5 Waterfall Swimming Holes in Western North Carolina

Melina Coogan
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Tucked deep inside the forests and gorges of Western North Carolina are hundreds of wild swimming holes and natural water parks. We've already brought you five of our favorites, but that was only a small taste of what the Blue Ridge has to offer. Here, we bring you a few more bucket list swimming destinations, only with a twist: five swimmable waterfalls! Imagine slicing through emerald water, the sweet relief of a cold plunge on a humid summer afternoon and the dip of the head beneath the falls. Pure Blue Ridge bliss.

1. Wintergreen Falls

Melina Coogan

As the name suggests, this swimming hole is sweet, green, and refreshing, hidden away into what feels like a forgotten corner of DuPont State Forest . I have never seen another visitor at these falls, which certainly makes for a unique experience in this super popular wilderness area. A lovely and densely wooded 3.2 mile (round trip) hike will lead you to this 15 foot cascade of water that tumbles over a sloping rock wall into a boulder-strewn pool. At the edge of the pool, the water rushes over another short drop on its way to the Little River.

It is only safe to swim at this pool when the water is at moderate to lower levels; when the waterfall is roaring, the current will be too swift. This is part of the reason that Wintergreen Falls has remained such a well kept secret. When the weather has stayed dry for a few weeks, take a dip, take in the scenery, and enjoy the solitude.

Park at the Guion Farm Trailhead on Sky Valley Road, Dupont National Forest.

2. Paradise Falls

The perfect mountain plunge.
The perfect mountain plunge. Thomas Shahan

Until you see it with your own eyes, you may have trouble believing that this waterfall exists in North Carolina! This breathtaking swimming hole is located on Wolf Creek, tucked inside a beautiful gorge in the Nantahala National Forest. The waterfall, set back from the swimming hole in a narrow rocky chasm, resembles a slot canyon from the American Southwest. You can even shimmy up a rope to the second tier of rock, where the river is surrounded by sheer canyon walls.

For further adventure, explore the plunge pools and twisting rock of this unusual landscape by venturing downstream. As always, pay close attention to water levels, as tight canyons and heavy rain are not a friendly combination. Be aware that the dam at Wolf Creek Lake, located above Paradise Falls, is released often to keep water levels stable.

Park at the Wolf Creek Lake parking area off of NC 281. The trailhead is a quarter mile from the lot.

3. Hunt and Fish Falls

One of the best swimming holes in all of North Carolina lies at the base of Hunt and Fish falls, deep within the stunning Linville Gorge . It is accessible by a 6-mile out and back hike on the Mountains to Sea Trail, which cuts through a remote section of the Pisgah National Forest. Laced with waterfalls and stream crossings, this hike will keep you on your toes as you hop and splash across the slick rocks and deep pools of the tremendous Gragg Prong.

Hunt Fish Falls features a double drop into an enormous granite swimming hole of clear, jewel-toned water. It is a cold and refreshing reward after your rugged hike through the Linville Wilderness.

Take Roseboro Road east off milepost 308 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After 4.8 miles, cross bridge over Gragg Brong. Trail begins of on the right bank (when facing downstream.) 

4. Bust-yer-butt Falls

The perfect summer activity.
The perfect summer activity. Michael Coghlan

Another name for this swimming hole is Drift Falls, but we think its colloquial title is more accurate. The pools and slides of this many-tiered, 70-foot cascade might look tempting, but rocks, undercuts and swift moving water make it too dangerous to explore. But there is plenty of fun to be had at the base of the falls, which includes sunny boulders and cliffs for jumping; a rope is rigged on the rock wall to help you climb.

This sweet but chilly swimming hole is located on the Horsepasture River, upstream from Turtleback and Rainbow Falls. You could spend a fine summer's day exploring the many pools and falls of this river, but be aware that it becomes Private property just upstream of Bust-Yer-Butt.

Park at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead parking area in Gorges State Park. 

5. Turtleback Falls

In this natural water slide in the Nantahala National Forest, a curtain of water cascades down a smooth, sloping rock face and then plunges in free fall into the pool below. Also known as Umbrella Falls, this watery gem on the Horsepasture River provides a summertime thrill akin to Sliding Rock , but without the throngs of visitors or the long wait in line.

Besides swimming, sliding, and splashing, another reason to visit Turtleback Falls is its proximity to the 150 foot Rainbow Falls, one of the more spectacular sites in the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, this stunning landmark presents a real danger: restrict your swimming to the deep, protected pool beneath the friendly Turtleback Falls, and do not attempt to explore downstream. People have been swept over Rainbow Falls, and the ones that survive do not recommend the experience!

Park at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead parking area in Gorges State Park. 

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