There is nothing quite like getting to the end of a 90º+ day of working outside to remind you to appreciate the many high-quality NC swimming holes.
I’m writing this at 7:45 PM in the middle of June, still waiting for the temperature outside to fall below 80º. Summer doesn’t even start for another week, and already this is a heatwave for the history books.
What better time to tackle the task of covering all the cool places to swim in the NC mountains?
Just picture yourself with a few beads of sweat across your forehead, a slightly ripe smell steaming up from your hiking shoes, the afternoon sun doing what it does in the summertime.
Now imagine the blissful feeling of splashing your sweltering body down into a cool pool fed by fresh water flowing down from the North Carolina mountains!
If you find yourself exploring Western NC during the dog days of summer, here are some exceptional swimming holes in North Carolina, where taking a refreshing dip is simply a must-do…
NC Swimming Holes Guide
- Bust Your Butt Falls
- Cheoah Point Beach
- Deep Creek
- Elk River Falls
- Hidden Falls
- Lake Glenville
- Lake James State Park
- Lake Lure Beach and Waterpark
- Lower Cascade Falls
- Midnight Hole
- Schoolhouse Falls
- Skinny Dip Falls
- Sliding Rock
- Upper Creek Falls
- Wildcat Falls
1. Bust Your Butt Falls
Nantahala National Forest • Near Highlands NC
Sometimes called Quarry Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls is a swimming hole and natural rock slide in NC.
The Bust Your Butt Falls swimming hole is easily accessed via US-64, just a few miles from town. It’s also close to Dry Falls, which is widely considered one of NC’s most beautiful waterfalls.
This stretch of road is called the Waterfalls Byway, which has several other Western North Carolina waterfalls along the route. But Bust Your Butt Falls is easily the best place for swimming.
2. Cheoah Point Beach
Nantahala National Forest • Near Robbinsville NC
Cheoah Point has a campground, boat launch, and a designated swimming area with a beach and a beautiful picnic shelter.
The beach, though easy to access, remains quiet and feels secluded, tucked back into a small cove on the lake.
Also, the water here is notably warmer than some of the other NC swimming holes featured here.
3. Deep Creek
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • Near Bryson City NC
Counting river tubing as a bit of swimming (or at least splish-splashy fun), there are whitewater rapids in the upper section of Deep Creek and lazy tubing in the lower section.
In between the two sections, there’s a good-sized swimming hole that’s deep enough to plunge into.
Geographically speaking, this is also a great swimming hole near Cherokee NC!
4. Elk River Falls
Pisgah National Forest • Near Elk Park NC
Located in Pisgah National Forest, literally walking distance from the Tennessee border, Elk River Falls is inarguably a stunning waterfall. But the swimming hole at the base of it is equally impressive.
This is a massive, deep body of water with lots of space to get a real swim in. There are also tons of boulders around the pool for sunning and drying off in-between dips.
Elk River Falls is just a short walk from the parking area. But there are some lengthier hiking trails in the area, including one that leads to a second waterfall just across the border in Tennessee.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Banner Elk NC
5. Hidden Falls
Pisgah National Forest via Gorges State Park • Near Sapphire NC
Hidden Falls remains relatively under the radar because it lives in the shadows of the more regularly visited (and much larger) Rainbow Falls.
Both are located in Gorges State Park, one of our favorite state parks in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
These waterfalls, along with Turtleback Falls and Stairway Falls, are all located on Horsepasture River and accessed via the same trailhead. It starts in Gorges State Park and crosses into Pisgah National Forest.
Hidden Falls is accessed by a trail just before the final climb up to the Rainbow Falls overlook. There is no sign for the trail (it’s hidden, remember?), but it’s definitely worth seeking out.
6. Lake Glenville
Tuckasegee River • Near Cashiers NC
Formerly known as the Thorpe Reservoir, Lake Glenville was created by damming the Tuckasegee River near Cashiers NC.
This is a deep lake (max depth 120 feet), with over 25 miles of shoreline, so it’s a pretty large swimming hole. Its biggest claim to fame is being the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi River.
The Pines Recreation Area on Lake Glenville has a sandy beach, picnic tables, and toilets. So it’s an ideal swimming lake in NC for families looking for a safe spot to hang out for an afternoon.
Other popular activities here include fishing from the pier, kayaking, and standup paddle boarding.
7. Lake James State Park
Near Nebo NC
There is a designated swimming area at Paddy’s Creek. In addition to being a beautiful NC swimming hole, it has the works as far as amenities go, including concessions, picnic tables/shelters, and public restrooms.
The Lake James beach and its accouterments are open from the beginning of May to the end of September.
There is a small day use fee (adults $6, children $4) you have to pay when the lifeguards are on duty, but swimming is free when they aren’t around.
8. Lake Lure Beach and Waterpark
Chimney Rock State Park • Lake Lure NC
Lake Lure is most famous for as a filming location for the classic ’80s film, Dirty Dancing. But the place has been a popular mountain getaway for nearly 100 years now.
Its sandy beach is 100 yards long, with great spots for beach games and building sandcastles. There are also water slides into the lake that kids will love.
Lake Lure Beach has a total capacity of 400 people, and there is an admission fee (adults $10, children $8).
Lake Lure swimming is another good one for families, particularly after visiting nearby Chimney Rock.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC
9. Lower Cascade Falls
Hanging Rock State Park • Near Danbury NC
Hanging Rock State Park was a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s.
The lakeside swimming area has amenities such as changing rooms, a snack bar, and a lounge area, all of which make this a great spot for a Hanging Rock swim.
But the little pool at the bottom of Lower Cascade Falls in Hanging Rock State Park is also crazy inviting, beautiful, and provides more of a “swimming in the wild” type of feeling.
READ MORE: 20 Beautiful Birds of North Carolina
10. Midnight Hole
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • Near Maggie Valley NC
It’s located in the Big Creek Area of GSMNP, and the hiking trail to the natural swimming pool (Big Creek Trail) is a pleasant hike, with a gradual climb.
Despite being somewhat remote, the Midnight Swimming Hole does stay very busy in the summertime.
But it’s still a must-do for visitors to the area, and makes a great combo with the nearby Mouse Creek Falls.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Maggie Valley NC
11. Schoolhouse Falls
Nantahala National Forest • Near Lake Toxaway NC
The trailheads at Panthertown Valley in Nantahala National Forest are a bit off-the-beaten-track compared to some of the other popular spots.
But that’s definitely not to say that Schoolhouse Falls isn’t worthy of visiting.
The hike down to the waterfall (which, naturally, means climbing back up) is 2.5 miles round-trip. But to reward you for your efforts, Schoolhouse Falls is a stunning waterfall you can walk behind.
In front of the falls is an amazing boulder-strewn pool of clear mountain water that is a ridiculously cool place for North Carolina swimming at its finest!
12. Skinny Dip Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway • Near Canton NC
Accessible from the Looking Glass Overlook at Milepost 417, the site features small cliffs for plunging into the pool, a cascade of fresh mountain water into it, and no entry fee.
This setting looks deceptively tropical, but it is often shut down in the wintertime due to snow and ice.
In the summer, it’s easily one of the best swimming holes in NC.
READ MORE: The 15 Best VRBO Cabins in Asheville NC
13. Sliding Rock
Pisgah National Forest • Near Brevard NC
Technically, the Sliding Rock Recreation Area does have a swimming hole (or, more appropriately, a plunge pool) at the base of it. But most visitors come here for the natural rock slide.
Swimming, in the sporty sense of the word, will be minimal here. But Sliding Rock offers lots of fun and a great place to cool off.
There are are also several other popular waterfalls nearby, including Looking Glass Falls and Moore Cove Falls.
14. Upper Creek Falls
Pisgah National Forest • Near Linville Falls
Upper Creek Falls is usually divided into upper Upper Creek Falls and lower Upper Creek Falls, which has some nice swimming holes.
The hike to Upper Creek Falls is a rustic, root-filled loop trail that is only 1.5 miles round-trip, but challenging enough to deter the masses from going to it.
15. Wildcat Falls
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness • Near Robbinsville NC
The Nantahala National Forest has some of the best places to swim in North Carolina, and Wildcat Falls is wonderfully remote in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Park is an amazing stand of old-growth trees (particularly poplar), and it’s adjacent to the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, a wilder and less visited area.
There’s a 3-mile hike to Wildcat Falls (6 miles round-trip) using the Big Fat Branch Trail and Slickrock Creek Trail.
This beautiful collection of cascades has an amazing swimming hole at the bottom of it, and the trees will likely be the only company you encounter! –Jonathon Engels, featured image of Midnight Hole via Canva