together as rushing waterfalls emptying into a large swimming hole.

The trail to the falls is only about one mile long, but getting to the path may be difficult. Once taking the Toquerville exit off I-15, travelers drive east into town until spotting the water hole to the north, then turning left onto a dirt road a half mile out of town. This road may require high-clearance vehicles, so visitors should do their best to carpool in an SUV, ATV or truck.

Though the dirt trail is rough, the result is worth the wait. With full sun exposure, Toquerville Falls is the perfect place for cliff jumping and laying in the sun. If visitors choose to skip the swimming, the dirt road continues past the pool and leads up into the mountains for a beautiful scenic drive.

Sand Hollow and Quail Creek State Parks

Though Sand Hollow is a newer state park, it remains one of the most popular summer-day activities in southern Utah. When Sand Hollow is swarming with families, it’s great to head west of the park to visit its littler sister, Quail Creek. These warm reservoirs are perfect for all water games including paddle boarding, jet skiing and boating sports.

The crystal waters are surrounded by thousands of acres of red rock formations and sand dunes. With available campsites, it’s easy to plan a weekend full of hiking and swimming. Camp sites vary in price and availability and the day use price for entering both parks is $15 per vehicle up to eight people.

Located in Hurricane, it only takes 30 minutes to travel from Cedar City to escape the heat with a dip in the lakes. From I-15, take Exit 16 onto SR-9 and head three miles east toward Hurricane. Turn left on SR-318 and follow the road to the Quail Creek State Park entrance or continue another mile until turning right on Sand Hollow Road.  

Story By: Ansleigh Mikesell
Photos By: Ansleigh Mikesell