The Great Smoky Mountains are probably best known for the diverse species of trees, each boasting its own unique leaf shapes and autumn color profile. But meandering through these forested mountains are also a ton of streams and rivers that make for excellent fishing and swimming spots. So if you come during warmer weather and want a dip, or if you simply enjoy the way water sounds as it crashes down mountain facades or slips along river stones, then make sure you put the following top swimming holes on your must-see vacation list:
Swimming in the Smokies: Top Swimming Holes
Midnight Hole lies within the Big Creek area of the Great National Park and can be accessed via the Big Creek Trail. This trail follows an old railroad grade, so gradual but constant uphill climb to get to where the swimming hole is at, which is about 1.4 miles from the trailhead. This short walk goes along the creek and the area is well-forested, offering nice shade during those hot months.
Of course, you are unlikely to be alone on the trail or at Midnight Hole. In fact, on hot summer days, it’s likely that a hundred people or more will visit this swimming hole thanks to the beautiful walk and the even more beautiful swimming once you arrive. This natural swimming hole lies at the bottom of a six-foot waterfall band boasts crystal clear water. The massive boulders surrounding the hole are ideal for jumping while the water itself is cool and ideal for summer swimming.
Elkmont Swimming Hole
Near the Elkmont Campground, just outside of Gatlinburg, you will find the Little River Trailhead. Follow this trail down to the beloved Elkmont Swimming Hole. This swimming hole is fantastic thanks to it including a rocky beach with massive large flat rocks that are ideal for sunbathing and getting warm after a dip in the neighboring swimming pool. That natural swimming pool is about six to eight-foot in-depth, making it ideal for jumping and diving.
While the Elkmont Swimming Hole is the largest swimming hole along the Little River Trail here, it certainly isn’t the only swimming spot. You will find little natural swimming pools all along the way, including a sizeable one near the Huskey Branch Falls that lies further in.
The Sinks is also located on the Little River, but this swimming hole is a lot easier to access as it is right off of the road. Simply start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and drive nearly 12 miles towards Cades Cove. You will drive over a two-lane bridge and plenty of signage indicating where you can park to access the falls and swimming area.
What is unique about The Sinks is that unlike the others on our list, this one is a manmade creation. The unusual spot in the river by dynamite was once used by logging companies in order to break up a really bad log jam that had stuck up the entire river behind it. That massive one-time explosion created the rock formation that now boasts a beautiful waterfall and a fantastic swimming pool. However, probably in large part because of this non-natural creation, the waterfalls here are very powerful. Currents are strong and the slickness of the rocks can make this area extremely dangerous, especially in spring when the water levels rise with rainfall and melting show. So take caution when entering the water and avoid letting smaller children play here.
Metcalf Bottoms is a good swimming hole choice for those who don’t want to do any hiking and instead want to just drive up, jump out, and cool off in the water. You might do this as a whole day adventure or you might head out to it after a long day spent on activities elsewhere. Whatever the case, you will find this large picnic area between Townsend and Gatlinburg and with its own dedicated parking area.
Metcalf Bottoms does not have any waterfalls or big rapids, but it is peaceful and scenic and an ideal choice for those with children. Dedicated picnic tables and trash cans make it easy to stop and set up for lunch while the water being shallower than others on our list (most places plunge only up to three or four feet deep) makes it a good and popular spot for families with children. Of course, shallower water does not mean safe water. There are no lifeguards posted here (or at any other swimming hole on our list) and so parents should always be alert when kids are playing and swimming.
This swimming hole is located where the Little River meets the Middle Prong. It also happens to be one of the easiest to access swimming areas on our list thanks to its nearness to Townsend and access right off of the road. The small rapids are perfect for tubing while the beach and grassy field offer an ideal sunbathing and picnicking area. You’ll also find several large swimming pools and a couple of good jumping off rocks. These attributes and others make the Wye one of the most popular swimming holes on our list, so expect plenty of crowds on any pretty day. The good thing is that there is plenty of room for everyone!
Remember Safety First & General Park Rules as You Enjoy These Swimming Holes
While we have noted a few special cases above, this is your general reminder that one should always take caution when swimming in any natural area. The Great Smoky Mountains are a gorgeous place to hike, swim, and generally enjoy the outdoors; but there are also dangers. Slick rocks, jumping into a too-shallow area, and other unexpected things can turn a fun vacation into a frustrating and potentially life-threatening one. In some areas, park rangers will issue warnings and fines for behaviors they deem unsafe. To that end, remember that dogs are not permitted on any trail within the Great Smoky Mountains unless explicitly stated otherwise (this is generally reserved for a few campground locations).