Zion National Park is located in the southwestern region of Utah, USA. This is 229 square miles of great outdoors and also home to the 15 miles long Zion Canyon. The park is popular with campers, hikers, and horseback riders. There are waterfalls, rivers, and creeks, and if you plan to visit this park, let me answer an important question:
Can you swim in Zion National Park? It is possible to swim in Zion National Park in several swimming holes along the Virgin River, a major river that runs through the park. Zion is also home to a large canyon with natural tunnels at the base where more swimming holes can be found.
Some of the best swimming holes to swim in, are an old dam along the river and on the base of the park’s waterfalls.
Apart from going into details about the swimming spots in Zion, I have also highlighted the best time for swimming. I will as well tell you where you are not allowed to swim and add a few interesting facts about this nation park.
So, let’s get started.
Can You Swim in Zion National Park?
As I have explained, Zion National Park and Virgin River come with plenty of swimming spots. Some hold enough water to swim all year round. Others are, however, small and are only swimmable after the rains when the water level goes up. To help you find your way to the best spots, here are the highlights of where you are allowed to swim in Zion.
The Virgin River has some of the best places where you can swim in Zion National Park. To put it precisely, you can swim “anywhere in the Virgin River”.
The section of the river in this park flows from Lake Navajo in the north and onwards to the southwest. Along the way, it passes on the floor of the Zion Canyon to drain into Lake Mead in Las Vegas.
In total, the river is over 160 miles long and passes through 3 US states: Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. The part that flows through Zion is known as the North Fork. This section is around 33 miles long, and in most places, you can swim comfortably.
Pine Creek Waterfall
This is another great place to go swimming in Zion National park. It is located within the Pine creek canyon.
The swim is especially rewarding after hiking the short half-mile Pine Creek Trail. To get to the creek though, you will have to pass through some boulders and slippery rocks.
The swimming hole sits at the base of a waterfall, making it more inviting and refreshing. If you don’t like crowded places this is the perfect swimming spot as it is not popular with many Zion Park visitors.
Virgin River Swimming Hole
One of the biggest swimming holes in Zion is the Virgin River Swimming Hole. This spot is named after the river itself and was formed when an old dam collapsed, leaving a large pool.
The water is calm with a depth of 3 to 4 feet – just the right conditions for swimming in the outdoors. Also, one of the remaining dam walls has created a small waterfall.
Right below the dam are smaller swimming holes created by the falling water. As such, this is one of the most popular parts of the park for swimmers. You will find families having a great time in the water while others sunbathe on the rocks.
Also, unlike the Pine Creek Swimming Hole which requires you to hike, getting to the Virgin River Swimming hole is much easier. It’s located near the Canyon Junction Shuttle Stop. From the stop, it’s just a short walking distance with signs that directs you to this magnificent swimming hole.
Before you start looking for train tickets, this is not that kind of subway. I’m referring to tunnels in the Zion Canyon. Unlike the large Zion Swimming Hole, the holes in The Subway are small and difficult to reach.
Are you a good hiker and canyoneer? To get to The Subway, you first have to descend through the steep walls of the Zion Canyon. The paths are rough and require good hiking shoes. Also, you will have to descend into the canyon floor by doing some rock climbing.
This means you need climbing gear that includes ropes, harnesses, and climbing shoes. Once you get to the canyon floor, you will find several small swimming holes created by the rivers.
Note: A permit is needed to hike and explore The Subway. Also, it’s best to have an experienced guide to show you the trail. The price ranges from $15 to $25, depending on the number of hikers in your group.
Where Not to Swim in Zion National Park
Even with all the wonderful swimming spots, the park service gives clear guidelines on where you may or may not swim. Below is one place where swimming is prohibited.
These are 3 pools namely; the upper, middle, and lower Emerald pool. They are located along with one of the best hiking trails in Zion, the Emerald Pools hiking trail. The pools are connected by a beautiful stream that flows downstream beyond the Lower Emerald Pool.
The Emerald Pools are characterized by breathtaking cliffs, beautiful hollows on the faces of rocks (alcoves), and waterfalls. One of the best experiences of the Zion National Park is hiking the trail that caters to all levels of difficulty.
Parts of the middle and the lower pools are especially great for families and people with impaired movement as the paths are paved and wide.
You can only enjoy the hike and the amazing sights. Swimming or wading in the water is prohibited in order to preserve the natural state of the pools. Your best chance at cooling off is the cool breeze that comes from the waterfalls that pour onto the trails from the cliffs above.
Even then, the falls only form during spring when it usually raining. Other times, the falls are reduced to trickling water.
While the park does come with good swimming spots, it is good to note that the Virgin River is one of the steepest rivers in America. It has an elevation of about 50 to 80 feet for every mile. As I said before you are allowed to swim anywhere in the river. Nevertheless, it’s recommended to ask the park rangers (if any) to point you to the safest spots.
The Best Time to Swim in Zion National Park
Zion National Park is open throughout the year, both day, and night. This, however, does not imply that you can swim 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Factors such as water temperatures, surrounding temperatures, water levels, and other weather hazards will greatly determine the best time for swimming.
With this in mind, we will take a look at how each season impacts the above factors.
Summer (May 15 – September 15)
Summer presents temperatures of over 1000F making it the time when a swim is much needed to cool off. The water levels in the swimming areas can be low and the water is appealingly warm.
Unfortunately, summer is also the thunderstorm season and Zion is prone to flash floods. Considering this, you should not go swimming if it is raining or if it looks like it will rain. Luckily for you, the weather forecast is posted at the park’s Visitor Center every morning.
Fall (September 15 – November 1)
Compared to summer, the water level and temperatures reduce during the fall. Towards the end of fall, and as winter approaches, the cold water might not be as appealing for swimming. Sometimes, the weather alternates between chilly and warm so if you decide to swim, ensure that it is warm enough.
Winter (November 1 – March 15)
This is the time with the least visitors. The temperature can go below freezing and obviously, the water is very cold. Swimming should be avoided!
Spring (March 15 – May 15)
March and April are the wettest months of the year. The season also comes with snow melts that raise the cold water to dangerous levels. Generally, spring is not the best time for swimming in Zion. That said, the second half of the season is a bit warmer and so is the water.
So, what’s the best time to swim in Zion National Park? The most favorable time for swimming is the summer season and early fall. Somewhere between May and mid-October. In a nutshell, you can swim at any time except during winter when the water is freezing cold.
Interesting Facts About Zion National Park
- The park’s name, Zion, is a Hebrew and Biblical name that means ‘a place of safety or sanctuary’.
- Before it was given the name Zion in 1919, the park was known as Mukuntuweap National Monument.
- There are rock paintings from over 8,000 years ago.
- The Zion Canyon continues to widen and deepen due to erosion from the Virgin River.
- If you love rock climbing, Zion is the place to sharpen your skills. There are 2000ft- high cliffs that are open to the public.
- Zion Canyon is around 240 feet deep.
Related: A Complete US National Park List
There are many places where you can swim in Zion National Park. The only exceptions are the Emerald pools. Even better, you can combine your swimming with activities such as hiking, Rock-climbing, and sight-seeing.