Daily Archives: July 15, 2013

Warm Springs

Yeah, everybody loves a hot spring and there’s a well-known one on Deep Creek. Way too crowded and not much of a swimming hole anyway. Disappointment turned to delight upstream at Warm Spring which receives a fraction of the visitors. The spring comes from the steep rock wall on the north side of the creek and the warm water is contained in a couple of rock tubs. The creek is around 20 feet wide and a good eight-feet deep just below the tubs. That works out to a Finnish style thermal treatment where you can soak in the warm bath water then plunge into the cool river and feel the tingle as your pores snap shut.

Calling this a “warm spring” is somewhat dismissive. Although not as hot its downstream cousin, as it’s still a delightful temperature. A couple of tubs have been fashioned from stone and mortar constructed around a declivity in the hillside. This violates the rule against including any man-made structure in the book, but a great man once said that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a simple mind.”

You can approach either from the ranch above or up the Pacific Crest Trail from the west. There are a couple of beautiful swimming holes a little over a mile below the hot springs; however, they were roached with broken glass and trash.

Luna Canyon

Lackadaisical trout and lack of footprints. A medium-sized pool is ringed entirely by granite blocks that stairstep down to a patch of water almost the exact dimensions of what you’d expect to find in a backyard The pool is deepest to the left where the water passes between the pincers of surrounding boulders. A low, broad platform is directly across from the small cascade and a decent sand beach has a sycamore that gives enough shade for a small group.

About 40 yards downstream is a basin with a beach big enough and flat enough for a volleyball game. Must be 50 feet long and 30 feet wide. Better bring two full teams because you’re not going to find any pickup players here. Visitation is extremely light. I didn’t see one pair of footprints. The basin is 70 feet on the major axis and has a considerable amount of boulder clutter. The depth is little more than six feet, but the privacy is profound. Just about guaranteed.

It’s a long damned walk if you approach from Lake Arrowhead, more like a trail run. If you’re super fit, this is an awesome trip. Be prepared for a hot return. Although the trail parallels the river, it’s usually 100 vertical feet above the water, often higher. You should bring a couple of quarts of water per person to make the return without the time consuming need to descend and filter.

Gilligan's Island

Deep Creek is a hall of champions. It’s easily the best swimming river in the state of California. Gilligan’s Island clinches it.

A giant, globular pyramid of rock dominates the center of the river with steep canyon walls rising up on each side. Not a lot of seating and the shade is somewhat limited, but lots of nice sedges and grasses give it a well dressed look. The scramble up the diving rock is challenging. Rock climbing skills are a plus, if not a necessity. Depth is around 12 feet.

Visitors are mostly local, mostly young. Matthew Schwab is one of them. Schwab and his friends regularly jump 40 feet from the top of the pyramid. He says the most frightening aspect of Gilligan’s Island isn’t the height. No, it’s the swimming rattlesnakes. Schwab said he routinely finds them sunning on rocks or swimming in the water as if for recreation. Herpetologists are not convinced that a behavioral adaptation is occurring along Deep Creek. Nevertheless be careful you don’t resurface under one and end up with a pit viper necklace.

Gilligan’s Island is plainly visible from the PCT, but only to those headed south. Since most people hike the trail south to north, they whiz right by it. Also, the spur trail down to the river isn’t apparent and once at streamside you have to bushwhack and boulderhop upstream.

Aztec Falls

Probably the best diving spot in Southern California. If Aztec Falls were a ski area, it would be Squaw Valley. Steep and deep. The main rock is on the left, directly adjoining the falls. Locals say it goes up to 57 feet. The landing will be 15 feet deep or more. Intermediate ledges offer more modest jumps—30 feet or so! The fall itself is less imposing, but you can tell by the depth of the canyon that this river gets angry. Everything’s here: jumps, slabs to sun on, sand bars to nap on.

Problem is you aren’t likely to get much sleep. There may be as many as one dozen people having fun on a summer weekend. Litter is not an apparent problem. Volunteer groups like the Fisheries Volunteer Resource Corps keep this and other parts of the river picked up. The volunteers operate two-person patrols throughout the Deep Creek drainage, packing out everything from potato chip bags to automobile tires. They also help with trail maintenance and graffiti removal. You’ll recognize them by the volunteer patch they wear on the standard forest service uniform.

Try and make sure they don’t have to carry you out. It is easy to get seriously hurt jumping 50 feet or more. Check with locals for submerged obstacles before you jump. You’re responsible for your own safety.

The Cliffs

A place to build your courage. The jumps are evenly spaced from five feet high to about thirty-five feet so you can work your way up. It’s 25 minutes upstream from the road, past several other holes that, while objectively good, are ruined by broken beer bottles, etc. After some easy scrambling over granite blocks and around trees you’ll get to the spot recognizable by the diving cliff on the left-hand side and a black cable fixed there to help jumpers back to the diving ledges. The water is ten to twelve feet deep, but you can’t see the bottom since visibility in Deep Creek is about seven feet. Submerged rocks are not always visible. Best ask the locals where the sweet spot is.

And you shouldn’t have trouble finding locals for advice. Expect as many as one dozen people here on a hot weekend. The prime sunning ledges are on the right, directly across from the diving rock and a great vantage point. About ten people will fit here and another dozen can be accommodated on a second, lower ledge that’s also on the right just downstream from the diving rock. It’s all fairly close together, so you have to be neighborly.

If it’s just too crowded you may want to boulder hop ten minutes upstream to a quiet pool that’s around seven feet deep with an even bottom. By far the most appealing feature is the smooth slab upstream from the pool where the water rolls over the rock in a broad sheet before slipping over the lip and into the pool. If The Cliffs are the recreation room of the house, this would be the study.

