Best above ground pools 2021: beat the heat in these backyard pools

Our list of the best above ground pools to keep cool during the next heatwave

best above ground pool – Summer Waves above ground pool
(Image credit: Summer Waves)

Looking for the best above ground pool for your backyard? You’re in the right place. With record-breaking temperatures this summer, and with more hot weather in the forecast, it’s time to get prepared before the peak of summer hits.

On those warm summer days, we’re all dreaming of installing a swimming pool in the backyard and we have spent hours looking at the most coveted pool ideas. But, in-ground pools are so expensive to install and maintain that for many of us our dreams are not coming true. Solution? Above-ground pools. They require far less commitment and expense than their in-ground siblings and they can be just as much fun. 

We've pulled together our favorites so you can have all the information in one spot. Whether you’re looking for family-friendly, budget, inflatable options or sturdy steel-framed and hard-sided models that can fit all of your family and friends, we’ve got you covered.

And of course, if you want to ensure the rest of your backyard is up to all the entertaining you'll be sure to be doing once you have this water feature installed, make sure to browse our guide to the best outdoor furniture to get your poolside chaise loungers and patio seating sorted too.

Intex Ultra XTR Frame Pool Set with Sand Filter Pump (and Saltwater System)

(Image credit: Intex)

1. Intex Ultra XTR Frame Pool Set

Best overall above ground pool: classy design and quality construction – it's all here

Best for: Stylish design
Dimensions: 24ft x 12ft x 52in/32ft x 16ft x 52in (smaller sizes available)
Capacity: 14,364 gallons
Materials: Triple-ply PVC liner and a powder-coated steel frame
Shape: Rectangle
Ladder included: Yes
Pump included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Available in different shapes and sizes+Easy to maintain  +Can includes sand filter pump, ladder, ground cloth, and cover+Very sturdy and durable+Attractive design+Optional saltwater system+2-year warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Long set-up time  -Needs a level location  -Side supports sink into soft ground

The Intex Ultra XTR pool takes the number one spot. It has the convenience of an above ground pool with the features we love in in-ground pools. The sturdy steel frame, heavy-duty liner, and rectangular shape give this pool a real in-ground pool feel. It also comes with a two-year warranty, although it certainly feels like it will last much longer than that.  

The pool comes with everything you need to get started, and Intex sells a maintenance kit, which we would recommend purchasing too. The filter is good quality, and it works on a timer so you just set it and forget. You can also opt for a saltwater system, rather than using chlorine. It costs a little more, but we think it's worth it. Overall, it’s nice and easy to maintain whatever option you go for.   

This is one of the more attractive store-bought above ground pools available with a tasteful graphite exterior and water-blue tile print interior. The simple and clean design should work well in most backyards.  

The instructions for setup are quite easy to follow and everything snaps together. It takes about 90 minutes to assemble but prepping the site takes some work too as everything has to be level. It is certainly quicker than installing an in-ground pool and you can always hire a professional to help. Trust us, it’s worth the effort. 

The Intex Ultra XTR is available in a variety of shapes and sizes too, so there should be an option that can work with your space.

Bestway 15 ft. Round 42 in. D Steel Hard Side Frame Pro Maximum Above Ground Pool with Skimmer

(Image credit: Bestway)

2. Bestway Round Hard-Side Frame Above Ground Pool

Best budget above ground pool: everything you need at a price you can afford

Best for: Value for money
Dimensions: 15ft x 42in
Capacity: 3955 gallons
Materials: Steel frame, plastic liner
Shape: Round
Ladder included: Yes
Pump included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Includes filter pump, ground cloth, pool cover, ladder, garden hose drain adaptor, ChemConnect dispenser, surface skimmer  +Great value  +Simple to set up
Reasons to avoid
-Needs a level location  -Side supports sink into soft ground  -Very blue

This pool is a firm runner-up. It is a great size for most backyards, has space for the whole family to swim, and is at a very affordable price. It is well made with a steel, corrosion-resistant frame and a reinforced three-ply liner to prevent punctures. It comes with everything you need; filter pump, ground cloth, pool cover, ladder, garden hose drain adaptor, ChemConnect dispenser, and surface skimmer. 

