North Carolina

11 Most Beautiful Swimming Holes in North Carolina

by Brittany Varano
Updated August 19, 2022

best swimming holes in north carolina
Photo: Shutterstock

Trade a trip to the beach for a magical day in the cool mountain waters of one of North Carolina’s most beautiful swimming holes.

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a dip in the fresh waters of a swimming hole. Often found at the base of waterfalls or amongst flowing rivers, swimming holes are naturally occurring bodies of water deep enough for a swim. And thanks to the continuous flow of water, swimming holes stay fresh and clean.

From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Pisgah National Forest, luckily North Carolina boasts many incredible swimming holes. Some require a short hike to reach, but spending a hot summer day immersed in the natural beauty of untouched wilderness is well worth the effort.

So, when the summer heat comes a knockin’, venture to these incredible swimming holes in North Carolina.

1. Deep Creek

north carolina swimming holes - deep creek
Photo: Kelly vanDellen
  • Nearest town: Bryson City
  • Hike to swimming hole: 1 mile

Nestled in the scenic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Deep Creek makes for a family-friendly summer adventure. So named for the deep and gentle currents that flow through the river, many come to float on an inner tube and swim.

This beloved swimming hole features sprawling picnic areas, changing rooms, and inner tube rentals for those in need. Not to mention, it also offers excellent trout fishing. To reach the tubing and swimming area of the creek, you’ll need to embark on an easy hike from the parking lot. And from the tubing area, the Deep Creek Loop continues with moderate elevation gain past pretty waterfalls.

Related Read: 14 Best Glamping Destinations in North Carolina

2. Sliding Rock

north carolina swimming holes - sliding rock
Photo: Eric Krouse
  • Nearest town: Brevard
  • Hike to swimming hole: Near parking

Who needs a water park with a 60-foot natural water slide? Arguably one of the most popular swimming holes in North Carolina, Sliding Rock is a beautiful swimming hole not far from Brevard. At the base of the rock slide, a seven-foot-deep pool safely catches you. The area does have an admission fee but features a restroom and easy visitor parking.

After your swim, venture to the observation deck for pretty views and enjoy a relaxing picnic at the recreation area. Sliding Rock is conveniently 50 minutes from Asheville and not far from other natural wonders like Looking Glass Falls.

3. Schoolhouse Falls

north carolina swimming holes - schoolhouse falls
Photo: Matt Tilghman
  • Nearest town: Cashiers
  • Hike to swimming hole: 1.5 miles

Nestled in Panthertown Valley, not far from the state’s southern border, Schoolhouse Falls is a wide cascade that wows visitors. The tumbling waters of Greenland Creek fall nearly 20 feet over a craggy cliff face to create the marvel that is Schoolhouse Falls. A depression-era schoolhouse once sat nearby, giving the falls its name.

Taking time to hike through the valley to marvel at the dramatic canyons and rock formations is an excellent warm-up before your swim at the waterfall’s base. The trails are known to be confusing and poorly marked, so coming with a downloaded map is recommended.

Related Read: 11 Incredible Treehouse Rentals in North Carolina

4. Skinny Dip Falls

north carolina swimming holes - skinny dip falls
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Nearest town: Canton
  • Hike to swimming hole: .5 miles

You’ll find Skinny Dip Falls off North Carolina’s most scenic drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Contrary to the name, swimsuits are unfortunately required, as tempting as donning your birthday suit may be. However, visitors are free to bring their dogs along the trail.

The hike to the falls is relatively easy and begins at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook trailhead and requires a descent down a wooden staircase. There are numerous pools for both wading and swimming beneath the falls and even a rock where you can cannonball into the six-foot deep pools. But take care! There aren’t any lifeguards on duty.

5. Yellow Creek Falls

north carolina swimming holes - yellow creek falls
Photo: Francisco Blanco
  • Nearest town: Robbinsville
  • Hike to swimming hole: .6 miles

Under the shade of the dense Nantahala National Forest, the brisk waters of Yellow Creek Falls are best for those extra hot days. From the top of a 15-foot cliff, the water of Yellow Creek plunges into clear waters below. The depth of the pool varies but is as deep as seven feet in some places.

Although located on private property, the waterfall is open to the public. But take care to leave no trace. The trail that leads to the swimming hole is short and easy, with only uneven terrain and steps to contend with. A small parking lot off the highway can fit a handful of cars, so be sure to arrive early to get a spot.