Fall Creek

Rare is the swimming hole that needs more use. Fall Creek is one. Located well above Big Tujunga, this creek falls 300 feet to the canyon bottom, pausing along the way in a few difficult-to-reach tubs that contain an awful lot of plant goo. A bit of splashing about ought to stir the water up enough to flush the moss and so forth into the lower and middle portions of the fall which aren’t especially attractive as a swimming hole. The upper tub is a different story altogether. A 40-foot, free-falling steam of water leaps over a ledge and tumbles into a deep, dark cavity in the rock. The tub is ten feet wide and seven-feet deep. Water drains over the lip, down a 20-foot granite slab and into another pool. The flow then turns left along a narrow shelf, around a mature willow and over a second, larger fall into a shallow pool 70 feet below.

Privacy is guaranteed. Consequently, getting there is a blister. In addition to rope skills, you need the patience to endure some fifth-class bushwhacking down a nearly nonexistent trail to the creek. Kind of like walking through an automatic car wash with the water turned off. From there it’s a short trip along the brush-choked stream to the lip. To the right of the falls are some trees you can rapp off of. Bring a couple of double runners at least 80 feet of rope, more if you want to rappel on a double rope and climb back out on top rope. (Hint: If you don’t understand the previous sentence, don’t go.)

Tujunga Canyon

The deep canyon between Colby Ranch and the Angeles Forest Highway could easily be the most charming watercourse in the Angeles, but for the quantity of beer cans, the proliferation of litter and worst of all, graffiti. One spot is worth visiting. Below the bridge, the creek bounces along between brittle canyon walls and through a small fall opposite a 200-foot-high, northwest facing wall. At the bottom of the fall is a basin that’s around six feet deep and fringed with alder, including a clump of young trees precariously perched in the middle of the creek directly above the fall. The alders, combined with the steep canyon walls, prevent direct sunlight from penetrating until late afternoon when the rays shine on a smooth granite slab that’s the dimension of a single bed.

It was while crouching through the alders that, unknown to me, a branch got lodged between my pack and torso. When I stood up straight, I felt something hit me in the back of the legs. This, following a week during which I’d seen more than seven rattlesnakes. Instantly, I was in full flight, high stepping and hyperventilating for 50 yards before I realized I was swatting myself in the butt with a tree branch. Thankfully, there were no witnesses.

Apart from such incidents the approach is not at all difficult, but longish. Perfect for the novice hiker who wants a challenge.

Rock Pools

Easy to get to and hard to forget. Malibu Creek spreads out just below a volcanic canyon into a big, fine piece of water more than 60 feet wide. The walls are filled with pockets typical of volcanic rock, the same features that make Malibu Creek State Park among the best rock climbing spots on the Southern California coast. Several truck-sized boulders on the upstream side provide modest launch platforms. Diving is officially prohibited in state parks and it’s easy to understand why – many drunken yahoos going head-first into the water. They look like a how-to video for head trauma. Use some sense, please.

If you’re a fan of old movies, the backdrop may look somewhat familiar. Before it was a park, Paramount Studios owned the ranch and used it as a filming location. Rock Pools served as an outdoor set for the Swiss Family Robinson, South Pacific and Tarzan movies. It’s assumed that any crocodiles Tarzan tussled with were removed after filming.

As nice as this place may be, prepare to share. Malibu Creek is a multi-cultural extravaganza on weekends. At less than one hour from the center of Los Angeles, it’s not unusual to find 40 or more people here, making it a boisterous place — boom boxes and all. Nevertheless it’s scrupulously maintained. You’ll find no visible graffiti and the litter (of which there is plenty) is quickly picked up by park personnel.

Switzer Falls

Perfect dimensions for a low-altitude cannonball. On its way down from Switzer Campground, water pauses in a dandy tub about twenty feet wide and seven feet deep. There are two falls and it’s the upper one that’s the nicer. A four-foot-high, solid rock wall impounds the stream on the downhill side. It also creates a nice chute of water that empties into the lower pool which is just barely deep enough for splashing around. The upper tub, with its sloping side walls that offer the perfect launch, is worthy of an excellent rating, but human impact reduces it to simply good. The place is Bedlam on the weekends. Dozens of people will make the trip down from Switzer Falls proper. There are bottles, wrappers, some graffiti and a type of litter unique to swimming holes—cotton socks. As it turns out, socks are a pretty reliable index to how heavily visited a swimming hole is. Lower Switzer posted a staggering ten socks on the spring weekend in which it was surveyed. If you value privacy, go elsewhere.

Be aware that the right-hand traverse above the first pool is potentially dangerous. The rock is somewhat loose. The most tempting steps are on tree roots, but this is a bad idea. Stepping on and around tree roots causes damage to the root, erosion and eventually death of the tree. Be responsible and avoid injuring the plants that create a moist, shaded space within the otherwise sun-bleached landscape of the Angeles.

Beyond Nowhere

A swimming hole made for two. Any more would be a crowd, any fewer a shame. A splendidly smooth boulder sits smack in the middle of the stream with an alder bough hanging over it. On the right side, water-worn ledges sweep up to a wall with jumping ledges at 7, 10, 12 and 20 feet. Get a good launch, ‘cause there’s a slight ledge underneath. Water quality is remarkable. The East Fork of the San Gabriel happens to be the definition of Coke-bottle green. Early in the season much of the water will be snow runoff from Mt. Baldy, which sits on the eastern boundary of Sheep Mountain Wilderness.

