My cousin once told a story about rolling up on some “locals” at an area swimming hole in an unnamed Virginia county, that has become one of those Rural Legends in our family. (A Rural Legend is just like an Urban Legend, except that it usually originates in the backwoods… and I just made it up.) As the story goes, this particular swimming hole vet was casually dressed in blue jeans and no shirt and enjoying an adult beverage, probably not his first, or last for that matter. The various parties make small talk as they prepare to bathe themselves in the cool mountain stream. As the man strips off his jeans, he reveals another pair of full length jeans underneath his first pair.
Cousin: “What are those?”
Other guy: “These here? These is my swimmin’ jeans!” he yells before loosing his balance on the log he is standing on and falling gracefully into the water below.
Now, this story is enhanced by my cousin’s penchant for jolly storytelling, but it is an accurate portrayal of how most people imagine the setting of your typical mountain swimming hole. In much of the Blue Ridge, the fact is that the guy with the swimmin’ jeans and the beer is probably the guy you want to point you in the right direction (and yes, I am well aware that I started this tale with “My cousin once told a story…” which is almost as red as “Hey, hold my beer and watch this…”).
Everyone has their own vision of the perfect swimming hole, whether it’s a secluded pool on a river 5,000 feet up and six miles from any manmade structure or a farm pond with jury-rigged rope swing and floating dock. In my case, its both. I grew up swimming at a pond on my grandparent’s farm that had a floating dock perfect for “King of the Raft.” As the grandkids grew older and more mature, the swimming hole evolved at a stunning pace. A 30-foot rope swing was strung up using a potato gun. Then an elevated platform to swing from. Then a rickety second story to the elevated platform to swing from. Eventually, the scale of the swing brought serious consequences to any mistakes. My brother botched a release and ruptured his ear drum by landing in the water leading with the side of his face. Ouch.
While infrastructure can add an amazing amount of excitement to any swimming hole, there is nothing more refreshing than working up a sweat hiking to a wading pool so cold it takes your breath away. The beauty of living in the mountainous region of the southern Appalachians is that there is water everywhere. From Shenandoah to the Smokys, ribbons of blue criss cross the region like no other in the country and for our annual feature on swimming holes, we bring you the best our public lands have to offer. Blue Ridge Outdoors’s guide will help you find your favorite new spot to take a dip, from the old reliable haunts where you might find swimmin’ jeans guy, to off the radar waterfalls.
Look for it in our August issue, but until then, the above video should wet your whistle.