The 20 Best NC Swimming Holes for Summer (2023)

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[Updated March 1919, 2023]

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?

Right about now, the idea of a refreshing swim seems incredibly enticing. Fortunately, there’s an awesome array of creeks, lakes, and waterfalls you can swim in.

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…

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for River Tubing in North Carolina Mountains

NC Swimming Holes Guide

  1. Bust Your Butt Falls
  2. Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area
  3. Cheoah Point Beach
  4. Deep Creek
  5. Elk River Falls
  6. Hidden Falls
  7. Hunt-Fish Falls
  8. Lake Glenville
  9. Lake James State Park
  10. Lake Lure Beach and Waterpark
  11. Lower Cascade Falls
  12. Midnight Hole
  13. The Quarry at Carrigan Farms
  14. Schoolhouse Falls
  15. Skinny Dip Falls
  16. Sliding Rock
  17. Sunburst Swimming Area
  18. Swimming Pool at Morrow Mountain State Park
  19. Upper Creek Falls
  20. Wildcat Falls

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Winston Salem NC

Bust Your Butt Falls -swimming holes in NC
Bust Your Butt Falls, photo via Canva

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.

It’s located on the Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest, near the mountain town of Highlands.

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.

READ MORE: The 50 Best North Carolina Waterfalls to Visit

Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area - swimming places in NC
Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area via Facebook

2. Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area

Pisgah National Forest – Near Burnsville NC

Located along the South Toe River and split by NC-80, Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area is part of Pisgah National Forest, and it has 36 campsites with full-service facilities (drink water, flush toilets, and showers).

The river and streams running through this area are beloved by anglers, and there are a couple of good NC hiking trails for those into that.

The waters here are draining the towering Black Mountains, and there are great spots for taking dips in the river. River tubing is also popular in the area.

This area is really popular. It’s located near several awesome mountain towns, including Burnsville, Little Switzerland, and Marion.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Burnsville NC

Cheoah Point Beach - north carolina swimming
Cheoah Point Beach, photo by Emma Gallagher

3. Cheoah Point Beach

Nantahala National Forest • Near Robbinsville NC

Located on Lake Santeetlah (one of the prettiest mountain lakes in NC), the Cheoah Point Recreation Area is a great base for exploring Nantahala National Forest and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Park.

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.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in the North Carolina Mountains

Deep Creek Lodge Tubing in Bryson City NC - swimming holes in NC
Deep Creek Lodge Tubing, photo courtesy

4. Deep Creek

Great Smoky Mountains National Park • Near Bryson City NC

The Deep Creek section of Great Smoky Mountains National is right outside of Bryson City, and it is beloved for impressive waterfalls, tubing, and a nice swimming hole.

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!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County

Couple at Elk River Falls in Banner Elk NC
Couple at Elk River Falls, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

5. 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.

In my opinion, this is the top swimming hole near Boone NC, Blowing Rock NC, and Banner Elk NC. It’s a pretty quick trip from any of these NC High Country hotspots.

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

NC Swimming Holes - Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls, photo via Facebook

6. 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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Pisgah National Forest Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Hunt Fish Falls Swimming Hole in NC
Hunt Fish Falls Swimming Hole in NC by Allison West via Facebook

7. Hunt-Fish Falls

Pisgah National Forest – Near Linville NC

Only 12 miles from the famous Linville Falls, Hunt-Fish Falls doesn’t get a huge amount of press, but when it comes to finding a swimming hole, this one is hard to beat.

Hunt-Fish Falls is formed by Wilson Creek which drains Grandfather Mountain, and it is popular with those in the know. The waterfall is small, but the swimming hole may be the largest waterfall pool in the state.

There are many ways to get to Hunt-Fish Falls. The shorter hike to Hunt-Fish Falls is 1.4 miles roundtrip and begins on Pineola Road. It’s actually part of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. The drive to it requires some adventuring, but it is doable. Hunt-Fish Falls Trail is listed as #263.

A 5.6-mile out-and-back hike can include Gragg Prong Waterfalls as well as Hunt-Fish Falls. This trail has some significant creek crossings but is easy to navigate.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Places to Visit in North Carolina

Lake Glenville - swimming lakes in nc
Lake Glenville, photo via Canva

8. 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. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Lake James State Park - places to swim in NC
Lake James State Park, photo courtesy

9. Lake James State Park

Near Nebo NC

Lake James State Park is about 50 miles from Asheville NC, just north of Marion off of I-40 and east of Morganton. The park is great for kayaking, boating, fishing, hiking, and mountain biking.

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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best North Carolina Music Festivals

Lake Lure - North Carolina swimming
Lake Lure, photo by Emma Gallagher

10. 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.