Related Read: The 13 Best Hikes Near Asheville, North Carolina

6. Bust Your Butt Falls

north carolina swimming holes - bust your butt falls
Photo: Kenneth Keifer
  • Nearest town: Highlands
  • Hike to swimming hole: Near parking

Quarry Falls, a.k.a Bust Your Butt Falls, is a gently sloping waterfall that makes for a fantastic summer day trip not far from Franklin and Highlands. The rock face creates a natural water slide that flows into a sex-foot-deep pool. Those brave enough can jump into the calm waters of the Cullasaja River from a hanging rope swing or the rocky outcroppings surrounding the pools. But do so at your own risk! They don’t call it Bust Your Butt Falls for nothing, which can be slippery.

The journey to the swimming hole is as beautiful as the destination and follows the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. This stretch of US Highway 64 winds around a cliff through the idyllic Nantahala National Forest.

7. Elk River Falls

north carolina swimming holes - elk river falls
Photo: J. Paulson
  • Nearest town: Elk Park
  • Hike to swimming hole: Near parking

Make a splash at the bottom of the Elk River Falls, a vast natural swimming pool often busy in nice weather. This dramatic waterfall is tucked away in northern North Carolina, surrounded by the quiet of the Pisgah National Forest. Water falls from 50-foot cliffs into a large crystal clear pool before flowing into smaller, swimmable pools.

This lovely swimming hole is easily accessible after a five-minute walk. A word of caution, the area directly below the waterfall has strong currents and isn’t safe for swimming. This swimming hole is in North Carolina’s waterfall country, not far from the other cascades in Gorges State Park and the state’s tallest waterfall, Whitewater Falls.

Related Read: 12 Amazing Cabin Rentals in Cherokee, North Carolina

8. Midnight Hole

north carolina swimming holes - midnight hole
Photo: Will McElwain
  • Nearest town: Maggie Valley
  • Hike to swimming hole: 1.5 miles

Escape the summer heat with a hike and a swim in the clear and cool waters of Midnight Hole. This North Carolina swimming hole is a bit elusive and can be difficult to find. After hiking about 1.5 miles, a small, white circle painted on a tree signals you’re approaching the swimming hole. The pool is filled by a small six-foot waterfall framed with impressive boulders and forest views.

If looking for a longer hike, make the trek past Midnight Hole to Mouse Creek Falls before returning for your post-hike swim. Midnight Hole is part of the Great Smoky National Park, which means dogs aren’t allowed on the trail.

9. Upper Creek Falls

north carolina swimming holes - upper creek falls
Photo: Craig Zerbe
  • Nearest town: Newland
  • Hike to swimming hole: 1 mile

What’s better than a beautiful swimming hole? A beautiful swimming hole with a rope swing! And that’s not all — the waters of Upper Creek flow over a shallow rock face creating a natural water slide that gushes into a deep pool. Upper Creek flows down through the Blue Ridge Escarpment, creating this spectacular cascade and natural pool as well as others throughout the region.

All you need to do to reach this magnificent summer destination is a 20-minute hike from the trailhead. There’s even a viewpoint to see the waterfall from above for those with extra energy. You can also continue your hike onward to see the lower falls if desired.

Related Read: 14 Best Hikes Near Chattanooga, Tennessee

10. Looking Glass Falls

north carolina swimming holes - looking glass falls
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Nearest town: Brevard
  • Hike to swimming hole: Near parking

Reaching heights of 60 feet, Looking Glass Falls is a gorgeous North Carolina waterfall where visitors can wade and swim. Towering cliffs perfectly frame the falls, and there are giant boulders that make for excellent viewing points. Many pack a picnic to enjoy while soaking up the beauty of the waterfall.

The calm and reflective pool of water and its close locale to the parking lot makes this an excellent swimming hole for those with kiddos. Hikers will also enjoy the nearby Looking Glass Rock Hike that takes you up to a blufftop with unobstructed views of the lush Blue Ridge Parkway. The falls are just 45 minutes from downtown Asheville.

11. Nantahala River “Jump Off Rock”

  • Nearest town: Laurel Park
  • Hike to swimming hole: 3 miles

Less of a swimming hole and more of a popular white water rafting spot, the Nantahala River offers a chilly albeit thrilling adventure for water lovers. And not far from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, is a fave spot amongst locals that’s been dubbed the “Jump Off Rock.” This is a large boulder that you can climb and make a splash into the passing river below.

Perfect for adrenaline junkies, those that partake in a local white water rafting tour often make a pit stop at the rock. But the nearby Nantahala River Beach also provides a fabulous place to lay out a towel, unpack a picnic, and swim out to the rock for a DIY water adventure.

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