It's summer. Here's Cardinal & Pine's guide to the best swimming holes in North Carolina. (Image via VisitNC) Bust Your Butt Falls in North Carolina
It's summer. Here's Cardinal & Pine's guide to the best swimming holes in North Carolina. (Image via VisitNC)

It’s summer again in North Carolina. Trust us. You need to know how to find the best — and the chilliest — swimming holes in the state.

The kids are out of school, they’ve been cooped up and isolated for a year, and it’s gonna be a hot summer. We are in desperate need for a swim.

VisitNC, the state’s tourism entity, sums it up pretty well:

“It’s one of the few things guaranteed to make you feel like a kid again: the swimming hole. Usually a natural oasis requiring some effort to reach, these bodies of water are known to wash away all worries on a hot day.”

There are loads of these natural pools in North Carolina, and since we all have more than our share of worries to wash away, here is what VisitNC says about the best (mostly) free spots to catch some sun and cool off this summer. 

Sliding Rock (our favorite) in Transylvania County

“The true joy of Sliding Rock is standing in the spectator area where this smooth rock waterslide empties into a small pool and watching the surprised swimmers emerge from the cold bath. It’s usually all smiles going into the 7-foot-deep pool, and a teeth-chattering look on faces coming out. Located on the upper reaches of the Davidson River (rent a tube and float the river several miles downstream), this is a definite must-do. Seasonal operation, with bathhouse and lifeguard. A small admission fee applies.”

Credit: Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority

Skinny Dip Falls, Pisgah National Forest, Haywood County

“The Blue Ridge Parkway between N.C. Highways 276 and 215 is loaded with waterfalls and pools, the best known of which is Skinny Dip Falls. Though its name might be part of the allure, you won’t be disappointed after your 20-minute hike down to find swimmers appropriately clothed. You’ll also find a high mountain creek, Yellowstone Prong, playfully cutting through a Southern Appalachian hardwood forest, pausing here and there to form inviting splash pools. It’s another must-try for your North Carolina natural swimming hole checklist.”

Deep Creek, Swain County

“Grab an inner tube at a number of rental locations near the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, carry it less than a mile on the Deep Creek Trail, and choose whether you want your ride to be relaxing and lazy or wild and bouncy. The upper whitewater section ends at a wide, deep swimming hole, while the lower, smoother section ends at the parking lot.”

Deep Creek in Swain County (Credit: VisitNC)

Hunt-Fish Falls, Wilson Creek area, Caldwell County

“The Wilson Creek area serves as the drainage to massive Grandfather Mountain; that alone should suggest water aplenty. Add to that the rugged terrain at the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and there are bountiful waterfalls, many of which conclude in deep pools. One of the bigger, more accessible pools is at Hunt-Fish Falls, a 0.75-mile hike down from pullout parking off Milepost FS 464. Even on the hottest days, this pool is cold at the surface – dive 3 or 4 feet down for a truly lung-squeezing thrill. A spacious rock slab with good exposure offers quick drying and warming.”

Hunt-Fish Falls in Caldwell County, NC (Credit: Hikewnc.com)

Bust Your Butt Falls, Macon County

“As is evident by now, the names of many North Carolina swimming holes are creatively explanatory (and remind you to be careful). Bust Your Butt Falls is a natural pool of water that is very accessible – it can literally be seen from the road, and a parking area is nearby. Lined by boulders, water flows in from the Cullasaja River. After going for a swim, dry off during a hike to see Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls or High Falls.”

Sennett Hole, West Point on the Eno City Park, Durham

“When you romanticize about the perfect swimming hole, you likely envision a deep, cool pool you have to hike a bit to get to, a hidden spot off the beaten path. Sennett Hole might not be a secret, but the mile-long hike in gives that impression. This Olympic-size swimming hole, rimmed by sycamores, rock and a waterfall, enables you to dive as much as 8 feet under to encounter chilling waters. Stretch out on a chaise lounge rock to dry away the chill, and repeat as often as time allows.”

Eno City Park in Durham, NC (Credit: VisitNC)

Jones Lake State Park, Bladen County

“Start your visit to Jones Lake with a 4-mile hike around the perimeter of the lake, checking out the varied topography, from pine savannah to wetland peppered with Spanish moss-draped pond cypress and scrubby leatherwood plants. Then enjoy a dip into the mysterious, tea-colored waters of the lake. The tannic waters create an eerie subterranean-world feel when you go under, but rest assured this is some of the cleanest water you’ll swim; the 224-acre Carolina bay lake is fed by a series of springs. The ample, white sand beach is ideal for sunning. Open during the summer. Admission fee applies.”

Hanging Rock State Park, Stokes County

Hanging Rock is where residents in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas go when they want a brief mountain escape but don’t have time for the drive. Though the park tops out below 3,000 feet, that’s still 1,500 feet above the surrounding countryside. That elevation coupled with lots of rock outcrop gives a Blue Ridge feel to this central aerie. In the middle of it all is a 12-acre lake with a beach, dive platform and bathhouse. Cool as the lake’s waters are, the alpine quality makes them feel 10 degrees cooler. Open during the summer. Admission fee applies.”