Nothing kicks off the summer better than the sound of the human body connecting with a refreshing pool of water. Fortunately for those of us who live in the Southern Appalachians, deep, cool swimming holes abound. Cooling off can be even more adventurous at these cliff jumping hot spots.

NORTH CAROLINA

Skinny Dip Falls

Imagine a scene out of the Lord of the Rings where, after trekking along a half-mile trail through the woods, you descend into a hidden cove shielded by the forest canopy above. A swift creek makes its home here and, once you traverse the moss-covered bridge, you climb out onto a rocky promontory and leap into a deep pool of water chilly enough to give you goose bumps just thinking about it. But this is no feat of CGI: you’ve arrived at Skinny Dip Falls, situated just south of Mt. Pisgah along the Blue Ridge Parkway. With literally hundreds of hiking trails in the area, including the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which intersects the trail to the falls, this swimming hole makes for a refreshing end to an active day in the woods.

Cliff Jump Height: 15 feet

Fear factor: 2

Nearby fun: Graveyard Fields, Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Rock

Turtle Back Falls

It’s hard to find a prettier place on this planet than Gorges State Park, a nearly 8,000-acre tract of second-growth forest acquired from Duke Energy in 1999. It’s located near the border separating North and South Carolina. But it’s the waterfalls along the Horsepasture River, which tumbles through neighboring Pisgah National Forest, that lure aquatic adventurers interested in a deep dip. It’s at Turtleback Falls, also called Umbrella Falls by some, where you’ll get the chance to submerge yourself in the so-called “Chug Hole” after a butt-slide down or leap off the (relatively) smooth and sloped launch strip that does look an awful lot like a turtle’s shell.

Cliff jump height: 20 feet

Fear factor: 2

Nearby fun: Gorges State Park, Rainbow Falls, Hidden Falls

NORTH CAROLINA / TENNESSEE

Elk River Falls

What if we told you that there is a river that offers not just one but two different plunge pools along its length, with each one in a different state? That’s exactly what you’ll find along the Elk River, which connects North Carolina and Tennessee. If you’re feeling ambitious about pulling off a double dip in a day, head toward the town of Banner Elk where you can find Elk River Falls, also called High Falls on maps, due to the 75-foot-high waterfall that’s carved out a deep oval beneath it. The falls, whose roar you’ll hear from far away, draw large crowds in the summer, especially because they are very easy to get to. While there are some fun rocks and ledges to jump off, we don’t suggest trying to jump anywhere near the top of the falls themselves.

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Cliff jump height: 50 feet

Fear factor: 5

Nearby fun: Julian Price Memorial Park, Twisting Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

TENNESSEE

Twisting Falls

After toweling off, it’s time to get back behind the wheel to head downstream into Tennessee and your next destination: Twisting Falls, also known as Twisted or Compression Falls. You’ll have to do a bit of backtracking and looping around to cover the 16 miles or so of road before you’ll reach the river’s sister set of falls, which are just four miles downstream. You’ll then need to trek down a steep trail to reach Twisting Falls, which rise about 30 feet high. Once there, you’ll find plenty of plunging possibilities in the pool at its base, including the chance to jump off several low-slung rocks. A less recommended way to enjoy the spot (accidents have happened here) starts by climbing up a rope which gives you access to launching points higher up along the apex of the falls.

Cliff jump height: 30 feet

Fear factor: 4

Nearby fun: Elk River Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, Roan Mountain State Park

Baby Falls

Millions of visitors flock to Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year, winding their way along its roads to gape at the vistas and greenery. But on the warmer days, those visitors would be wise to aim their vehicles toward the southern section of the Cherokee National Forest that forms the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s there they will find the refreshing waters of the Tellico River, which create a great place to swim at Baby Falls. While smaller than the Bald River Falls that rumbles nearby, Baby Falls is one that offers the best opportunities to take a flying jump from the top of the falls and into the Tellico’s current, which courses about 15 feet below you.

Cliff Jump Height: 15 feet

Fear factor: 2

Nearby fun: Bald River Falls, Lake Santeetlah

GEORGIA

Jack’s River Falls

Can you imagine spending a better day than by hiking along a rushing river until, at about the turnaround point, you encounter the perfect swimming hole carved out by those same flowing waters? That’s the kind of experience that awaits you along the Jacks River Trail in North Georgia’s Cohutta wilderness. If you’re willing to put in a few miles with your feet, you’ll be rewarded with the chance to jump off one of the rocks that encircles the 11-foot-deep refreshing pool of Georgian H2O waiting at the base of Jacks River Falls. If you’re really feeling frisky, you can take your turn to jump off the high point of the falls, which looms 20 feet high.

Cliff jump height: 20 feet

Fear factor: 3

Nearby fun: Ocoee Whitewater Center, Chattahoochee National Forest

VIRGINIA

St. Mary’s Falls

Eight U.S. presidents have been born in the state of Virginia—including Woodrow Wilson, who hailed from the city of Staunton. The city, which boasts a quaint downtown scene, actually serves as a great basecamp to set out on adventures into the nearby national forest named for our country’s first president, George Washington. That’s where you’ll find St. Marys Falls, where the St. Marys River tumbles into a cozy swim hole, which is surrounded by a series of ledges that, if you’re bold enough to climb up and out onto them, make for decent jumping platforms.

Cliff jump height: 20 feet

Fear factor: 4

Nearby fun: George Washington National Forest, Cave Mountain Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway

Devil’s Bathtub

As the old saying goes, cleanliness is next to godliness. So what are we to make of a swimming hole called the Devils Bathtub? Quite a lot, actually—especially after you’ve accumulated some grime after hiking in a few miles along a beautiful trail to find it. It’s a bit of a tricky job to find your way since you’ll actually cross the creek several times on your journey until you eventually reach your destination: a 14-foot-long by five-foot-wide hole formed by Devils Fork Creek that also drains downstream into a larger swimming hole. But how many bathtubs can you actually take a full-throttled leap into?

Cliff Jump Height: Less than five feet

Fear factor: 1

Nearby fun: Natural Tunnel State Park, Little Stony Falls

WEST VIRGINIA

Woodbine; Cranberry River

The New River Gorge and its surrounding area has long been a magnet for adventure seekers—and for good reason. It’s stunning. But there are also plentiful opportunities to explore the forests to the east of the gorge, such as the natural beauty that abounds in the nearby Monongahela National Forest. One choice spot among all those options is on the Cranberry River, which cuts east/west across the forest before depositing its waters into the Gauley River. Before reaching its destination, the river pauses in the Woodbine area near the Big Rock campground to form a deliciously cool spot with, aptly enough, a large rock to leap into the water from.

Cliff Jump Height: 10 feet

Fear factor: 2

Nearby fun: Summersville Lake, New River Gorge