There’s hot, and then there’s the Third Circle of Hell kind of heat that we’re dealing with right now. Forget global warming—we’re talking about global baking, particularly here in the Southeast where temperatures routinely hit the triple digits and the humidity hovers around 100%. If you’re trying to grow a fungus, this weather is ideal. If you just want to walk from your house to your car without breaking a sweat, forget about it.
When the mercury rises this high, there are really only two things you can do: 1) Shave all of your body hair, crank up the air conditioner, and sit naked on the couch holding a gallon drum of ice cream; or 2) Pull on your skimpiest bathing suit and find some ice-cold water to soak your baking body in. If you choose the latter option, we’ve got you covered. From mountain lakes to waterfalls, rock slides to deep pools, here are ten swimming holes to help you beat the heat.


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Cedar Run
: Shenandoah National Park, Va.

Cedar Run Falls is more of a high-speed luge than a waterfall. The creek narrows through a rock gorge, spitting water through a steep channel into the pool below. If there’s enough water moving through the creek, expect a fast, smooth ride from the top of the natural waterslide to the bottom. The falls also feature a couple of different rock jumps of varying heights for those looking for either a tame or extreme swimming hole experience.

Get Sweaty:

Hook the Cedar Run Trail up with the White Oak Canyon Trail for several miles of waterfall hiking.

Access:

Pick up the Cedar Run Trailhead at the Hawksbill Parking Area at milepost 45.6 inside the Shenandoah National Park. It’s a 1.5-mile hike from Skyline Drive to Cedar Run Falls.
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RAINBOW FALLS : Horsepasture River,
Nantahala National Forest, N.C.

The Horsepasture River has been a favorite swimming hole of western North Carolinians for years. The river drops steeply off the Blue Ridge Escarpment as it makes its way to Lake Jocassee in South Carolina. Along the way, it forms a handful of stellar waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls, a 150-foot vertical drop over a sheer granite cliff. Swim at the bottom of the falls or climb the side of the granite cliff for a 20-foot rock jump into the deep pool formed by the pounding water.

Get Sweaty:

Hike the Horespasture River Trail downstream until it ends, then hit the river for some high-energy rock hopping, cruising from boulder to boulder.

Access:

Park in the southern end of Gorges State Park off of Highway 64, then hook up with the Horsepasture Trail, which starts just beyond the Gorges parking lot inside the Nantahala National Forest, and drops steadily for just over a mile before meeting the Horesepasture River.
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DICK’S CREEK FALLS : Chattahoochee National Forest, Ga.

The Chattooga River truly lives up to its Wild and Scenic designation, offering a variety of idyllic swimming holes. One of the best is at the base of Dick’s Creek Falls as the stream joins the Chattooga in a dramatic 60-foot drop. The base of the falls can be a bit tumultuous, but there are some great pools for lounging on the wide Chattooga River with Dick’s Creek Falls in the background.

Get Sweaty

The Bartram Trail is a classic Southeastern long trail. Hike any portion of the Bartram in the Chattooga area for an unparalleled natural experience.

Access

Follow Highway 441 to Clayton, Ga., then turn east on Warwoman Road for 5.9 miles. Turn right on Sandy Ford Road to the Bartram Trail. Look for the short spur trail (Dick’s Creek Trail) that leads to the waterfall at its confluence with the Chattooga.
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BABY FALLS : Tellico River,
Cherokee National Forest, Tenn.

The Tellico is famous among kayakers as being many boaters’ first true creeking experience. Baby Falls is often the first big drop that kayakers style as they progress to tougher whitewater. It’s a 15-foot waterfall with expansive rocks stretching up the banks on either side of the drop, and it’s not just popular with boaters. Swimmers like the pool at the bottom of the falls, and jumpers like the rocks on either side. Expect built-in entertainment with lots of local color and kayakers boofing the bejesus out of the waterfall.

Get Sweaty

Hike the entire 5.6 miles of the Bald River Falls Trail past numerous waterfalls on its way through the Bald River Gorge Wilderness.

Access

Take the Cherohalla Skyway to Forest Road 210 to the Bald River Falls parking area. It’s a quarter-mile hike past Bald River Falls to Baby Falls.
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CASCADE FALLS : Jefferson National Forest, Va.

