We’ve all heard the famous Mark Twain expression, “the coldest winter I have saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” And it’s true, July can be downright blustery and damp, especially by the water. But travel just a few hours to Yosemite, and it’s a totally different scene. It’s not unusual for summer days to peak in the mid-nineties and it’s a dry, dusty heat.

We just took our third trip to Yosemite with the kids and, as we expected, temperatures soared. We were only there for three days and decided to base our hikes and outings on places we could cool down with a swim or at least a good splash. Here were our three favorites:

rainbow pools

We’d visited the Rainbow Pools a few years back and made it a point to go back on this trip. It is THE BEST swimming hole we’ve ever been to and it definitely has a local vibe. The last time we were there years ago, we swam and watched daredevils jump and dive off the rocks lining the deepest pool. And this time, my two oldest boys and husband joined the crazies and took the plunge. Bring a swimsuit, a towel and a picnic and do not use the restrooms. Trust me. The Pools are outside the main entrance to Yosemite, off Highway 120.

carlon falls

The entrance to Carlon Falls is in Stanislaus forest, outside the National Park, but your 3-mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall takes you into the park itself. It’s a relatively easy and very shady hike along the Tuolomne River. You might pass a couple of locals fishing in the river with their canine companions. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts by some gentle falls cascading down into several shallow pools, just perfect for dipping and chilling out a while before your hike back to the car.

yosemite river

This is hardly a “best-kept secret” as it’s in the heart of Yosemite Valley, which sees over a million visitors each summer. We started our Vernal Falls hike early in the day, to beat the heat and the crowds. The hike up is extremely steep and dusty but well worth the climb for the views of the falls, the valley below, and the mountains above. What kept us going through the hottest climbs (and kept Jeremy somewhat sane after two rattlesnake sightings) was the thought of a refreshing swim in the Merced River when we climbed back down.

Find more things to do and places to stay in Yosemite on TripAdvisor.