Whether you’re looking to plunge from the top of waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, swing from ropes in Alabama or dive into a bubbling turquoise spring in Florida, there’s a swimming hole for you in the southeastern U.S. There is no better way to transform a sultry, sweltering day into a refreshing adventure than plunging into a pool of fresh water. From sandstone cliffs to polished boulders, rock climbing to cascade sliding, every swimming hole you visit below the Mason-Dixon line has something unique to offer.
We’ve compiled 11 of the best spots to take a cooling dip. Are you ready? Then let’s jump in.
Foster Falls, TN
Plunging 60 feet over a sandstone cliff, the white veil of Foster Falls and the cool spray that hangs over the deep pool below is a decadent sight on a sweltering summer day. An easy hike on the Fiery Gizzard Trail will bring you to the overlook above the falls, with a quick but slightly more challenging rocky section to reach the base. Located in South Cumberland State Park, Foster Falls is also one of Southeast’s premier climbing destinations. Car camping abounds within the park, and primitive camping sites along the Fiery Gizzard Trail are available by reservation.
Cummins Falls, TN
Cummins Falls State Park is something of a natural waterpark, with a 75-foot waterfall that plunges over a series of wide rock steps into an emerald pool at the base. Steep canyon walls create a dramatic landscape that transport you far from the oppressive heat of the pastoral Southeast. The falls are accessed via a twisting, 1.5-mile trail with steeper–and far more dangerous–short cut trails available to daredevils.
Rock Island, TN
With its dam-fed waterfalls and refreshing river water, Rock Island State Park in Tennessee is popular among whitewater kayakers and swimmers alike. The sandy beach designated a swimming area is popular for families, but greater adventure can be found at Great Falls. There you can explore the rock chasms behind the cascades or swim laps across the wide, placid pool at the bottom.
Little River Canyon, AL
Nothing says summer more than diving from cliffs into fresh, cold water. Nestled inside a nature preserve, Little River Canyon is surrounded by sandstone cliffs and studded with rocks that range from seven to 20 feet tall. Ropes swings slung from trees add even more delight to this splashy Alabama paradise.
Mill Creek Falls, SC
At 25 feet, Mill Creek Falls is the highest waterfall within the upcountry’s Table Rock State Park. At low water, you can climb the stair-like rocks (with caution) on the side of the falls to experience the many drops and shallow pools. The deep water at the base of the cascade is perfect for a shady dip. Because the hike in is nearly three miles long and many visitors are aiming for Table Rock, you may encounter larger crowds than at a more typical Southeastern swimming hole.
Jacks River Falls, GA
By far the most powerful cascade within the ancient Cohutta Mountains, Jacks River Falls is no wispy veil. Whitewater tumbles over shelf-like rocks and plunges into a broad pool of deep, dark water. Four and a half miles from the trailhead via the fastest route, this is a premier destination for swimming, jumping and exploring the many unique rock formations scoured out of the pool walls.
There is no camping within 300 feet of the waterfall, but otherwise you are welcome to set up camp nearby and truly soak up the primordial power and beauty of the falls.
Wekiwa Springs, FL
It may be hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, but the water that bubbles out from Wekiwa Springs, 15 feet below the surface, is always a refreshing 72 degrees. Bright turquoise and crystal clear, this swimming hole sparkles like a gem inside Florida’s Wekiwa Springs State Park. Besides swimming and snorkeling, there is also plenty of flatwater paddling, trail running and even 15 miles of mountain biking trails to keep you occupied.
Midnight Hole, NC
This mountain-chilled, picturesque pool on Big Creek can be found within the Northeastern section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Only a mile and a half from the trailhead, this spot has everything you need for the quintessential Southeastern summer day, from polished jumping rocks to trickling waterfalls and clear green water. The only thing missing is your four-legged friend: Dogs are not allowed inside this national park.
Sliding Rock, NC
Even in the land of waterfalls and swimming holes, Sliding Rock is a novelty. Where else can you slide 60 feet down a perfectly smooth rock face and land with a splash? This natural slip-and-slide, fueled by 11,000 gallons of water, is just as thrilling as it sounds. But it’s no secret. To avoid the significant summertime crowds, visit the falls outside of the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Compression/Twisted Falls, NC
Thrill seekers, take heed: There is a mighty adrenaline rush awaiting you on the Elk River, tucked inside the Cherokee National Forest. Climb to the top of waterfall by scrambling up the side or scale the rope that hangs parallel to the veil, then slide down the smooth rock overhang into a 30-foot free fall. Your landing in the aerated pool below is surprisingly soft and cushioned. But take heed: It’s not nicknamed Compression Falls for nothing, as your spine may tell you after the fact. For more mellow enjoyment, there are more pools and jumping rocks above the falls and a truly luminous, forest-sheltered creek below for splashing and swimming.
Devil’s Bathtub, VA
Who knew the devil bathed in ice cold water? This small but stunning blue-green pool is shaped just like a bathtub and fed by an eight-foot waterfall faucet. Nestled inside a dense forest of hemlock and rhododendron, this geological oddity is only 1.5 miles from the trailhead. The Devils Fork Trail is a rugged, backcountry loop which totals seven miles and includes creek crossings, waterfalls, and more swimming holes–although none as unique and spectacular as the bathtub.
Originally written by RootsRated for Kelty.
Featured image provided by Alan Cressler