Best swimming holes in the Smoky Mountains National Park: Top 6, ranked

Abrams Falls in the Smoky Mountains

Abrams Falls is a popular area in the Smoky Mountains, but be sure you don't swim too close to the falls (photo by Eddie J. Rodriquez/shutterstock.com)

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When I was a kid, classic rock meant the great bands of the 60s and a touch of leftovers from the 50s.

Spin the dial on the radio and you were as likely to hear The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who as you were Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen or whatever group was dominating the airwaves.

And of course, with the arrival of summer, came the Beach Boys. 

The surfing craze was long gone. Certainly, nobody souped up their deuce coup and drove to the hamburger stand. But their music captured an idealized version of summer that lived past the three or four or five years it dominated American culture.

I was envious of The Beach Boys’ world.

Growing up in the Midwest, hot humid summers were our lot. In fact, the nearest “beaches” were hours away. Sure you could swim in a lake or river or stream. But it was never the same thing as the massive California summer filled with primary colors and sand and surf.

The closest thing I ever found was when we moved to East Tennessee when I was a teenager – the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. That’s when I learned about the “Townsend Y.”

It took me years to realize it was actually the Townsend Wye – which means a place where rivers come together to form a “Y” shape. Therefore, functionally, I suppose there is little difference.

Read Also: Picnic areas in the Smoky Mountains: The 4 best kept secret spots

Swimming holes in the Smoky Mountains

Essentially, the Wye is the best swimming hole in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is located just beyond the Townsend entrance to the park along Little River Road. Formed where two prongs of the Little River meet, the Wye features a deep swimming hole next to a grassy knoll.

In particular, the vibe is the closest I’ve ever felt to a Beach Boys summer song away from the ocean.

Sunbathers spread out on the grassy hill, while swimmers enjoy a refreshing dip. In addition to all that, it’s a great place to go tubing.

It’s right at the confluence of the roads leading to Gatlinburg or up to Cades Cove. And there’s a large parking area so it’s a great meeting spot.

So, if you’re looking to find a slice of summer in the Smokies, it’s the perfect spot, with a great swimming area, to spend the summer months.

But it’s not the only place.

The Smokies are known for the steep drop in elevation and rushing streams that lead to waterfalls. And over the years, those swift currents and falling waters dig into the earth and form deep pools throughout the park.

There are quite a few places you can go on hot days to cool off.

Remember, rocks can be quite slippery and waterfalls have strong currents. Always use caution. With that said, here are some of our favorite swimming holes in the Smoky Mountains:

Read Also: Is Fall Creek Falls a hard hike? Directions, cost, things to do

Abrams falls in the Smoky Mountains TN
If you visit Abrams Falls, remember not to swim too close to the waterfall due to strong currents (photo by Paul Winterman/shutterstock.com)

6. Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls may not be the best way to beat the summer heat. It’s a 2.5-mile hike over heavy mountainous terrain to a waterfall.

Located off the Cades Cove Loop Road, the Abrams Falls Trail is a 5-mile round trip hike that leads to a large volume of water rushing over a 20-foot waterfall into a picturesque pool.

The National Park Service discourages swimming near the waterfall which has strong currents. The moderate hike will take about 3 to 4 hours. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time.

Remember, it gets dark in the Cove earlier than sunset as a result of the topography of the region and the sun falling behind the mountains.

A sign for Chimney Tops Trail in the Smoky Mountains
The Chimney Tops Trail can be difficult, so you also may want to consider the picnic area (photo by Jason Sponseller/shutterstock.com)

5. Chimney Tops Trail

Another deep pool that is located on a difficult hike on the Chimney Tops Trail into the mountains. The pool along the trail is quite deep and surrounded by large boulders.

Some people have been known to jump off the boulders, but I grew up around too many quarries and heard too many horror stories for that business. Don’t jump. Just swim.

In other words, a better alternative might be just to hang out at the Chimneys Picnic Area. The Chimney Top trailhead is nearby, but the picnic area is our family’s favorite spot in the Smokies.

The water is clear and cold and the perfect place for wading. There are pools and eddies and strong currents as the water moves over and around the rocks so keep a close watch on younger children.

It’s the best place for a picnic lunch and a great way to cool off without marching over hilly terrain. 

Midnight hole swimming hole in the Smoky Mountains
Midnight Hole is located along the state line off of Big Creek Trail (photo by Betty Shelton/shutterstock.com)

4. Midnight Hole

Located on the North Carolina-Tennessee border off the Big Creek Trail, Midnight Hole is noted for large boulders and a waterfall where the mountain waters have carved a perfect spot most of the time.

If the water levels are low, the pool may not be deep enough to swim.

The Midnight Hole is near the 45-foot beautiful waterfall known as Mouse Branch Falls. And you can access it by taking the Waterville Road exit No. 451 on I-40.

Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and drive straight past the ranger station to the large parking area at the end of the road.

The moderately difficult hike is 4 miles roundtrip.

Metcalf Bottoms Creek in the Smoky Mountains
Metcalf Bottoms is one of the most popular picnic areas of the Smokies (photo by Gordon Goode/shutterstock.com)

3. Metcalf Bottoms

Another favorite spot in the park, Metcalf Bottoms offers a premier picnic area close to the Little River.

Water shoes are a good idea as the river is shallow and filled with large rocks. This popular place offers dozens of picnic tables with outdoor grills and clean bathrooms provided by the National Park Service.

It’s a great place for wading – and as long as the river isn’t too low – tubing. Remember to bring your own tubes.

We always take the back way in through Wears Valley but you can also get there from Little River Gorge Road. You won’t find a large pool here so you may not be able to do a lot of swimming, but you’ll certainly be able to cool off. 

2. Greenbrier Swimming Hole

Located just outside Gatlinburg on the Little Pigeon River, the Greenbrier Swimming Hole is accessible from the Greenbrier entrance to the national park on Highway 321.

Unlike some of the other swimming holes, this one is simply a deep part of the river and doesn’t present any of the dangers of swimming near a waterfall.

This great spot and large pool are used more by locals in the Greenbrier area. In addition, it is relatively unknown amongst tourists.

1. Townsend Wye

You already know.

The perfect mountain swimming spot as long as you’re willing to put up with a crowd.

Get there a little early, claim your spot in the grass and enjoy those summer vibes.

Do you have a favorite swimming hole in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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