It Turns Out, NC Swimming Holes are Enchanting. Here Are the Best Ones.

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of HikeWNC

By Claire Mainprize

August 10, 2023

If you have a vague idea of what a swimming hole is but aren’t exactly sure, let us enlighten you. A swimming hole is a natural, running body of water like a river or spring that’s large, deep, and calm enough for people to swim in it.  

Many of these areas are located just beneath a waterfall, making them the most picturesque way to spend a day in the water. So whenever one of those dreaded heat waves hits the Southeast, play hooky from work and head to one of these NC swimming holes to cool off in a pool designed by Mother Nature herself.

The Best NC Swimming Holes

The Tar Heel State is chock-full of swimming holes. Some are well-known tourist spots while others are local, hidden gems that require a bit of a hike. However, these 11 swimming holes stand out from the pack.

Hunt-Fish Falls

Area: Wilson Creek

Hike to the location: .8 miles

The Wilson Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest has scores of gorgeous waterfalls with swimming holes, but one of the biggest and most accessible is Hunt-Fish Falls in Lost Cove Creek.

To get there, start at the trailhead on FR 464 and head out on the aptly named Hunt-Fish Falls Trail. The path leads you right to the swimming hole, but if you take it a bit further, there’s a huge boulder at the top of the falls that provides a prime spot for a picnic or sunbathing.

Bobbitt’s Hole

Area: Eno River State Park

Hike to the location: 2.4-mile loop

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Eno River Association via Instagram

Located just 10 miles northwest of downtown Durham, Eno River State Park is an ideal place to escape city life and enjoy a hike in Mother Nature. There are five different access points to the river, but the best one is at Bobbitt’s Hole, a swimming hole with crystal clear waters.

To get there, park at the lot at the end of Cole Mill Road and take Bobbitt Hole Trail to Cole Mill Trail. The 2.5-mile loop takes about 45 minutes to complete, and Bobbitt‘s Hole is about halfway around—the perfect place to take a swim break.

Bust Your Butt Falls

Area: Highlands

Hike to the location: None

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Visit Highlands NC

The age-old adage of “the journey is better than the destination” may just ring true for the hilariously named Bust Your Butt Falls. To get there, you have to follow Highway 64 along the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway through the largest national forest in North Carolina.

Despite its name, this swimming hole is easily accessible. You can park on either side of the road and see the falls from your car. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go down the natural water slide created by the rock face, or jump off one of the tall boulders into the cool Cullasaja River. But beware: You might just bust your butt.

Carrigan Farms

Area: Mooresville

Hike to the location: None

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Carrigan Farms via Instagram

If you want to enjoy some amenities with your swimming hole experience, Carrigan Farms in Mooresville is for you.

Just 30 minutes north of Charlotte, the natural quarry has a sandy beach, on-duty lifeguards, swinging ropes, and a farm-to-table restaurant onsite. Open swim admission also includes catch-and-release fishing at the two farm ponds and a $5 coupon to the restaurant.

Be sure to make a reservation before you go, as walk-ins are discouraged.

Deep Creek

Area: Bryson City

Hike to the location: Less than a mile

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of VisitNC

Floating down a river on an inner tube is arguably the best way to get to a swimming hole. Rent a tube near the Bryson City entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a few bucks or bring your own, then head out on Deep Creek Trail.

Maps of the area show the two best put-in locations: the upper, whitewater section starts where Indian Creek meets Deep Creek while the lower, smoother portion takes you back to the parking lot. In between the two, there’s a large and pristine swimming hole.

Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area

Area: Burnsville

Hike to the location: None

Camping and swimming holes: a match made in heaven.

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area via Facebook

The Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area offers 35 camping sites equipped with picnic tables, lantern posts, campfire rings, showers, toilets, and other amenities for purchase. It sits adjacent to the South Toe River, where you can fish, tube and, most importantly, swim in the swimming hole, which is just above the main beach area.

Sunburst Swimming Area

Area: Canton

Hike to the location: None

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

A local favorite, Sunburst Swimming Area is across Highway 215 from Sunburst Campground in Canton.

There are two different natural pools of chilly, mountain water to choose from—one is perfect for kids with a beach leading to shallow water whereas the other one gets to about 7 feet deep and gives you the option to jump off a boulder or rope swing in if the water is high enough (and you’re feeling brave enough).

Skinny Dip Falls

Area: Balsam

Hike to the location: .5 miles

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Visit NC Smokies

Don’t get too excited by the name of this swimming hole, as public nudity is a no-go in North Carolina. However, if you’re looking for an easy and beautiful hike that leads you right to an idyllic swimming hole, this one’s for you. Just make sure to bring more than a birthday suit.

The falls are only half a mile out from the Looking Glass Rock Overlook trailhead off of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. There are several different swimming holes that vary in depth, so you’ll have your pick.

Elk River Falls

Area: Elk Park

Hike to the location: .15 miles

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Elk River Falls is a magnificent 50-foot waterfall that leads to a small pool below. The .3-mile out-and-back trail gives you just enough time to get a bead or two of sweat on your forehead before you can strip into your suit and hop into the refreshing water.

Located in the Pisgah National Forest, the relatively flat trail is lined with vibrant rhododendrons in the summer. It may be a bit crowded this time of year, but it’s certainly beautiful.

Schoolhouse Falls

Area: Cashiers

Hike to the location: 1.5 miles

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Mountain Towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva via Facebook

Schoolhouse Falls got its name because a tiny schoolhouse sat near this location more than a century ago. Although the school is long gone, the waterfall and swimming hole still bring scores of locals to the spot every summer.

Getting to this spot in Panthertown Valley can be a bit tricky, so it’s best to get a map of the area’s trails. One of the coolest aspects of this swimming hole is that you can often walk behind the waterfall.

Sliding Rock

Area: Brevard

Hike to the location: None

It Turns Out, North Carolina’s Swimming Holes are Enchanting

Photo courtesy of Explore Brevard via Instagram

Why go to a water park when nature makes its own waterslides? Sliding Rock is a 60-foot-long natural slide that 11,000 gallons of water passes over every single minute. The thrill ride ends in an 8-foot-deep swimming hole.

There is a small admission fee ($3) to enjoy the ride, but it gives you the satisfaction of knowing a lifeguard is on duty and it doesn’t even compare to the steep prices of North Carolina adventure parks.

 

READ MORE: 7 Summer Vacation Destinations to Check Out in North Carolina.

 

Author

  • Claire Mainprize

    Claire Mainprize is a writer and editor who covers the intersections of pop culture, lifestyle, and spirituality. Find more of her work at ClaireMainprize.com.

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