The Narrows is the deepest gorge in Southern California. The depth of the canyon, coupled with the abandoned bridge downstream, attracted the attention of bungee jumpers like Ron Jones who bought the bridge from its private owner. If you visit during a weekend, chances are you’ll see Jones flinging paying customers over the side.

You’ll find a couple of pools right below the bridge that can be reached by crossing the bridge, turning left and scrambling down. There are several stream crossings, so plan to get wet on the way up. Plan on company, too. During summer there may be as many as 100 people on the lower part of the trail, although only a fraction make it as far as the bridge and fewer still could be expected to make it to The Narrows.

Devil's Canyon

Water to your earlobes is the only way to endure summer heat at the mouth of Devils Canyon. Steep walls discourage shade trees and the flat horizon of the reservoir below means light continues to grill the swimming hole well into the afternoon. But if you visit in the spring, there’s a sweet, sweet pool. It’s eight to ten feet deep with pale green water that’s cool as jade. Further proof that nature is merciful: A little alder clings to a ledge, providing the barest umbrella of shade right over the deep end of the pool.

An extremely narrow constriction in the canyon helped produce this feature. The pool is fed by a small cascade that runs between steep walls less than 40 feet apart at the top. Gorgeous views of the reservoir and surrounding mountains through the canyon’s rifle-sight notch. If you continue up-canyon, there are at least one dozen tubs, a few pools and all the solitude you need. The best spot is a small tub where the water makes a tight 180-degree turn, running over your shoulders, across your belly and through your toes before rushing back up your leg and exiting downstream. The adjoining slabs are polished smooth and tilted at a perfect angle for an afternoon nap.

There are only three maintained trails in the San Gabriel Wilderness, and this isn’t one of them. Plan to get wet during the approach. Privacy is just about guaranteed in the upper tubs.

Lower Tar Creek

For those who want privacy and can pay the price. Located about one-half mile below the aforementioned bowls, Lower Tar Creek is formed where the stream spills over a sheer 90-foot wall. The resultant waterfall empties into a moderately deep, rock-strewn pool filled with jade-colored water. The wall forms an impressive 120-degree enclosure and the loose, muddy matrix of the conglomerate rock makes the crumbled boulders at the bottom look like some ancient Etruscan ruin. Strenuous boulder hopping downstream takes you to a second hole at the bottom of a smaller fall. A long white sandstone wall gives this hole a more even contour. The lines are simply bent, whereas the lines of the hole above are tangled. The lower hole is the nicer of the two.

Best way in is rappel. Bring plenty of runner to anchor on some sycamore trees about 20 yards back from the main falls. Once you rappel in, you’re best advised to use ascenders or prusiks to get back out, since the rock is extremely loose. Not a good idea to climb it even on a top rope lest you shower your belay with rockfall.

Best after wet winters. Tar Creek is a small watershed and the water can get dark and stagnant later in the year, but in early summer it’s delightful and the long approach keeps the riffraff out.

Upper Tar Creek

A classic.Tar Creek is a three-tier assembly of smooth sandstone bowls that empty one into another, creating a contour so fine that it’s sculptural. The enclosure is superb. Deep, even holes each with a small spout draining into the next pool. The surrounding walls and slabs all seem to perch right over the deepest part of the hole, making for excellent diving. The only negative is limited shade. It gets mighty hot in the summer. Privacy is likely. There’s rarely more than one other group here.

This is the first place that California Condors were reintroduced into the wild. Many of the historic nesting sites were here in the Sespe; however the reintroduction encountered difficulties. The wide-ranging birds died from ingesting antifreeze and flying into power lines. They were relocated to a more remote site in the Los Padres. Still, there’s a chance you may see one above Tar Creek
Bonus Feature: If you climb, bring shoes. There’s excellent, though difficult, bouldering surrounding the holes.

Matilija Creek

If you’ve only got one day in the Ventura County backcountry, spend it here. A double waterfall creates a tasty pair of holes, deep and alluring. The water is contained in a symmetrical bowl that discharges through a small spout. Usually the stone lip is wide enough that you can recline on it and gaze at the upper fall across a 30-foot pool of cool water.

Although the waterfall is excellent, the trip up the watercourse is even more pleasing. The rock bed is laid down on the same plane as the creek, thus creating some marvelously even slabs that border the pools. Dark shale known as Juncal formation fractures in right angles, creating small bricks that kids love because they’re just like building blocks. You’ll want to pause at a delightful square tub located near a large boulder on the right bank. The pool is fed by two streams that descend in terraces and enter the pool at right angles to one another. A bower covering the tub gives it a low, geometric outline reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright design.

Once you get up to the main fall, check out another excellent hole just a short trip up the right-hand fork. Northern exposure means summer temperatures are moderated. Walking on the margins of the stream should be avoided where possible because footsteps disturb fish and amphibian eggs laid there.

East Fork Lion Creek

This is probably the better of the two Lion Creek spots. The best part is the water. It’s gin clear. Like the west fork, the tubs are deeply shaded, but the understory of vegetation at the east fork is lighter, less tangled. It’s a little more vertical with an easy scramble up to the main tub. Perfect for a dunk and a splash during the hot weather of mid summer when the combination of water level and temperature should be optimal.

Check out the deer grass on the way to the swimming hole. The tall reedy bunches of grass turn a short portion of the trail into a tunnel seven feet tall. It looks more like Indonesia than the semiarid Transverse Range. Chumash Indians used it to weave baskets. Also be on the lookout for red-legged frogs, another federally endangered species. They attach egg balls to cattails or willow limbs in ponds similar to the pool below the falls. If you find a ball-shaped, translucent egg mass three inches across, do not disturb it.

