The hottest days of the summer are still left to come. But thankfully it’s the perfect time to explore these swimming holes of the Southeast. Bring your swimsuit and a group of friends to these spots in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Did we leave any out? Let us know in the comments below.
Boone and Blowing Rock
Accessible from the Julian Price Picnic Area off the Blue Ridge Parkway, a one-mile hike on the Boone Fork Trail (going towards the wetland, away from the campground) leads you to the final steep ascent to the water. Rock hopping here is unavoidable so it isn’t a great place for dogs or small children but there is plenty of space across the huge boulders for the calm and rowdy alike.
Snake Pit– my absolute favorite due to its proximity to Boone. In twenty minutes you can be out of town and it the cool crisp water of the Watauga River. There are a handful of pull offs with parking just off 321N right over Watauga River Rd. Be careful as the “trail” down to the river is steep and consists of a well-worn rope. Don’t lose heart, I’ve seen several grandmothers and drunks willing to make the trip to enjoy a dip. There are rocks to jump off but I prefer to relax in the shoals above the lower drops.
Elk River Falls– a little further from Boone towards Banner Elk and right over the line into Tennessee, Elk River Falls is a local hot spot. The tall falls (maybe 20-35 feet?) are a jumping off spot for the truly brave…or stupid. There is a big and cold pool at the bottom where any given sunny day four or five groups will be enjoying the warm air and cold water. The trail is easy and you’ll regularly see dogs paddling around in the water. There is fishing below the falls and a nice area to tie up a tube if you’ve got a rope.
Harper Creek Falls– also a little further from town, this worthwhile swimming hole is located in the Wilson Creek Wilderness. Parking off the Forest Service Rd. is limited but come early enough in the day and you’ll be glad to have the pool to yourself. Campsites along the river are first come first serve but well established and scenic. The trail is not much more than a mile. After you reach the first big clearing you’ll cut up to the right before crossing the river. Pass a couple foot trails down to campsites and you’ll see an access point on your left with a few ropes attached to help you down the steep slope. On a rainy day, the trail down to the actual water can be downright dangerous so be advised. You can slide off the rock or relax in the cool water. The pool is big enough for plenty of people to relax unimpeded.
Upper Creek Falls– almost directly between Boone and Asheville, Upper Creek Falls is a well-loved place in the Pisgah National Forest. From the parking lot head towards the upper falls (the lower is nice too but not as fun), after the switchbacks you’ll notice the crowd surrounding the rope swing and sliding rocks. I like to sneak up a bit where the sun hits the water more directly and sit in one of the small jacuzzi-like pools upriver a bit. Always a hit with the kids and the hike back up will tire them out for the ride back to town.
Skinny Dip Falls– South of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll cross over the road to access the trail. A short walk brings you to the cool mountain pool with jumping off rock. The trail is even and well traveled. Beware with young kids, this swimming hole gets its name for a reason.
Catawba Falls– Just north of Black Mountain in Old Fort this hike to a waterfall with a small pool is a fun escape from the bustle of downtown Asheville. The hike is about thirty minutes but at a gradual elevation gain, it doesn’t hurt too much. You will be glad, however, to reach the pool up top.
Graveyard Fields Loop Trail– I love this spot. The parking, just of the BRP, is big enough for the crowd that enjoys this place. Both the upper and lower falls are nice but for a more impressive water flow check out the lower falls. The upper falls afford a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains but on a dry day won’t have much of a flow. The hike to the upper falls is longer but nice. In the summer you can gather blueberries along the hike.
Atlanta and North Georgia
Roswell Mill– -This was my teenage stomping ground. With a rope swing and shaded water, Roswell (Georgia) Mill is a perfect place north of the city to escape the summer’s unbearable heat. Unfortunately, the site of some not so smart teens over the years, the water level above the dam needs to be thoroughly studied before ever getting into the water. My dad, a lifelong resident of the area, swears you can go behind the dam to a little cavern.
Chattahoochee River below Morgan Falls Dam– another favorite in the Atlanta metro, Morgan Falls both above and below the dam is a site worth visiting. With the building of a new park with SUP and boat rentals, the calm water above the dam is nice for a leisurely day. I prefer below the dam where the running water acts as a good launching point for kayaking. For those interested in more slow action tubing is great here. I like to push beyond the flow to the other side of the river where a series of rocks and shrubs keeps the flow from pushing you down the river. It’s the perfect relaxing place with the sound of the dam and the river below. Keep an eye on the release schedule though.
Sope Creek– a favorite for mountain bikers, casual swimmers, and historians, the Sope Creek area hosts the ruins of an old mill. You can wade in the water by the ruins or head upstream to some deeper pools. Although used often I’ve still spotted a copperhead sunning. Don’t worry, step around and go about your business, copperheads aren’t swimmers!
Jacks River Falls– a couple hours north of the city, this gem is located off a five-mile trail. Well worth the trek through numerous trail crossings, the falls are absolutely beautiful. Although technically not allowed, there is a camping area at the top of the falls and a nice wading area at the bottom. I have seen bears out here but again, leave them alone and there shouldn’t be a problem.
Dick’s Creek Falls– if you find yourself wanting a break from the wine scene in Dahlonega pop over to Dicks Creek Falls for a dip in some cool mountain water. Although I visited in July, the water was still ice cold. You could see some braver kids than I playing in the shoals below the falls. There are two small falls both which allow for a nice pool area to splash around in. Fishermen frequent the area for the clear water and presumably, the trout found therein. Wait till afternoon to allow for the sun overhead to heat the water in the wooded area.
Lula Lake– actually a land trust, Lula Lake is only open for the public certain Saturdays and for special events. The beautiful waterfall and lake is a little haven above the city. Located on Lookout Mountain, the land trust has lots of local support, which you’ll see in sticker form on many a Hamilton Co. vehicle. Although not a technical swimming area, they allow for “wading” in the pools while you admire the power of the falls. Not to be missed on the special Saturday.
Suck Creek– on the north side headed towards the Tennessee River Gorge, this local spot is well loved. There isn’t any real parking but a clear break in the rail and gravel pull offs indicate the spot. Crystal clear water doesn’t hint at the legacy mining that used to pollute the beautiful creek up through the 1960s. A handful of nice pools allows for visitors to spread out. An old concrete walkway allows you to go up the creek towards smaller but just as nice pools. The water coming off the mountain is cold but refreshing in the middle Tennessee humidity. One thing of note, I have seen cars get broken into at this spot. Don’t bring valuables!
Mead’s Quarry Lake– Located within the Ijams Nature Center, this former marble quarry-turned-lake is a favorite place to cool off. There’s a roped off area appropriate for all ages as well as miles of trails. The Keyhole is a unique spot nearby where pieces of marble have been piled up into a design. There’s plentiful parking nearby and trails for mountain biking.
- Water levels vary throughout the year, even the most confident swimmer can become overwhelmed, use caution in all situations.
- Snakes like the warmth just like us, although most don’t want to bother you, keep an eye out when stepping on sunny rocks.
- Never jump off a rock without knowing what the area under the jump is like.
- Just because it looks deep doesn’t mean there aren’t submerged rocks or hydraulics.
- Always be careful when partaking in adult drinks when near swimming areas.
- And finally, be kind, pack out all your trash! No one wants to see your food wrappers and cigarette butts. Leave it nicer than you found it.