Wooded Spots to Cool Off with No Crowds
Summers in the South are sweltering. But luckily the region’s wild lands are full of cool waters to find relief. If you’re in search of a secluded spot to take a swim (perhaps a skinny dip, at your own risk), we’ve rounded up 10 refreshing options—mountain streams and cascades with chilly pools below—in the woods of the Blue Ridge.
Avery Creek Falls
Pisgah National Forest, N.C.
Stream crossings, steep descents, and loads of mud are all part of the journey to the secluded Avery Creek Falls. To access this secret swimming hole in Pisgah National Forest, drive north on U.S. Highway 276 for two miles and then turn right onto Avery Creek Road. Drive for another 2.2 miles until you see a small, two-car pull-off for Avery Creek Trail on the right. After following the blue-blazed footpath for about half a mile, you’ll hear and see the cascade—it’s hard to miss. Getting down to it, though, is a scramble. For best results, bring hiking poles.
Shenandoah National Park, Va.
When summer temperatures in Virginia flirt with the 90s, there’s no better antidote than a trip to Riprap Hollow. Though there are several ways to access this 50-foot-wide swimming hole, our favorite is a strenuous 10-mile loop that links the Riprap and Wildcat Ridge trails with the Appalachian Trail. Gaining more than 2,000 feet in elevation, this route isn’t for inexperienced hikers. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views, breathtaking waterfalls, and a celebratory dip in the spring-fed pool.
Dolly Sods Wilderness, W.Va.
West Virginia’s incredibly scenic Dolly Sods Wilderness isn’t a secret at this point, so during a summer visit you’ll likely run into picnicking families and Boy Scout troops. But the vast area has some secluded pools, including the one situated at the base of Diamond Falls. To access this waterfall, start on Red Creek Trail behind the Laneville wildlife management cabin. As the trail starts to climb steeply, cross the creek and follow an abandoned railroad grade for half a mile. You’ll hear Diamond Falls before you see it.
Middle Fork/Beechy Run Falls
Cranberry Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, W.Va.
Getting to Middle Fork/Beechy Run Falls requires a 13-mile slog through West Virginia’s Cranberry Wilderness: a wild, rugged backcountry that doubles as a black bear sanctuary. Follow Big Beechy Trail for about 6.5 miles until you hear the gentle roar of the much-anticipated cascade. Swim for a spell and then return the way you came. Alternatively, you can spend the night, cross the river, and follow the Middle Fork Trail back to your car in the morning.
Headwaters State Forest, N.C.
A 20-foot cascade may seem paltry in Transylvania County, N.C. (aka the “Land of the Waterfalls”). But what Graveley Falls lacks in height, it makes up for in privacy. To access this tiny torrent, you’ll need to find the elusive trailhead off Glady Fork Road and then venture down an unmarked path into the 6,730-acre Headwaters State Forest. At about half a mile, the trail abruptly ends in a grassy field, leaving you to thrash through rhododendrons toward the sound of water. After a short but steep scramble, the canopy opens up to reveal an emerald green pool that’s perfect for a quiet swim.
Red Butt Falls
Nantahala National Forest, N.C.
Sure, you could go splish-splash in the community pool. But if you want the sweet satisfaction of cooling off in a mountain stream after an ass-kicking hike, head to Red Butt Falls. Located in Panthertown Valley in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, this seldom-visited waterfall requires a five-mile, moderately difficult hike along Devil’s Elbow Trail. For all your huffing and puffing, the forest delivers swoon-worthy pools and an underrated water slide. Just avoid slipping down the 50-foot granite chute on a bare bum, lest you end up with a case of red butt (hence the waterfall’s moniker).
Blue Hole Falls
Cherokee National Forest, Tenn.
Disclaimer: Blue Hole Falls is the least secluded spot mentioned thus far. On sweltering Saturdays, you can expect this natural pool to be packed with people trying to escape the Tennessee humidity. But we’ve listed the cascade for a couple of reasons, the number one being its accessibility. Whereas some mountain pools require countless miles of hiking, Blue Hole Falls is a 10-minute walk from your car. Even better, the short stroll features not one but four waterfalls. So, if the main waterfall is crowded, you can always dip your toes in another. For more privacy, you can also try visiting the falls during the week.
Honey Creek Falls
Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Tenn.
There’s no sugarcoating the challenge of accessing Honey Creek Falls. Tucked in the Tennessee section of the Big South Fork National Recreation Area, this waterfall requires hiking Honey Creek Loop Trail: a 5.5-mile footpath that navigates imposing boulders, ascends rooty scrambles, and crosses treacherously deep streams. There is a silver lining, though: Since these gnarly obstacles keep most folks at bay, you can strip down to your skivvies and a take a dip without the fear of prying eyes. (Pro tip: After a big rain, take the brief but technical side path to Secluded Falls, a tiny but mighty cascade that’s great for a private soak.)
Enloe Creek Falls
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C.
If you want to earn your swim with a workout, you’ll adore this 30-foot waterfall in the southwestern reaches of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To get there, you’ll climb 1,500 feet to the spine of Hyatt Ridge on the namesake Hyatt Ridge Trail. After about two heart-pounding miles, the footpath nosedives into a valley carved by the Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee River. You can either stop here and find a swim-worthy hole along the river or keep hiking until you hear the roar of Enloe Creek Falls. After bushwhacking through stinging nettle to reach the pool, dive in and cool off.
Long Creek Falls
Sumter National Forest, S.C.
Located at the confluence of Long Creek and the Chattooga River, this South Carolina cascade dishes up a steady stream of unadulterated privacy. To spend a lazy afternoon basking in the cool waters, begin by driving down Turkey Ridge Road in Oconee County for 2.9 miles. (Note: A high-clearance vehicle is necessary.) Once you reach a cul-de-sac, park and pick up the trail on the right. Follow the pink and orange blazes as the footpath aggressively descends toward the water. When you reach the valley floor, you’ll need to wade through the river to get closer to the falls.
Cover Photo: For maximum privacy, you’ll want to visit Blue Hole Falls on a weekday. Photo courtesy of Visit Johnson City