Privacy is likely, although the easy access makes this an attractive destination for scout outings. Mountain bikes are permitted, although the trail is short enough and well enough maintained that running shoes are the best footwear.

West Lion Creek

Sort of an Alice in Wonderland swimming hole in that it’s surrounded by polka-dotted rocks. Rounded rocks, perhaps ancient river cobbles, became surrounded by a matrix of softer material which itself metamorphosed into rock. The cobbles were then carried back to the surface locked in the metamorphic rock where we find them millions of years later, once again in a stream. This time water has worn the mixture smooth, thereby making the cobbles appear painstakingly inset in the surrounding rock like paving stones. The swimming area is really just a large tub, nothing too grand, but the surrounding canopy of vegetation gives it a comfortable, cloistered feel. A good place to bring the little dippers.

The trail generally follows Lion Creek. It’s fairly flat with only a couple of hills, an excellent trail run for runners of intermediate abilities. Once you get to the creek, the run turns into a low crouch as you bushwhack upstream. Be particularly careful walking in the margins of streams and through water less than one foot deep. Lion Creek is habitat for the endangered Arroyo Toad. It lays eggs in long, gelatinous strands resting in shallow water. The eggs can sometimes look like vegetation as plant life attaches itself to the negatively buoyant strands.

Seven Falls - Santa Barbara

An excellent set of tubs. Seven Falls is steep and narrow with tubs just wide enough for a few people yet deep enough that you can’t touch bottom. Waterslides connect a couple of the pools and moss makes the trip a little less bumpy on the user’s bottom. There’s some diving, but funseekers better have good aim because the sweet spot is mighty small. Lounge space surrounding the tubs is very limited and, since the spot is heavily visited, weekends generally find people perched on rocks packed tight as cormorants.

Mission Creek lies roughly parallel to a tunnel built to bring water from Gibralter Reservoir to Santa Barbara. It seemed like a good idea when, in 1922, city engineers projected the dam would remain a source of water for 900 years. These days it’s around 70 percent silted up and officials are trying to figure out what to do with it and dozens of other dams across the state that are also silting up, though at a slower rate than Gibralter.

Wet years favor this spot. It drains a relatively small part of Santa Barbara’s front country. Southern exposure means the place gets hot in the summer. Privacy is doubtful. Bonus Feature: Rock climbers might want to bring a rope to sample the routes above the swimming holes. A couple of them are old enough to have piton scars.

Red Rocks

The Santa Ynez River below Gibralter Dam has several dandy basins. Problem is they’re all next to the road and during the summer are overrun by the boom box brigades. Red Rocks is a good hole that’s accessible but not too crowded. It’s got an irregular shape, making it less attractive than it could be. A nice-sized rock in the middle of the pool stands four feet above surface and serves as a fine diving platform for kids or those who don’t value big vertical. There’s a modest, crescent shaped sand bar at one end for lounging.

I spent the night at Red Rocks and was startled by a tremendous splash. “Rock fall,” my friend said. After a few minutes there was another big splash. We shined our headlamps into the river and determined that under no circumstances could a rock have fallen into the deep water without us first hearing it bounce off some other rocks. It’s dark, we’re alone and facing an unexplained phenomenon with nothing but a Swiss Army knife to defend ourselves. After an hour of listening for more splashes and potential banjo music, we got to sleep.

Later we determined that it was a beaver whacking his tail on the water because we made him nervous. Talk about irony.

Emerald Pool

If this doesn’t make you want to peel off your laundry and jump right in, then you should surrender your ADK card and spend vacations in Atlantic City.

The swimming hole happens at the top of the Cold River in the White Mountain National Forest where Charles Brook has worked it’s way among some bedrock and hogged out a funnel-shaped hole about 20 feet long and easily eight feet deep. The color and clarity of the water rolling off of North Baldface Mountain is startling. Seating is limited, but there’s room for a couple of small groups among the hemlock trees adjoining the fall.

Emerald Pool is actually in New Hampshire, but since it’s accessed from Freyburg, ME (and there’s already an Emerald Pool in New Hampshire) it’s reviewed as being part of the great state of Maine. It’s less than one mile from the trailhead and a very easy hike.

Park just south of the trailhead on the east side of SR 116 about 0.2 miles north of the AMC Cold River Camp driveway. Hike west up the trail to the junction with Slipper Brook and Chandler Gorge Trail. Double back along Charles Brook 40 yds. to a small gorge.

Cataract Falls

Frye Brook takes several leaps during its descent to the West Branch of the Ellis River. There are three falls, with the uppermost being the star. It’s a flume perfectly incised into the granite, a single concentrated channel of water that shoots out in an eight-foot plunge. The pool below is small, but exquisite. A beautiful oval is struck into the rock, 10 feet on the major axis and six feet on the minor. Below that is a second fall with a broader pool and much more relaxed angles. It’s 20 feet in diameter and six to seven feet deep in the middle. There’s one good lounging rock at the top of the pool near the fall.

Follow directions on the topo map at left to reach the trail. Walk south on an abandoned dirt road to a fork. Bear right toward the creek and follow yellow blazes on the Cataract Trail. The trail climbs steeply on the south bank of Frye Brook to a point that it’s nearly hand over hand for a short distance. Once at the top, cross the creek well above the fall. Once on the far side, stay up in the trees above the water. Circle around toward the fall and make a couple of long down steps to a crack directly above a fixed rope. It’s much safer than going direct.

Liabilities are that it points due north. Taken together with the heavy canopy means little sunlight. Consequently, the rock has lots of lower plant life, making it slick and potentially dangerous. Best during low water conditions.