The surface skimmer is a great accessory to include and the garden hose drain adaptor allows you to drain the water away from the pool. Setup is relatively easy; everything just snaps together. Again, preparing the pool site will take some work too.  

Our main criticism is that it is not the most aesthetically pleasing pool on the market. The bright blue color won’t match everyone's backyard décor and it doesn’t give this pool the same luxury feel as an in-ground alternative.  

Overall though it does include everything you need at a very budget-friendly price.

Aquarian Phoenix Series 15 ft. x 52 in. Steel Frame Above Ground Swimming Pool

(Image credit: Aquarian)

3. Aquarian Phoenix Series Steel Frame Above Ground Swimming Pool

Best hard-sided pool: a sturdy choice to last the years

Best for: Durability
Dimensions: 15ft/18ft/21ft/24ft x 52in
Capacity: 3,600–9,200 gallons
Materials: Galvanized steel outer walls, hybrid frame and liner
Shape: Round
Ladder included: No
Pump included: No
Reasons to buy
+Long-lasting   +Lots of sizes available  +Appealing design  +Limited 20-year warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Installation is not easy  -Everything is sold separately (kits may be available in some places)

If you are looking for something a little more permanent or if you’re planning to use your pool year-round you may want to consider this hard-sided option. This pool has long-lasting steel construction on all the components for durability that can endure years of use. It is super solid and has a real in-ground pool feel.

It also has an appealing design that will work nicely with most backyard setups. The gray marble wall design makes it an attractive feature in your yard. As this pool is built to last you might also consider building a pool deck to make this a focal point in your yard – see our pool landscaping ideas for inspiration.

Installation is a challenge and you need to make sure that your ground is level and properly prepped before installing.  

Another drawback is that this pool comes with a wall and frame only. The liner, pump, skimmer, etc., are sold separately making it more expensive and less convenient than our top pick, the Intex Ultra XTR. 

Intex Pool Kit w/ Intex 10 x 2.5-Ft Pool Set w/ Filter Pump w/ 10-Ft Pool Cover

(Image credit: Intex)

4. Intex 10ft Pool Kit and Filter Pump with Pool Cover

Best small above ground pool: cheap and cheerful with all the essentials

Best for: Smaller gardens
Dimensions: 10ft x 2.5ft
Capacity: 1,718 gallons
Materials: Resin frame, plastic and PVC liner
Shape: Round
Ladder included: No
Pump included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Includes pool-maintenance kit   +Family-friendly  +Durable  +Sets up in 15 minutes
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn’t include a ladder  -Shallow

If the other options are too big for your yard, the 10 x 2.5 foot Intex Pool Kit is perfect for a smaller space. It is very affordable and includes everything you need to set up and keep your pool sparkling clean. 

It is also simple and easy and sets up in just 15 minutes. It is shallow which isn’t ideal for swimming but it is very family-friendly. If you’re looking for a durable pool to cool off in all summer long, this pool is perfect. 

Summer Waves 10Ft X 2.5Ft Above Ground Inflatable Swimming Pool with Pump

(Image credit: Summer Waves)

5. Summer Waves Above Ground Inflatable Swimming Pool with Pump

Best inflatable above ground pool: pump up your very own pool

Best for: An inflatable option
Dimensions: 10ft x 2.5ft
Capacity: 608 gallons
Materials: PVC
Shape: Round
Ladder included: No
Pump included: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Quick and easy  +Comes with a filter pump and spare cartridge+Attractive design+No supports to sink into soft ground
Reasons to avoid
-Shallow  -Not as durable as steel frame options

If you're interested in a simple inflatable option that's bigger and sturdier than your typical kid's pool, we recommend this Summer Waves inflatable pool. This pool feels durable enough to withstand day after day of summer fun and it is super quick and easy to set up. It can be ready to go in just a few minutes.  

It also comes with a filter pump, which is not usually included with most inflatable pools. There is a convenient, quick-release drain plug with a garden hose connection to drain the water away from your pool site.  