Right in the heart of town, you’ll find the Lake Lure Beach and Water Park

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

Lower Cascades Hanging Rock -waterfalls in North Carolina you can swim in
Lower Cascades Falls at Hanging Rock State Park, photo by bobistraveling via CC BY 2.0.

11. Lower Cascade Falls

Hanging Rock State Park • Near Danbury NC

Hanging Rock State Park was a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s.

Aside from the park’s stunning natural beauty, it also has a big campground, over 20 miles of hiking trails, and a stocked lake with a swimming area.

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: 25 Beautiful Birds of North Carolina

Midnight Hole - midnight swimming hole NC
Midnight Hole, photo by alex_ford via CC BY 2.0.

12. Midnight Hole

Great Smoky Mountains National Park • Near Maggie Valley NC

The Midnight Hole in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is routinely mentioned as one of the best swimming holes in NC, and the entire Blue Ridge Mountains.

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

The Quarry at Carrigan Farms - swimming north carolina
The Quarry at Carrigan Farms via Facebook

13. The Quarry at Carrigan Farms

Carrigan Farms – Near Mooresville NC

While this swimming hole is not public and does include a fee, The Quarry at Carrigan Farms is too magnificent a swimming spot to simply cast aside. Plus, there are open swim sessions on during the summer for visitors to enjoy.

The quarry was used in the 1960s until the digging hit an active spring and the giant hole filled with clean, beautiful, sapphire-colored water.

The folks at Carrigan Farms have fixed it up with a boardwalk, a diving platform, and lots of other extras.

The open swim dates change year after year, so you’ll have to check their website to see when to visit. Entrance to date has been $15 whether swimming or not.

READ MORE: North Carolina Wildflowers Guide (& Where to See Them in Western NC)

20 Western North Carolina Waterfalls - School House Falls
Schoolhouse Falls, photo by Will Thomas is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

14. 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 mountain swimming at its finest! 

READ MORE: The 15 Best North Carolina Mountain Towns to Visit

Skinny Dip Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway- Swimming holes in Asheville NC
Skinny Dip Falls by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

15. Skinny Dip Falls

Blue Ridge Parkway • Near Canton NC

One of the most popular swimming holes in/near Asheville NC, Skinny Dip Falls has long been considered one of the top Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls.

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

Sliding Rock Falls, near Brevard NC - Swimming holes near Asheville
Sliding Rock Falls, Photo via Canva

16. 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.

Sliding Rock Falls is a 60-foot natural waterslide down a smooth rock face, and it’s too much fun to miss when visiting nearby towns like Asheville, Brevard, or Hendersonville.

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. 

READ MORE: The Top 15 Waterfalls Near Brevard NC (Transylvania County)

Sunburst Falls in the Shining Rock Wilderness near Waynesville NC
Sunburst Falls by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

17. Sunburst Swimming Area

Pisgah National Forest – Near Canton NC

Sunburst Swimming Area is across Hwy 215 from the Sunburst Campground. This spot, maybe 30-35 miles from Asheville or Brevard, is popular with locals. Look for the parking area near a bridge close to the campgrounds.

There are two great swimming areas, each with special features. One has a large rock to jump off of, and the other has a beach-esque area that slowly transitions to deeper water.

This is an off-the-road type of place with no facilities, no nearby stores, and no picnic tables or organized places to sit. In a pinch, visitors could head to the campgrounds for a flush toilet. Otherwise, come prepared.

The swimming area is also close to Little Bird Falls and Upper Sunburst Falls, as well as Devil’s Courthouse and Skinny Dip Falls, another great local swimming hole.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Pisgah National Forest Camping Guide

NC swimming - Swimming Pool at Morrow Mountain State Park
Swimming Pool at Morrow Mountain State Park

18. Swimming Pool at Morrow Mountain State Park

Morrow Mountain State Park – Near Uwharrie NC

An actual cement pool/pond rather than a natural swimming hole, the swimming facility at Morrow Mountain State Park is worth checking out when in the Charlotte or Uwharrie National Forest area.

The pool is rather modern, but it is accompanied by structures built by the CCC in the early 1900s. It is actually the only day-use pool in the NC state park system.

This facility closed during the pandemic, but prior to that, it was open from June to Labor Day, providing an old-school feeling of public swimming pools.

Morrow Mountain SP also has a lake, 37 miles of hiking trails, a campground, paddling options, and awesome picnicking spots.

READ MORE: 7 Covered Bridges in North Carolina You Can Visit in 1 Day

NC Swimming Holes - Upper Creek Falls
Upper Creek Falls, photo via Facebook

19. 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.

This Pisgah National Forest waterfall, which is near the famed Linville Falls, is the place to go for a swim when visiting this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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.

READ MORE: Things to Do at the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area (Near Linville Falls NC)

NC Swimming Holes - Wildcat Falls
Wildcat Falls via Facebook

20. 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

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.