Water shoes, beach towel, and a bathing suit.
That’s all the gear you need to enjoy a swimming hole. Come to think of it, two out of three of those “necessities” are optional (we’ll let you decide whether to keep the beach towel or bathing suit). There’s no simpler way to take in the great outdoors than by immersing yourself in a cold river on a hot day. No bikes to tune up, no shuttles to arrange, no tents to erect, just you and the remote mountain stream of your choice. That’s where BRO’s Swimming Holes Guide comes in. Follow this guide for ice-cold tube runs, plunge pools, locals-only holes, breathtaking waterfalls, and rope swings.
HONEY CREEK FALLS
Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Tenn.
This small, but awe-inspiring falls is set on the edge of a cave inside the rocky Big South Fork NRA. While most tourists head to the popular Angel Falls overlook, you’ll have Honey Creek all to yourself. But only if you’re willing to work for it. The 5.5-mile Honey Creek Loop Trail demands you climb ladders, scramble over boulders, and squeeze through narrow rock passages.
Nantahala National Forest, N.C.
Tucked inside one of the largest roadless areas left in North Carolina, Ledbetter Creek is a steep and skinny trout stream that drops inside a narrow gorge surrounded by pockets of old growth (the Wilderness Society chose the area surrounding Ledbetter as a “Mountain Treasure” in need of permanent protection). The Bartram Trail runs by Ledbetter for a portion of its 3,000-foot climb from Winding Stairs Gap on the Nantahala River to the summit of Cheoah Bald. Hop off the Bartram as it crosses Ledbetter and try to swim, hop, and climb your way up the drainage to where it meets the Bartram again. You’ll be rewarded with swift slides and shallow pools surrounded by a mossy gorge that rarely sees visitors.
Pisgah National Forest, N.C.
Deep inside Pisgah National Forest, several miles from the crowds on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Courthouse Creek drops 50 vertical feet into a deep pool nestled inside a horseshoe-shaped cove. The water is cold, the surrounding forest is lush, and the awe factor is off the charts. Follow the two-mile Summey Cove Trail to access this little piece of tropical paradise in Western North Carolina. If you want a little more seclusion, rock hop downstream and look for smaller falls and slides that are only visited by anglers early in the morning.
ROARING RUN FALLS
Jefferson National Forest, Botetourt County, Va.
The 35-foot Roaring Run Falls, on the creek by the same name, are split by an island of mossy rock, creating a double cascade set inside a shallow, rocky gorge. Take a picture, swim at the bottom of falling water, then explore the rest of Roaring Run, which is littered with water slides, rock jumps, and smaller cascades. This trophy trout stream is like a linear water park built for summer adventure. Follow the easy Roaring Run Trail (a national recreation trail) as it skirts the edge of the creek to the falls, then ditch the trail and look for your swimming hole of choice.
George Washington National Forest, Nelson County, Va.
There’s impressive, and then there’s Crabtree Falls, one of the most awe-inspiring cascades in the Old Dominion. Crabtree is a series of five falls dropping a total of 1,200 feet. Together, they earn the distinction of being the tallest waterfall in Virginia. The falls are located on the headwaters of the Tye River as it drops off the 4,063 foot mountain, The Priest. The 2.5-mile Crabtree Trail leads you on a short-but-steep hike with four developed overlooks all tucked inside a lush gorge replete with damp ferns and moss. And yes, this is the same Crabtree Falls commonly referred to on the 70s TV show The Waltons.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C.
Deep Creek, a mile-long run inside the borders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers world-class scenery (two streamside waterfalls) as well as fun class I-II rapids. A well-maintained trail runs by the creek so you can do multiple laps on your favorite rapids and there’s a deep swimming hole that divides the run in half. The upper half has more dramatic rapids, the lower half is more suited for the kids.
Harper’s Ferry, W. Va.
Trying the Great Falls of the Potomac in a tube would be “off the wall” crazy, but tackling “the Needles” section of the same river near Harper’s Ferry in a plastic donut has just the right amount of crazy. A handful of outposts run shuttles and guided “whitewater tubing” trips along this 2.5-mile stretch of the Potomac that’s highlighted by class II+ ledges and wave trains. You’ll slide through waves called “Mad Dog” and “White Horse” while novice and intermediate kayakers perfect their surfing.
South Fork of Moorman’s River, Charlottesville, Va.
Farther downstream, the South Fork of the Moorman’s River meets its North Fork cousin to become the Sugar Hollow Reservoir, the primary drinking source for the citizens of Charlottesville, Va. But up here, just outside Shenandoah National Park, the South Fork is a wild mountain stream, complete with stout cascades and deep swimming holes. One of the most complete is Blue Hole, a short jaunt off Sugar Hollow Trail. Blue Hole is a 12-foot deep pool fed by a waterfall tucked inside a narrow rocky gorge. Most of the time, you can find a rope swing that will whip you into the center of the pool. If the swing is disabled, jump from the rock that sits adjacent to the falls.
LOWER GREEN RIVER
Green River Gamelands, N.C.
Do you swing? That’s the question you have to ask yourself as you tube or paddle the lower Green River, a six-mile class I-II river that’s lined with ropes hanging from sturdy hardwood branches. This stretch of the Green is a popular summer float among locals (miles upstream kayakers run class V rapids) but if one rope is crowded, don’t fret, there are more down river, enabling you to swing from branch to branch like Tarzan or Jane.
River Bouldering and Rock Hopping
Green River Gamelands, N.C.
Big Bradley Falls is a dramatic 125-foot vertical waterfall on Cove Creek inside the Green River Gamelands. The falls acts as a magnet for swimming hole enthusiasts, most of whom never bother exploring the rest of Cove Creek, which drops 800 feet in a mile and a half as it makes its way toward the Green River. An old hiking trail makes use of the massive hunks of granite that clutter the creek (look for worn blazes on the rock slabs that jut from the water) turning the waterway into a rock-hopping footpath. The farther downstream you go, the bigger the boulders get. Take the Big Bradley Falls Trail off Holbert Cove Road near Saluda, N.C. Warning: a mandatory repel (a fixed rope hangs from an anchor) is required to reach the gorge floor.
Little River Canyon National, Preserve, Ala.
The Little River is almost as much rock as it is river as it carves a canyon in Eastern Alabama near the Georgia border. House-sized blocks of sandstone rise from the water and rocky bluffs line the river’s edge inside the Little River Canyon National Preserve. The preserve’s sandstone walls have been popular with climbers for years, but the more adventurous are beginning to open up the river bottom’s treasures. But you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the canyon’s river bouldering. There are plenty of beginner-friendly lines set over deep pools. You just have to hunt them out. And the water’s not bad either. Slides, cascades, rejuvenating hydraulics—the Little River is a swimmer’s paradise. Start at Eberhardt Point and take the .75-mile trail down to the canyon floor. From there, you’ll be able to access popular water bouldering spots like Hippy Hole as well as lesser-known gems downstream. •