If you are looking for an above ground pool that involves almost no effort or commitment, this is the one for you.

Unaoo Foldable Dog Pool - Portable Kiddie Pool For Kids, PVC Bathing Tub, Outdoor Swimming Pool For Large Small Dogs

(Image credit: Unaoo)

6. Lunaoo Foldable Dog and Kiddie Pool

Best above ground pool for dogs: every canine loves a quick splash

Best for: Puppy pooltime
Dimensions: 32 x 8in (small), 47 x 12in (large), 63 x 12in (extra large)
Capacity: 2.27kg (small), 4.9kg (large), 7kg (extra large)
Materials: PVC reinforced with fibreboard
Shape: Round
Ladder included: No
Pump included: No
Reasons to buy
+Portable  +Durable+Sets up in a few minutes
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn’t include a ladder  -Doesn’t include a pump  -Shallow

Our four-legged friends get hot in the summer, too and they need something sturdier than an inflatable to get their paws into. This pool is durable with PVC walls that are reinforced with fiberboard so boisterous dogs and kids can play as hard as they like. We also like the non-slip bottom so pets and kids won’t fall. The small size is also perfect for parents who would rather not get wet.  

It is quick to set up and it has built-in drains making it super easy to fill and empty with your garden hose. It is also portable and folds up into a small rectangle making it easy to stow away when not in use or to take on vacation or to the dog park.   

This pool is probably not for you if you're hoping to swim laps in your backyard, but if you’re just looking for a puppy-friendly cooldown, this is the one.

What to consider when choosing the best above ground pool?

Rules and regulations
First and foremost, look into the rules and regulations. These vary by community, but in many communities, above-ground pools must be at least 10 feet from buildings, fences, and property lines. Proximity to power lines and underground utilities is another factor. Some communities require permits for installing a pool. Many municipalities also require a pool fence even for above-ground pools. Please do your due diligence; check with your local zoning board and building department, before making any purchase decisions. 

Of course, your space will determine what size pool you can accommodate but you must also consider whether your backyard is suited for a pool at all. The site needs to be level, compacted, and able to support the weight of the water inside the pool, so avoid soft areas with sand or mud. Also be sure that all stones, sticks, and other pointy objects are removed before installation.

Your above ground pump and filter will need electricity to run so you’ll likely need a 110/20 amp dedicated line. Water and electricity can be a dangerous combination, so your pool must also be bonded. Check with the pool manufacturer to make sure all of your connections are safe and up to code.

Be honest with yourself and assess the amount of time you’re willing to put into maintaining your pool. Not all above ground pools are super easy to take care of. If you’re looking to have a larger, hard-sided, steel-framed pool this requires a lot of planning and upkeep. If you won’t have time for maintenance consider an inflatable or portable option. Check out our pool maintenance guide for advice on everything from cleaning to chemicals.  

An above ground pool that is mobile can be very useful. If you are looking for a pool for summer use only, inflatable or portable options that can easily be stowed away when not in use are great. Plus quick and easy pools can even be taken away on vacation with you. They aren’t as durable as steel frame options but it is worth thinking about whether you want your pool to be a permanent fixture in your backyard. If you do, see our decking ideas and make a pool area on a budget.

Who says you can’t afford a swimming pool in your own backyard? Above ground pools are so much more affordable than their in-ground counterpart. Our list runs from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Think about whether you just want to cool off or entertain the whole family. And be sure to factor in the cost of add-ons such as a pump and ladder if they are not included.

So most of these pools do not come with a heater. This might be what you want on the hottest days, but if you want a longer season with your pool, you can get heat pumps designed for use with above ground pools. Not hot enough for you? Check out our guide to the best hot tub deals to find a warmer solution for your yard instead.

Emily Grant

Emily Grant is a British ex-pat living in Squamish, Canada.  She has written articles and blogs about all sorts from play equipment to travel and tourism.  She has a passion for the outdoors and horticulture.  She loves water, whether it’s swimming in a lake or pool, or soaking in a hot tub.  She has worked in leisure and events in Canada for many years and is currently working for public health.