15 Best NC Swimming Holes For Summer

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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. Cheoah Point Beach
  3. Deep Creek
  4. Elk River Falls
  5. Hidden Falls
  6. Lake Glenville
  7. Lake James State Park
  8. Lake Lure Beach and Waterpark
  9. Lower Cascade Falls
  10. Midnight Hole
  11. Schoolhouse Falls
  12. Skinny Dip Falls
  13. Sliding Rock
  14. Upper Creek Falls
  15. Wildcat Falls

 

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

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

2. 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 deepcreeklodgetubing.com

3. 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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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. 

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 NC.gov

7. 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 in 2022

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

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.

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.

9. 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: 20 Beautiful Birds of North Carolina

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

10. 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

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

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! 

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

12. 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

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.

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)

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

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.

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

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

 

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 the Western North Carolina for the first time, Jonathon Engels and his wife Emma spent two years looking for a few acres of property there to establish a permaculture homestead. During that search, he explored the Blue Ridge Parkway, surrounding towns, and parks. He has taught at both Blue Ridge Community College and Surry Community College, is a member of a long-established land conservation community near the town of Dobson, volunteers at the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, and continues to explore the Blue Ridge, a place he now lovingly calls home.