This 60-foot waterfall is a favorite with Virginia Tech students as well as locals from Blacksburg and Roanoke. But don’t let the crowds scare you off. Cascade Falls is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls and swimming holes in Virginia. Little Stony Creek drops over the 70-foot vertical cliff, dumping into a deep, cold pool surrounded by 200-foot rock walls.

Get Sweaty

Working up a sweat isn’t an option; it’s mandatory. You have to hike the two-mile Cascades Falls National Recreation Trail to reach the falls, but the journey is worth it.

Access

Take I-81 to exit 118, go north on Highway 460 for 26.6 miles to Cascade Drive in Pembroke. Follow signs to Cascade Falls Recreation Area.

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BRUSH CREEK FALLS : Brush Creek Preserve, W.Va.

Brush Creek Falls is the highlight of Brush Creek Preserve, a 125-acre tract of land owned and protected by The Nature Conservancy. The 25-foot waterfall stretches the width of the river inside a sandstone gorge near the mouth of the Bluestone River. Boaters have been known to run the falls during higher water, but swimmers like the falls later in the summer, when the temperatures are hot and the rainfall has subsided.

Get Sweaty

Paddle the nearby Bluestone River, one of only a handful of federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Southeast.

Access

Take I-77 to exit 14. Go west off the exit, then turn left on Eads Mill Road to Brush Creek Falls Road which will lead to the Brush Creek Preserve. Then follow the half-mile trail to the falls.

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WILDCAT BRANCH FALLS : Wildcat Wayside State Park, S.C.

It’s easy to overlook the Wildcat Wayside State Park, an undeveloped 63-acre tract of land off Highway 11 in the South Carolina Upstate. Bigger state parks dominate the landscape nearby, but Wildcat Branch Creek cuts through the middle of this small park, offering those in the know a quiet place to cool off. Wildcat Branch Falls is a 30-footer broken into two sections with a shallow pool at its base. If you head farther upstream, you’ll hit a 130-foot waterslide with even more swimming potential.

Get Sweaty

Hike the 3.4-mile Table Rock National Recreation Trail at nearby Table Rock State Park, which climbs 2,000 feet to the summit of the expansive granite dome.

Access

From Greenville, take Highway 276 until it joins Route 11. The falls are five miles past that intersection on the right side of the road.
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TRASHCAN FALLS : Watauga River, N.C.

Paddlers love the Watauga at high water levels; Appalachian State Students love the river during the summer-time lows. The most popular spot is Trashcan Falls, a series of short drops through a small rocky gorge strewn with behemoth boulders. Trashcan boasts a variety of rock jumps, from 15 feet to 30 feet, and when the water level is perfect, a fun waterslide forms where the Watauga narrows between two massive boulders.

Get Sweaty

The only thing better than Watauga’s swimming holes? Its surrounding boulder fields. Check out the Lost Cove area for classic High Country bouldering.

Access

Take 421 North from Boone, then left on 321 for ten miles until you cross the Watauga River. Park at the pull out next to the bridge and look for the trail leading to the falls.
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EAST FORK ELK CREEK : Arnold Valley, Lexington, Va.

A small waterfall, a deep swimming pool, a rope swing, big boulders to jump from, seclusion—what more could you ask for? The water is ice cold, and there’s even a five-foot natural waterslide shooting into the deepest portion of the pool. Be careful when jumping, though: not all parcels of the pool are deep enough.

Get Sweaty

Run the four-mile Wildcat Mountain Trail in the nearby Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area, which climbs 2,700 feet to the top of Wildcat Mountain.

Access

Take the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile post 71, then take Forest Road 35 several miles down the mountain until it crosses the East Fork Elk Creek. Find a parking spot along the road and walk the stream until you find this swimming hole.
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RUSSIAN ROCK : Fontana Lake, N.C.

Fontana Lake is a 10,000-acre lake surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest. Paddle Fontana’s 240 miles of shoreline and you’ll find plenty of coves perfect for beaching your kayak and taking a swim, as well as rocky banks ideal for cliff jumping. Russian Rock is a lesser-known granite cliff that rises 30 feet out of the water. The jump isn’t for the faint of heart since the rock bulges out beneath the water line below you.

Get Sweaty:

Hike the AT from to Shuckstack Firetower, which offers views of the lake below.

Access:

Follow Highway 28 to the Fontana Marina. Head out of the marina toward the mouth of Eagle Creek (follow signs) past campsite 87 and follow the shoreline to the granite hollow known as Russian Rock.