Letter S

The only thing missing is a stripe painted on the bottom. Letter S is so long that it’s made for lap swimming. You can start 80 feet below the top of the hole and stroke upstream through the fat part of the pool toward a wide breech in a low, massive rock wall. Water velocity increases the higher you swim into a progressively narrow channel. Depending on the river level you might make it to the top. More likely you’ll reach a point of equilibrium and then it’s fun to see how long you can maintain position without getting pushed back.

If any of this is too Type A for you, well there’s plenty of water to bob around with your beverage of choice. (No glass bottles.) The pool at the bottom is enormous and the water quality is excellent. Just a wee bit of moss was beginning to grow on downstream rocks, and this during extremely low water and record high temperatures. It has a sandy bottom with what must be mica or pyrites that glitter and flash in the sun.

It’s off to the side of a dead end road. It runs west to east, which is to say it’s very open with lots of sun. The seating is a little limited though. There is room for one group on the near side, but there’s more rock on the far side if you can swim across without getting your towel wet.

Frenchman's Falls

A popular place that nobody can find. Frenchman’s is tucked up on a tributary to the Sunday River near a local trail leading to the Appalachian Trail. Several times when I told people that I’d be looking for swimming holes in Maine they’d say something like, “Yeah, there’s supposed to be someplace called Frenchman’s. We looked, but never found it.”

It’s a small, deep pool fed by a plunge fall seven or eight feet tall. The pool is reputed to be twice as deep and, although I didn’t have a plumb line to test the claim, it’s certainly deep enough to catch the dozens of kids apt to jump into it on a summer day.

Frenchman’s happens where a bubble of granite popped up among some less distinguished rock. The granite really lends itself to hydraulic sculpting; in addition, it has excellent traction.

About 30 feet above the fall is a low cascade that stretches the entire 20 foot width of the brook. It’s very pretty and the rest of the creek up to the trailhead parking is just as enchanting. It’s all clear water from a mountain stream with hardly any muck, yuck or funk. You will encounter some litter along the dirt road where people picnic, but nothing like broken glass or other odious items in the river.

Coos Canyon

The bottom drops out of the Swift River producing fabulously deep water running between vertical walls as high as 32 feet. Cory Freeman grew up jumping into the water he estimates is 20 feet deep in places. As a boy he even dreamed of becoming a professional cliff diver before he discovered that the paper mill offered more immediate employment. So he repairs boilers four days a week and spends summer afternoons testing gravity in the canyon. His best safety tip is that most people get injured climbing down from something they are too scared to jump from.

“If you’re going to climb up, jump or walk off the top. Don’t try to climb back down,” he said. Down climbing is not the only way to get hurt. Ryan Plourde, also of Rumford, points to a jagged scar he got from head butting a piece of slate.

“Somebody jumped in at a spot and said that the water was deep enough. It was my turn and everybody was looking at me, so I dived. When I came up I was bleeding. It hurt pretty bad for a while. Now it’s just numb.”

I asked how deep the numbness went and a friend said, “all the way to the collarbone.”

Smalls Falls

The Sandy River drops a total of 60 feet in a series of falls and cascades, including four near vertical drops with smooth, round pools of at least 20 feet in diameter. The lowest hole is the largest. It’s a funnel shape at least 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. At the top of it is a wedding cake fall that’s around 12 feet high and very scenic. It adjoins a state maintained rest area and it’s easily accessible. A footbridge crosses the river below the hole and a footpath turns right up the steep canyon.

You pass a couple of holes that are fenced off and too steep to be practical, anyway. (It’d be worth it to rappel down into them if they were remote, wilderness swimming holes, but no need to go through all that just to have a dozen people watching you.) The fourth pool from the bottom is quite dipable. A collar of rock makes a dandy impound and a good deep end. Here near the top of the gorge the contour spaces out some and there’s plenty of smooth level rock to relax on.

Back at the bottom of the canyon, you’ll find more pools. Instead of turning right at the bridge you can continue straight up a tributary with four to five pools and tubs. The setting is more like a woodland stream, more intimate, less dramatic and less visited. Expectation of privacy is fair on a weekend and there are a couple of places where privacy will be excellent on a weekday.

Slugundy

“Slewgundy: A site along a stream where the water flows through a tortuous channel which acts as a deterrent to log driving. Sometimes modified to slugundy.” — Maine State Planning Office.

In this case it’s a long process of falls and cascades filling a small gorge 800 feet long on a spur to the Appalachian Trail. At the head is a pair of falls just over 10 feet high that occur one after the other. From there the creek bends sharply into a rifle sight trough for 50 fast, churning feet.

The rock is aligned very closely with the water’s flow and the creek has chipped out some big pieces, leaving sides that are steep, though not very tall. The pool is created principally by a couple of medium boulders slipped into the bottom of the gorge. They raise the level by 3 to 4 feet. Another well-placed boulder would make a great hole. Walls are usually sheer on only one side, so it fails to create anything more than seven feet deep. The top pool is probably 25 feet long, 10 feet wide and six to seven feet deep at the top where the sweet spot is. It has a nice place to haul out on the northern side, where there are some beautifully smooth ledges streaked with quartz.

I estimate it’s best during low water conditions because the channel is so tight — such a slewgundy — that water is to too fast otherwise.

Little Wilson Stream

Several swimming holes, all accessed from a large parking area next to an overused hole. I prefer a place upstream where a tremendous flood from the not-too-distant past chipped out a chunk of rock about the size of a dump truck bed. You can discern where the rock used to be before it was shoved 25 feet up a ramp to where it’s perched as level as a table above a pool that’s 10 feet by 20 feet.

