Howard’s Creek at John Holder Trail, Ky. Photo by Ravi Shah Photography, @_shahravi
With summer halfway over, there’s still time to check off all the unmarked boxes on your bucket list. With the help of our swimming hole guide, you can explore a handful of water-filled adventures across the Blue Ridge!
South River Falls– Stanardsville, Virginia (83 feet tall, 4.4-mile loop hike)
This hike is moderate in difficulty, lasting roughly 2 hours depending on how much time you spend at the waterfall. Located in the beautiful Shenandoah National Park, this trail gradually descends for most of the hike and can be rocky at times. The overlook lies 1.4 miles from the trailhead.
If you continue down the trail another .8 miles to the bottom of the falls, the view is incredible. Two separate waterfalls plunge to the pool at the bottom, which is a perfect place to take a break and swim.
Dry Falls- Highlands, North Carolina (75 feet tall, .3-mile hike)
Found in the Nantahala National Forest, this hike is perfect for young children, families, and even pets. You’ll find the trailhead right off US 64-N. After a mere .3 miles and 88 feet of elevation gain, you will reach the waterfall. Dry Falls cascades onto an extended rock that forms multiple streams. Once you reach the falls, the trail loops around the back, allowing you to stand underneath its shower.
Howard’s Creek- Lexington, Kentucky (2.5 miles)
The John Holder Trail has it all: a waterfall, a swimming hole, and the remains of a historic plantation home and cabins. This popular day hike is perfect for families as it isn’t too difficult but has enough interesting scenery to keep kids engaged. To access the falls, follow the John Holder trail until you cross Howard’s Creek. When you come to the split in the trail, head right to access the swimming hole. Go a little further past the hole and you will reach the falls, which also have a large swimming hole at their base.
Hungry after an afternoon of hiking and swimming? The trail to Howard’s Creek swimming hole and falls is conveniently located right next to Hall’s On The River, a riverside eatery that is popular with locals. Warning- no dogs are allowed on this trail!
Kinlock Falls– Grayson, Alabama (.3 miles)
Kinlock Falls in William B. Bankhead National Forest may be fairly heavily trafficked by swimmers, but don’t let that deter you. This beautiful natural waterslide leads into a deep pool that has low ledges for jumping and a rope swing.
The falls and swimming hole are located less than half a mile from the park road, making them easily accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. Just drive down Kinlock Road until it turns into a gravel road, then park right before the bridge. Most sites recommend life jackets for kids, since the pool can be deeper than it appears and has invisible currents at times. As always, check the water to make sure it is safe before using the swing or jumping!
Best Natural Water Slide:
Pauls Creek Waterslide- Wintergreen, Virginia (1.2 Miles Out/Back)
This short hike is a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon in Nelson County, Virginia. The trail leads to a series of waterfalls that have carved smooth natural water slides out of the rocks and end in pools deep enough to cushion your landing. Either hit it to cool off after exploring the nearby Crawford’s Knob area or bring a lunch and some towels and hang by the creek for the whole day. Kids and adults alike will love sliding down the falls into the refreshing pools.
The waterslides at Paul’s Creek are much more pleasant during periods after a lot of rain. Try to avoid hiking this trail during dry spells because the water slides will be less slippery and the pools will be shallower, making for a less comfortable sliding experience. Also, as always, be careful not to slip on the slick, moss-covered rocks around the falls.
Sliding Rock- Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina (60-foot slide)
Sliding Rock is not your average swimming hole. This North Carolina attraction is a 60-foot natural slip and slide into 7-foot deep pool. Though there is an admission fee of $2 per person, the experience makes it absolutely worth it. The swimming hole and water slide have lifeguards on duty year-round during daylight hours, ensuring the safety of young children.
The swimming hole is located 40 miles from downtown Asheville in Pisgah National Forest. Additionally, it is minutes away from other swimming holes and trails off of the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway including Looking Glass Hike and Falls. This allows for a day full of fun adventures.
Meadow Run- Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania (100-foot slide)
This natural water slide has become so popular that you can even find it on Google Maps. The actual slide is a mere .5 mile from Wilderness Voyageurs, a family-run outdoor adventure guide in Ohiopyle State Park.
If you’re looking for more of a hike, you can start at Cucumber Falls which is the main trail head. Once you get on this trail, the waterslide is located 2.8 miles from the slide.
The slide itself is 100-feet long and relatively calm, but can it become choppier at higher water levels. During the summer, the speed and aggression of the slide are perfect for all ages. The slide carves the sandstone rock and spits you out into a swimming hole at the bottom.
All Day Affairs:
Emerald Pond- Massanutten, Virginia (8-Mile Hike)
Although the eight-mile hike to Emerald Pond is long, the Bird Knob trail isn’t too strenuous, making for a fairly leisurely all-day excursion. The first mile and a half is a little steep, but after that, the trail flattens out and offers two dramatic overlooks.
The hole’s shockingly blue-green water lives up to the name “Emerald Pond.” It is spring fed and extremely clear with a rocky bottom, perfect for taking a swim after the long hike up. Pack a lunch and bring plenty of water so you can take your time enjoying the pool.
A map of the trail or written directions, which are both available online at hikingupward.com, are definitely recommended as the route to the pond can be a little confusing and requires a couple trail changes.
Jack River Falls- Blue Ridge, Georgia (80 feet tall, 9-mile loop hike)
This swimming hole and waterfall is one of Georgia’s top hiking destinations. The trail itself actually begins in Tennessee at the Beech Bottom trailhead but then descends through the Georgia border .25 miles into the hike. Once reaching the trails highest elevation at 2.3 miles, you can begin to hear the roaring sound of the falls approaching. At 4.5 miles, you reach the upper cascades of the waterfall and the trail descends adjacent to the falls until you reach its base. At the bottom of the fall sits a beautiful swimming hole, which is perfect for cooling off after the long hike. The trail retraces its steps and reaches the trailhead at 9 miles, making it a moderately difficult hike.