Six hot spots to cool off: ditch the summer heat and head for the hills

Bask in the cool mist of a waterfall, paddle a clear mountain lake, plunge into a swimming hole or float a frolicking river.

Sound refreshing? Consider this your insider’s guide for escaping the dog days of August with a getaway to the N.C. mountains of Jackson County.

The lakes and rivers here have it all, from the best beach in the mountains to wild water adventures.

Rock-hop a creek to a secluded sunning spot. Dip your toes in the swirling pools of a cascade. Swim beneath a waterfall. Take a lazy cruise on a pontoon or a wild jet ski ride. And do it all under the backdrop of high elevation mountain ranges.

Cap off your day outdoors with our lively nightlife scene, from groovy cocktail lounges and jazzy wine bars to laid-back hometown breweries. Catch a concert under the stars on Friday nights in Sylva or Cashiers.

We’ve rolled out a whole week’s worth of water-themed outings and adventures to make your end-of-summer vacation a cool and memorable one. So dive in and Play On.

Day 1: A lake you’ll love

Majestic Lake Glenville is a Mecca of all-things-water.

Tool the radiant waters from the deck of a pontoon, explore the lake’s islands with a canoe or kayak, discover the stand-up paddleboard craze, or kick it up a notch with a jet ski rental.

Your sweltering friends back home will envy those Instagram shots of sparkling blue water ringed by lush green shores. Not too big and not too small, Lake Glenville is six miles long with 26 miles of shoreline.

The two full-service marinas listed below have all your lake day needs covered, with rentals ranging from a couple of hours to a full-day.

  • Signal Ridge Marina, signalridgemarina.com. Offers pontoons, tritoons (similar but faster than a pontoon), canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.
  • Lakeshore Marina and Sea-Doo Rentals, www.lakeshoremarina-nc.com. Offers pontoons, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, jet skis, and miniature sailboats. Guided pontoon cruises also available.

How to get there: Lake Glenville is five miles north of Cashiers, N.C., and 22 miles south of Sylva, N.C., along N.C 107.

Day 2:  Paddling paradise

The fabled Tuckasegee River delivers just the right mix of tranquil floating and gentle rapids. The laid-back river is easy enough to navigate on your own, but has ample swift water to keep things exciting.

Tuck river trips take two to three hours. Choose from solo or double inflatable kayaks, or pile the whole crew into a raft.

The three outfitters listed below offer an easy and seamless experience. You’ll get a pre-trip briefing with safety instructions, all the gear you need, and a van shuttle to the put-in or take-out. If you’re not sure about going it alone, let one of their trusty guides pilot your raft or lead your flotilla.

Day 3: Find your falls

Experience the magic and power of waterfalls, from tumbling cascades to towering free falls. Swim in their pools or just feel their spray against your skin. Make a day of waterfall hopping and visit them all, or pick just one to get to know intimately.

Safety is paramount when visiting falls. The only safe way to view a waterfall is from the bottom. Never climb rocks at the edge of waterfall and never wade at the top, even if the water seems shallow. One slippery rock is all it takes to get whisked over.

  • High Falls tumbles over rocky ledges like a liquid Slinky, making a 100-foot drop along the upper headwaters of the Tuckasegee River. A 1.6-mile round-trip hike is a down-and-up affair, with a series of log steps.

Located near Glenville, N.C. For directions and detailed trail info, click here.

  • Granny Burrell Falls boasts a large sandy pool that beckons to hikers on a hot summer days, with an inclined rock face that’s perfect for sliding down. It’s one of several waterfalls in Panthertown Valley, coined “the Yosemite of the East.”

The hike to the falls is an easy 2.5-mile round trip, but the tricky part can be finding your way. Panthertown is largely bereft of sign posts, so take a map that can be purchased online before your trip or at local outfitters.

Located near Cashiers, N.C. For directions and detailed trail info, click here.

  • Whitewater Falls plunges 411 feet over a towering rock cliff, one of the highest falls east of the Rockies. Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to see. A paved quarter-mile path leads to an overlook, with 154 steps leading to a second viewing platform.

Because of its massive stature and rugged face, it’s not possible to get up close-and-personal with the falls. This recreation area in the Nantahala National Forest with toilets and picnic tables has a small parking fee.

Located near Cashiers, N.C. For directions and detailed trail info, click here.

Day 4: Swimming hole splash down

Go all in with a full immersion experience at an idyllic mountain swimming hole. Their dappled pools are the perfect setting to while away a hot, summer day.

  • Sliding Rock is just what it sounds like: a natural waterslide over a stone slab that ends with a splash into a swimming hole. Beware of a deep pothole mid-way down the rock face. Bring a lifejacket for the kids, or have them start their slide below the pothole.

From Cashiers, N.C., head south on N.C. 107 for 1.8 miles. Turn right on Whiteside Cove Road, go 2.8 miles and look for a parking area on the right after a bridge.

  • East LaPorte Park lies along the banks of the Tuckasegee River. The wide, lazy section has shallow pools for wading and deep holes for swimming. Kids can bob and float safely thanks to a life-jacket loaner board. A public park along the shore has picnic tables, grills and sand volleyball.

Located along N.C. 107 in Tuckaseigee, N.C., about 3 miles south of Cullowhee.

  • Silver Run Falls is a two-for with a ready-made swimming hole at the base of gorgeous 40-foot waterfall. The short walk packs big rewards, with an sandy-bottomed oval pool ringed by flat rocks for lounging.

Located near Cashiers, N.C. For directions and more info, click here.

Day 5: Best beach in the mountains

A sandy swimming beach cradled by mountains serves up the best of both worlds on glistening Lake Glenville.

It’s got all the good stuff you love about the beach — the sand, sun and water — without the bad. (No sharks to bite you, and no rip tides to fret about.)

The Pines Recreation Area at Lake Glenville is a brand-new public swimming beach with soft white imported sand, ideal for lounging and playing in. The roped-off swimming area makes it easy to keep tabs on the kids. A floating platform to climb on and jump from provides endless entertainment. There’s even a life jacket loaner board, so you can strap one on and return it when you’re done. Other amenities include shady picnic tables, toilets and a pier.

Kick back and catch some mountain rays, set to the soundtrack of children’s laughter and lapping waters. It’s tranquility made to order.

How to get there: From N.C. 107 in Glenville, N.C., turn onto Pine Creek Road. The recreation area is on your left after crossing the dam. For GPS, use the address of 1965 Pine Creek Rd, Cullowhee, NC.

Day 6: Unleash your inner tube

Journey down the Tuckasegee River in the saddle of an inner tube for the ultimate in summer cool. Let the river be your guide as you float, bob and weave your way downstream.

You’ll tube in comfort with the top-notch river outfitters listed below. Their Cadillac versions of inner tubes have fully-enclosed sling seats and back support, so you can relax for the ride without slipping through.

Choose from a lazy river float trip — known as “mom-approved” tubing — or a high-adventure, extreme tubing expedition with class II rapids suitable for older teens and up. Lazy float trips take about 1.5-2 hours, while extreme tubing runs are 3-4 hours. Outfitters provide all the gear you need with pick-up and drop-off at the river’s edge.

Accommodations  range from downhome B&Bs to luxury resorts in the North Carolina mountain towns of Jackson County. With an impressive dining and brewery scene, scenic outdoor hikes and waterfalls, you will not be disappointed when visiting Jackson County. There’s plenty to do and see. All you have to do is jump right in. Plan your trip today.

(feature photo Courtesy Stacy White)


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