Flow in this watershed is not always so forceful. Author and paddler Zip Kellog once parked below Greenville intending to paddle one half day to Big Wilson Stream. The trip ended two days later.

“When we got to the start, the water that was coming out of the dam you could have caught in a teacup,” he said. “We started anyway, hoping that we’d encounter a downstream tributary that would add enough water to float the boats.”

They didn’t. After dragging through mud and gravel for hours, they decided to walk out. They returned with friends the next day to drag the craft through the near waterless drainage.

“When we got to where we could float, we all jumped in the canoes. Not long afterward a warden stopped us. The extra people meant we didn’t have a flotation device for each person and he cited us.”

Little Wilson Falls

The principal drop at Little Wilson Falls ranks among the tallest in the state, approximately 40 feet. The pool below is smallish and barely overhead deep. The water has a slightly brown tint, but no odor. What’s unusual, what makes the fall so interesting, is the incredibly angular, blocky appearance of the rock. It’s slate that’s been uplifted so that the cleavages are nearly vertical and the tops of the rock are fractured off very evenly. More than anything it looks like an astrophysical crystal formation with six feet of water in the bottom of it.

The gorge continues a little less than one quarter mile below the fall. At places the walls are close to 100 feet above the stream and nearly vertical. It’s mainly a rapid, but there are several additional falls of eight feet or better. Horizontal features are good also. Some natural benches have formed out of lateral cleavage in the slate. It’s a small watershed, which is good, given the tight, muscular character of the gorge.

I’d estimate that a flow above three cubic feet per second would make it unsafe, or at least uncomfortable, for swimming.

Note: Don’t be misled by a smaller fall at the first stream crossing after you turn from the logging road onto the AT. That’s just the discharge from Moose Pond. Little Wilson Gorge is farther south on the AT. See the map at left.

Billings Falls

The West Branch of the Pleasant River is split into two channels by a large island at the head of Gulf Hagas. They converge just above Billings Falls and form a near vertical drop of 12 feet. Viewed from the overlook, the swimming hole below the fall is a steep arc of metamorphic rock around a kidney-shaped pool that is simply immense. From the fall to the outlet the pool measures 90 feet long. It’s mondo deep and churning where the fall drops in. Some table-sized flakes are scattered at the bottom; they’re good for relaxation.
Getting to water level is a little tricky. Look for a scrambling descent to the right of the overlook, then boulder hop to the pool. For easier, though less dramatic, fun go to the Step Falls at the head of Gulf Hagas. It’s less than 200 yards above Billings.

Step Fall is a multichannel cascade. Nothing really deep enough to swim in, but at least 4,000 square feet of sunny rock on which to recline and soak in the season. In addition, it’s much less crowded than the lower part of Gulf Hagas. Officials said that one third of the visitors turn around at Screwauger Falls with only 160 people a day making it to Step Falls. It’s half that on a weekday. That may be a high estimate since land managers never underestimate the number of visitors.

Buttermilk Falls

Gulf Hagas is a steep, often narrow, cut of post-glacial age. It contains five falls and several rapids occurring over a total drop of 400 feet. It’s considered one of New England’s outstanding scenic areas, the subject of postcards and a destination for several generations of hikers and nature lovers. It carries a high volume of water, arising mostly in commercially owned softwood forests. The water is quite dark in color but has no odor.

Buttermilk is the tallest fall on the gorge at 25 feet. The face is 15 to 20 feet wide and rolls into a bodacious pool that’s easily 60 feet wide and 50 feet long. Huge. Wide. Beautiful. Water is likely to be moving, though. You can’t just lollygag around. Brisk temperature helps you keep active. Ryan Smith of Rocklin pronounced the chilly temp perfect for a native “Maine-iac.”

“It’s the best solution for the sticky, hot summer days in Maine.” He recommends swimming to a little cove on the far left of Buttermilk Falls, next to an old cedar snag. “Feel your way up to flat outcrop,” he said. “The jump is about 10 feet. The water’s deep. No worries.”

It’s a weekday classic. Many, too many, visitors on weekends. A somewhat complicated approach down the steep canyon walls keeps the casual hikers on the rim above Buttermilk. They prefer Stair Falls, just above Buttermilk.

Screwauger Falls

Gulf Hagas Brook creates several mid-sized falls on its way to the West Branch of the Pleasant River. At the upper fall, twin spouts 15 feet tall have bored out a steep, narrow hole about 20 feet across and eight feet long. Features include interesting rock sculpting along with some great ledges for relaxing on the left bank. The water gets out among some scattered boulders with a nice gravel pocket on the right hand side, then runs about 100 feet to a middle fall.

To reach the middle fall you continue beyond the sign that reads “viewpoint.” This middle fall is even better than the upper one. It’s a plunge into a deep, deep tank about 25 feet long and trapezoidal in shape. Water spills out over huge, huge slabs of rock. There is a blocky wall on the right that rises 35 to 40 feet. A white pine growing right out of one of the rocks makes a beautiful garnish.

Just below that is another fall with two small pools in the shape of an hourglass. The second pool flares at the bottom of vertical, even undercut walls, about 60 to 70 feet wide. These two pools are very deep and tight. Difficult entry and exit make this third fall not too user friendly.

Doesn’t seem to be much privacy at Screwauger. Heavy traffic means this place is best visited on weekdays only.

South Branch Falls

Here is a swimming hole best characterized by joints. A rhyolite crag stands almost 40 feet above South Branch Falls. To reach the pool, walk downstream from the ledge and scramble down to the creek. The hole is very narrow and about 70 feet long. It is apt to be a little warmer than similar streams at this latitude because the water originates from the surface of South Branch Pond where it’s been collecting solar energy all day.

