Growing up in the Midwest, my nearest beaches were hours away. Sure, you could swim in a lake or river or stream. But it was never quite like a 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. 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.
Subscribe to our newsletter for area news, coupons and discounts
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.
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.
But remember, rocks can be quite slick and slippery and waterfalls have strong currents. Always use caution. With that said, shallow swimming holes may be best.
Here are some of our favorite swimming holes in the Smoky Mountains:
5. Chimney Tops Trail and Picnic Area
There is a deep pool along 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. Exercise caution. 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, so grab a picnic blanket and cool off without marching over hilly terrain.
4. Midnight Hole
Located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee 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.
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 among tourists.
1. Townsend Wye
You already know.
This is the perfect mountain swimming spot as long as you’re willing to put up with a crowd.
Get there a little early. This is a popular swimming hole, so claim your spot in the grass and enjoy those summer vibes.
What about Abrams Falls?
Abrams Falls is a great 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.
However, the National Park Service discourages swimming near the waterfall which has strong currents.
The moderate hike will take about 3 to 4 hours. If you visit the falls, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time.
Do you have a favorite swimming hole in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments.