Best Swimming Holes & More in the NC Mountains
Summertime is here and temperatures of southern cities are exceeding 90-plus degrees. Find refuge from the sweltering hot days and crowds with a trip to the mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva, (about an hour west of Asheville).
Our towns stay much cooler in the summer and are scenically nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. During the day, take advantage of our many natural swimming holes or lakes for a refreshing dip. In the evenings, temperatures can drop into the low 60’s, providing plenty of mosquito-free nights. In some of the highest elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can find blueberries along the hillsides and some of the best long-range mountain views in the country alongside these pleasant temperatures.
Below we’ve compiled a list of the top places to cool off in the western North Carolina Mountains for the kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces, and the adults young at heart.
Please adhere to our Waterfall Safety Guide before checking out these swimming spots, as there are no lifeguards on duty!
Swimming Holes and Waterfalls
Silver Run Falls is located a short drive from the Cashiers Crossroads and is in the Nantahala National Forest. Due to its elevation, the clear waters remain year-round, making it ideal for swimming on a hot day. Silver Run Falls cascades into a lovely swimming hole beneath the falls. It’s only a 3-minute walk from the parking area, making it easily accessible.
Cashiers Sliding Rock can be found just outside of Cashiers along Whiteside Cove Road. No, this isn’t the “Sliding Rock” located in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard – this one is better! Cashiers Sliding Rock is a natural waterslide about half the size of that near Brevard and is a favorite for families with young children due to its size and less crowded atmosphere. One of the best perks is not having to wait in line, especially when sliding on a weekday. When you’re visiting, make sure to stop by Grimshawes Post Office, the smallest Post Office in the US, and snap a fun family photo!
Pines Recreation Area at Lake Glenville is the best way to experience the beach in the mountains without the sharks, riptides, or jellyfish. This sandy beach is located between Cullowhee and Cashiers and offers a fun space and designated swimming area for enjoying Jackson County’s largest lake. On-site restrooms, picnic tables, and an accessible fishing pier are all provided. Boat and equipment can also be rented here and used to explore Lake Glenville’s hidden waterfalls.
High Falls (also sometimes called Cullowhee Falls) is located across the road in the adjacent parking lot from the Pines Recreation Area and requires a two-mile hike to access it. Those who descend to the falls will be rewarded with a double cascade towering over 150 feet high (and photos simply don’t do it justice.) Those looking to take a swim will find several natural pools at the base of the falls with cold water perfect for taking a dip. With several large rockfaces in the area, High Falls is a great place to spread out a blanket and relax the day away. Don’t swim under the falls in 2021 on July 10, July 24, Aug.7 & 2, as Duke Energy does whitewater releases for paddlers.
Schoolhouse Falls is in Panthertown Valley, between Gorges State Park in Sapphire and the Cashiers-Highlands plateau. The picturesque Falls are revered for their crystal-clear swimming hole beneath a charming 15-foot cascade. There’s plenty of space to spread out on the bank and enjoy the gentle babble of the creek. Accessing this swimming hole does require a two-mile round trip hike from the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead, but it is well worth it. As with any hike in Panthertown, make sure to grab a map due to the complex trail system.
Granny Burrell Falls is another Panthertown favorite. The easiest way to access it is from the Salt Rock Gap trailhead. Beneath the falls is a deep and large swimming hole with a sizable sandy swim beach perfect for wading. Take the family into the valley to enjoy cool air and water babbling down Panthertown Creek.
Paddling in the cool waters of the Tuckasegee River is another way to stay cool in the summer from Memorial Day – Labor Day. The ‘Tuck,’ known for its “mom-approved rapids,” is the perfect river for beginners. Our Rafting Outfitters & Guides will help you enjoy the perfect day on the water with guided trips available. Options for goin’ down the tuck include kayaks, duckies, rafts, and tubes.
Blue Ridge Parkway & Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Known as ‘America’s Favorite Drive,’ the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great place to escape summer heat and crowds. Spanning 469 miles from milepost 469 in Cherokee, NC to Virginia, temperatures on the parkway remain 10-15 degrees cooler than in the valley, with elevations ranging from 3,000 – 6,400 feet. Must-visit overlooks and hikes along the Parkway include Waterrock Knob, Richland Balsam, and Black Balsam Knob. If you’re not looking for a hike, you can always enjoy a cruise with the windows down, taking in the cool mountain air. Enjoy the many overlooks and make sure to stay for a stunning mountain sunset. Pack a picnic for a wonderful and relaxing experience.
Located in Cherokee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great way to escape the heat. The Park is shared with Tennessee and is a 520,000-acre oasis and is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the template world. Taking a drive up to Newfound Gap or Clingmans Dome offers much cooler temperatures due to their higher elevation as well as scenic mountain vistas you won’t want to miss. Popular swimming spots include Deep Creek in neighboring Bryson City as well as the Oconaluftee River Trail with several deep pools of water along the path.
After a day of enjoying natural swimming pools, stop by one of our sweet spots for some ice cream! As we always say, calories don’t count outside of your zip code! Jack the Dipper in Sylva has been serving up its famous waffle cones for over 40 years and is a family favorite. In Cullowhee, make sure to grab a patio seat at Campus Scoops, a favorite for Western Carolina University students and visitors alike.
Craft Beer, Cocktails, and More
If you’re looking to cool off with a locally crafted beverage, the Jackson County Ale Trail is a great way to do it. It’s made up of seven breweries with over 120 brews on tap. All our locations offer great outdoor space and are both child and pet-friendly. If you’re looking to wine a little, the Wine Bar and Cellar in Sylva provides a wide range of wines to choose from or grab a crafty cocktail from one of our cocktail bars.
Plan Your Trip
If you’re ready to beat the heat and escape the city crowds, your vacation awaits in Jackson County. Cool off in nature’s water park and wind down with a cold beverage or ice cream – your mountain memories await. Check out our lodging page to find the perfect stay for your travel group and use our ‘Trip Planner’ to begin planning your mountain getaway.