On your way to the water you may notice that some of the rock is fractured into generally hexagonal shapes that look like paving stones. They’re columnar joints, a manner of fracturing that happens when extrusive rock like this cools slowly. The phenomenon is more evident at low water levels where a longitudinal view shows the length of the columns.

Back at the top of the crag, a ledge serves as an excellent overview. One misstep, you’d fall and break your neck, it seems. But the ledge slopes away from the water such that you could sit with your feet dangling in the air, and if second hand smoke from the funny cigarettes your friend likes were to make you fall asleep, you would simply flop over backwards. It’s a delightful place to visit and far less traveled than any of the other Baxter State Park swimming holes in this book.

Howe Brook

Howe Brook has three falls marked on the topographic map for Baxter State Park. The uppermost, while attractive, doesn’t pool. The two lower falls are separated by a steep process of cascades and potholes, some of which are themselves worth inspection, if not disrobing.

A few hundred yards from the trail junction (see previous map) is the place to send the kids. It’s a small pool with easy entry and exit. It’s only hip deep, so of little interest to an adult, but a different matter if you’re in fourth grade. Prettiest thing about it is a pair of white pines shading it on the northern bank. Above that is what’s by far the deepest hole on the creek. Twins spouts have helped grind out a nice, deep tub. It has plenty of seating up above. A more scenic place, you couldn’t hope for. This would be the main destination.

Above, a cascade runs in perfect little rivulets with beautiful symmetry and conformation. Water enters the center of a chin-deep pool with truckloads of baseball and softball-sized rocks. Somebody really needs to get in there with a backhoe. Absolutely beautiful spot regardless.

There is a smaller, tighter fall above. It has a 20-foot cascade. At the north side, (trail side) is a vertical wall, 15 feet high with a basin below that may offer some privacy. Be extremely careful of footing. Any wet rock can send you sailing.

South Branch Pond

Reliable sources report that the water is more than 40 feet deep below this tall rock face. I’m not saying that you can huck your carcass 60 feet or so from the top. I’m not even saying you should jump from the intermediate ledges at 10, 15 and 20 feet. All I’m reporting is that were you to attempt any of these things, the reliable source assures that you would not be the first.

This chunk of rock is uncommon in that it seems difficult to find tall rock adjoining deep water in this part of the country. South Branch Pond is even more notable because it’s remote compared to, for example, Frye’s Leap on Sebago Lake. But it’s not an epic trip that’ll take all weekend to reach. Great choice if you want to discover a less visited part of Baxter State Park.

Follow directions on the map opposite. Tie your boat to a snag on the southern end of the outcrop right below the lower ledges. The rock is really solid. Not lots of seating because it’s all pretty steep. Use caution scrambling above the lower ledges. There are lots of pebbles from the decomposing rock that can be like walking on ball bearings. There are few hand holds, making it difficult to climb back down. Injuries frequently occur this way.

Ledge Fall

It’s the broadest slide I ever saw, right by the road and at a low pitch so you don’t have to worry about the little dippers tipping over and washing downstream. It’s got a couple of small pools and shallow drops that are on a perfect scale for the little ones. The granite is so well polished by the Nesowadnehunk Stream that any wet surface, though not dangerous, is very slick. I watched a novice fly fisherman do a slow-motion slide into the top pool. Once his boots broke traction, he and about $3,500 dollars of Orvis gear slipped at a rate of one foot per second into the deep end. The entire process took long enough for me to say three times, “I wish I had a video camera.”

There are actually several reasons I’d tend not to review this place. It’s directly on the road. The “fall” is really just a low cascade, and the pools really aren’t deep enough for adults to fully immerse. But there’s something compelling about the wide shoulders of granite on both sides of a sun-drenched river.

Recreation in Baxter State Park is heavily managed to reduce impact. You may need reservations simply to get in. The day fee is $8 for out-of-state vehicles. Vehicles with Maine registration enter free of charge. Note that the roads are few and narrow. No vehicles over 22 feet long are permitted.

Niagara Falls

The two most dramatic water features in Baxter State Park. (That’s Little Niagara above. Big Niagara is pictured full page at the front of the chapter.) A large granite outcrop with a narrow notch sends Nesowadnehunk Stream tumbling 22 vertical feet into a broad basin. Downstream a log has washed up against a cedar. You sit on it under low, dense conifer shade with 20 feet of sand beach in front of you, while the pink Katahdin granite and the dark green Nesowadnehunk slash across your frame of view. If your tired feet are working their way up the Appalachian Trail, or if you got a book of poetry for your birthday, Little Niagara has what is positively the best place to relax and reflect.

The main show is downstream at Big Niagara. It’s a two-tier fall, broad at the top, then compressed to half width at midpoint before the water spills into a very large hole interspersed with islands of water worn, granite blocks. The largest island is high enough that it has trees growing there. At the water level pictured above, it was possible to boulder hop to the island and use it as a base camp for an afternoon of river fun.

The main hole is really spectacular. Sixty to 70 feet long. Water is faster and you have to be paddling if you are in it. Little chance of being pulled downstream and getting smashed, but it’s not a lazy bobbing pool. Best seating on the west on almost a half an acre of slabs. In sum, a classic.

Knapp Creek

A couple of easy access spots on a tributary to the Greenbrier River. Very local. Generations of Pocahantas County residents have come here to refresh themselves. The better pool is called Elick. Here you’ll find a couple of medium sized boulders opposite one another. The one on the far side is about six feet off the water. Historically it had a diving board bolted on top via a set of automobile leaf springs.

