July 14, 2017

10 Best Natural Pools (and the hikes to them) Near Tucson, Arizona

Sabino Canyon Rock Pool 

Water isn't typically associated with the desert. Most people tend to think of a barren and bone-dry landscape of sand dunes when they think of deserts. But with about 12 inches of rain per year, mostly coming during the late summer monsoon season, the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona is relatively lush.

For the uninitiated, the desert hiking trails around Tucson can have a surprising amount of water. There are many fantastic waterfalls and swimming holes that are easy to miss if you don't know where to look. We've already done a post on the best waterfalls, so now we're going to share our picks for the best natural pools.

To make our list, the pool has to be deep enough to get fully submerged while at least squatting down. That means that there are a couple of popular spots that ended up in our honorable mentions so that we could focus on the places where you would be more likely to make a day of the visit.

Before we get to the list, we want to be sure we provide an important warning:

Tucson gets most of it's precipitation during one of two rainy seasons. The first is the winter season which generally comes in December and January. The second tends to start in late June and finish by the end of August. During these times are when you're most likely to find these pools full of water, but they're also the most dangerous times to visit them.

An inch or two of rain may not seem like much, but around Tucson, all of that rain tends to get funneled into the canyons where these pools are located.  Therefore it is crucial that you pay attention to the weather. Even if it only seems to be raining miles away, that rain can come rushing down a canyon incredibly fast with very little warning. Every year, several hikers are stranded, injured, or worse by making foolish decisions at these pools, so please be careful.

Now that we've probably scared you away from ever visiting any of these places, on to the list!

10. Seven Falls

Seven Falls Pool
Although most people make the trek up Bear Canyon for the waterfalls in the middle of the canyon, the falling water also creates a few large pools before flowing further down. With a sandy bottom and plenty of exposed bedrock nearby to lay out on, it's easy to see why this spot makes a great place for a dip as well.

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9. Romero Pools

9/14/08: Fording the river
Next to Seven Falls, Romero Pools is probably the second most popular hike around Tucson because desert dwellers love their swimming holes. Up in Romero Canyon, which cuts into the Western slope of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Romero Pools are formed by the stream of runoff coming down from the higher elevations. The pools aren't exactly big enough to swim laps, but they're usually plenty deep to get fully submerged, whether you wade or jump in.

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8. Tanque Verde Falls

Tanque Verde Falls
Out to the east of town, just below the Redington dirt road, is an area that is super popular with all kinds of people. Tanque Verde Falls isn't more than a mile from the road, which makes it easily accessible. Although there is a spectacular waterfall there, most people make the short trek for the pools, of which there are many.

Daredevils and thrill seekers love the area for cliff jumping, despite the clearly posted signs against the activity. While the pools are often plenty deep for a plunge, the opaque water conceals branches and rocks that have injured more than a few jumpers in the past. The pools at Tanque Verde Falls are undoubtedly refreshing, but they are best enjoyed in a responsible manner.

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7. Chiva Falls

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If you continue on Redington Road well past the trailheads for Tanque Verde Falls, you'll find yourself in the middle of the high desert grasslands of Redington Pass. Mountain bikers and off-road vehicles tend to dominate the trails of the area, but there's nothing stopping hikers from enjoying it as well. Whatever your mode of transit, everyone tends to end up at the same place: Chiva Falls. When the water is flowing, there is an amazing waterfall pouring over a rock ledge dozens of feet above the pool at the bottom, which is an excellent place to relax and cool off.

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6. Seven Cataracts

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On the way up the Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon, there is a large vista pullout on the "down" side of the road just before you start to see your first pine trees. If you park there and look across the canyon, you'll spot Tucson's less famous seven waterfalls. Like the other cascades on this list, large pools form at the bottom of each drop and some are excellent swimming holes. Most people tend to descend upon the pools from above since the area is a popular place to practice rappelling.  However, you can get there from a somewhat treacherous, unofficial trail beginning just beyond the parking lot wall as well.

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5. Sabino Canyon Pools

Sabino Canyon
On the other side of Blackett's Ridge from Bear Canyon and the famous Seven Falls is Sabino Canyon. You won't find any amazing waterfalls in Sabino Canyon, but you can take a motorized tram ride all of the way up a 4.5 mile paved road to the back of the canyon. Along the way, you can hop off at any one of the 9 stops and enjoy one of the many pools that are formed by the water flowing through Sabino Creek. Whether you choose to walk the entire day or let the tram do some of the work for you, there are numerous ways you can build the perfect hike for you.

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4. Milagrosa Pools

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Like several of the other places on this list, Milagrosa Canyon tends to be more popular with non-hikers than hikers. Not only is it the final leg of the decent down Mount Lemmon for mountain bikers, but the canyon also boast some amazing rock climbing. However, it is also home to some amazing hidden pools. Between the beautiful setting, the short distance from the trailhead, and the deep canyon that provides some shady relief from the sun, the pools in Milagrosa Canyon are one of the best places to cool off in the water around Tucson.

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3. Frog Hollow

Back out in Redington Pass, not far from the #7 on this list, is another large pool in the middle of the wilderness. Much like Chiva Falls, it's surrounded by ranch land and is usually frequented by mountain bikers and 4x4's, but after a good rain storm it's worth the trek out there on foot as well. It may not have a waterfall like Chiva, but Frog Hollow is the better place to go if you're looking to swim around in a larger pool of calmer waters.

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2. Lemmon Pools

Lemmon Pools The Wilderness of Rocks area of Mount Lemmon is a great place to escape the summer heat with some higher elevation hiking. In addition to providing cooler air and plenty of shady trees, there is also a little known swimming hole right in the heart of the wilderness.

You have to know what you're looking for in order to spot the faintly marked, unofficial route off the main trail to the pools, but you can use our hike builder to show you the way.  If you can figure out how to get there, you'll be rewarded with cool mountain spring water, a small shady beach, and a large rock perfect for having a picnic on.

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Honorable Mentions

Outside of our top 10 picks, Tucson has many other remarkable pools that are worth the hike to check out. For instance, Maiden Pools in Ventana Canyon offers several consecutive pools carved out of the bedrock where you can slide from one into the next. You can also down climb the rock face to check out an additional large pool at the bottom of the waterfall below the pools above.

Or you can check out Bathtub Tank and Montrose Pools up in Catalina State Park. The former is what you'd expect from its name, a claw-foot tub sized pool carved out of the rock above a small waterfall.  While Montrose Pools is a shallow and sandy place to splash around without having to hike up the trail to Romero Pools further back in the canyon.

1. Hutch's Pool

Hutch's Pool
If someone told you there was an Olympic length swimming pool with a waterfall at one end and a sandy beach at the other, right in the heart of the desert near Tucson, Arizona, it'd be understandable if you responded with skepticism. However once you visit the oasis of Hutch's Pool, you'd understand why this place is so special. In addition to the main attraction, there are numerous shady trees nearby and several excellent dispersed camping sites if you should desire to stick around for awhile. No matter how long you stay, chances are that you'll be plotting your next trip back as soon as you start packing up to head out.

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What do you think?

Have you been to all of these desert pools? Which one is your favorite? Are there any hidden oases around Tucson that we left of? We'd love to hear your thoughts on our list in the comments below.

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