Dives and Drives

Southwestern Swimholes: Head out west for monster dives and better sun
By Pancho Doll
  |  Gorp.com
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Aztec Falls
San Bernardino National Forest, CA
Probably the best diving spot in Southern California. If Aztec Falls were a ski area, it would be Squaw Valley. Steep and deep. The main rock is on the left, directly adjoining the falls. Locals say it goes up to 57 feet. The landing will be 15 feet deep or more. Intermediate ledges offer more modest jumps—30 feet or so! The fall itself is less imposing, but you can tell by the depth of the canyon that this river gets angry. Everything's here: jumps, slabs to sun on, sand bars to nap on.

Problem is you aren't likely to get much sleep. There may be as many as one dozen people having fun on a summer weekend. Litter is not an apparent problem. Volunteer groups like the Fisheries Volunteer Resource Corps keep this and other parts of the river picked up. The volunteers operate two-person patrols throughout the Deep Creek drainage, packing out everything from potato chip bags to automobile tires. They also help with trail maintenance and graffiti removal. You'll recognize them by the volunteer patch they wear on the standard forest service uniform.

Try and make sure they don't have to carry you out. It is easy to get seriously hurt jumping 50 feet or more. Check with locals for submerged obstacles before you jump. You're responsible for your own safety.

Map and Directions

Red Cliffs
Dixie National Forest, Utah
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.

Map and Directions

Mushroom Rock
Tahoe National Forest, CA
Ask locals where the good swimming holes are and this place always comes up. The hole takes its name from a 45-foot, mushroom shaped rock that's a favorite jumping off spot for the cliff diving set. The vertical is really great and the landing is plenty deep. It's a wet approach and that keeps some of the people away, but not many. You'll find at least one dozen individuals here on a weekend and not a heck of a lot of room for them to sit either.

On the way to Mushroom, at the bottom of the spur trail, is a popular swimming hole called Strawberry. It's over-visited, suffering litter, graffiti and dozens of people. Can be a rowdy crowd and some inevitably make it down to Mushroom where the true locals are more sedate. Pools that look so enticing to us are also attractive to pond turtles, a sensitive species. Turtles reproduce slowly and let's face it, if you looked like a turtle you'd be lucky to get any either. When you visit take care to walk on bare rocks, where possible. Turtles lay eggs in the sand as well as decaying vegetation. If it looks like turtles could dig in it, try not to disturb it.

The frogs and turtles tolerate the summer time yahoos and the occasional beer can that floats downstream from Strawberry. Land owners on the adjoining property are less liberal, so obey the no trespassing signs.

Map and Directions


Published: 4 Apr 2007 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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