Together with a low band of adjoining stone, the rock forces a bend in the river that’s probably 45 feet long and 15 feet across. Litter hardly seemed a problem and given the proximity to the road. That suggests somebody picks it up regularly.

Five miles downstream is another place called Kramer. It’s got a riffle at the top and a riffle at the bottom. In between is at least 100 feet of water that in places is chin deep on the average NBA player. None of the stream morphology indicates there would be anything of interest here. It occurs at a flat place in the river with an undistinguished bank, just mud and rocks. Water quality is fair; some foam on the top and turbidity limits visibility to around four feet. That’ll vary with temperature, season and even weather. Litter at the trailhead includes chewing tobacco pouches and fishing lures.

Gunpowder Bend

This part of Anthony Creek is lined with cobble and boulders. The result is not a bodacious swimming hole. There’s no waterfall, no pool with sinuous lines, nothing to jump from. It is a place far enough from the trailhead to filter out most bozos. A place with a good mix of sun and shade, a pool deep enough that you have to tread water, some good spots to camp and a picnic table. If Gunpowder Bend were food, it would be a burger with fries. Which is to say simple and satisfying.

From Blue Hole, ford to the east bank, walk 200 yards or so to a trail fork. Trail 615 goes to the right, you stay left on Trail 618. It takes you parallel to the creek, but high enough that you will be out of sight, and almost beyond hearing of the water. After 500 yards you reach another fork with an unused road to the right and a trail descending left. Descend, crossing a small stream and continue to creek level.

Note that 200 yards upstream from the highway saddle is a long slow pool. It’s worth mentioning, but not quite worth a separate review. It’s best located by finding a huge hemlock more than 36 inches in diameter. Another 400 yards after that the creek becomes accessible from the road.

Blue Hole on Anthony Creek

With its Parkhead member and Foreknob formation, conglomeratic interbeds never looked so sexy. We are of course talking about a geologic formation, one of the upper Devonian era, that butts up against some earlier rocks to produce a couple of swimming holes on Anthony Creek. These different geologic structures along the Allegheny Front influence Anthony Creek even more than most watersheds in the eastern part of the state.

In this case, a knife-edge ridge of gray sandstone from the Mississipian era forces Anthony Creek into a hard turn and over a finger of softer Hampshire formation about .75 miles upstream. (See following page) Near Blue Hole, the creek reaches the southern extent of a narrow, north-south expression of this Hampshire formation that starts way up in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. The creek rounds the end of the ridge and bounces off the north flank of Greenbrier Mountain shortly before entering the river of the same name.

The swimming hole is a slow, lazy channel 150 feet long and, depending on water level, 15 to 25 feet wide. There’s no impound at the bottom, so depth won’t be great. There is a small outcrop of bedrock across from a sand, mud and gravel beach. Water quality is cloudy.

The place is fairly well known and at about .75 miles from the parking area, it’s not beyond beer cooler distance.

Anvil Rock

Roadside cliff diving. Anvil Rock is a big hunk of limestone about the size of one of those double box cars rolling down the rail line on the opposite shore of the Greenbrier River. It’s taller — as high 19 feet and it’s pointed into the deep, main channel of the river. Most natives of Alderson, a picturesque railroad town downstream, can remember the first time they jumped off of the rock.

“The first time I went I must have been 12,” said Jack Still, a municipal judge. “The first of May every year, we’d skip school and go swimming. We didn’t give a damn if there was snow on the ground, we went. And no swimming suits were involved.”

Time has passed. State Route 63 is paved and Jack Still is old enough that he’s retired from not one, but two careers. Attitudes about skinny dipping have changed also. Asked about contemporary standards, the city judge pauses and says, “All I ask is that if people are going to skinny dip that they do it outside the city limits.”

Anvil Rock a regular party spot. It was clean when I visited, only one case of empties sitting on the shoulder. Water quality is marginal as you might expect on the main stem of a major river. There’s just a whole lot of everything upstream.

Wonder Fall

A magnificent cauldron close 70 feet across and twice as long. It’s by the grace of the Pottsville group, sandstone mixed with thin beds of shale. When the Big Sandy Creek broke through the sandstone into the softer shale below, it eroded the underlying rock, which in turn caused the sandstone to collapse. In the not-too-distant geologic past sandstone ledges may have surrounded this hole by as much as 270 degrees. It must have been absolutely gorgeous. Now it’s simply gorgeous.

The fall is around 18 feet high and a popular drop for paddlers in winter. During lower summer flows it’s suitable for swimming. The above photo was taken at 3.8 feet on the Rockville gauge just upstream. Depth in the hole was hard to judge because water was dark and a little cloudy. Entry and exit is a problem. On the river right you need to do some climbing to get from the trail down to the water below the falls. Long legs are helpful. Better yet, hope that a ladder is placed to the left of the fall as it sometimes is.

No lounging below the fall, but huge amounts of solid, flat creek bed stretch 400 yards up from the fall. It’s almost flat enough to drive upstream…and there are plenty who would like to. ATVs have hogged out the trail to such an extent that it was a muddy mucking fess when I visited during relative drought. Much of the area surrounding the fall is degraded and that the rating of an otherwise classic swimming hole.

Blue Hole

It’s law in West Virginia. A student at UWV in Morgantown may not earn a degree without spending at least one afternoon at Blue Hole. This portion of Big Sandy Creek has what must be the second best naturally occurring sand beach West Virginia. It’s 800 square feet that slopes down into a big streak of deep water running right down the middle of a fat, fat hole. You could land a float plane in it.
It all happens where the creek hits a hunk of solid rock and doglegs to the right. The result is a hole about 80 yards long with a steep crescent-shaped beach on the inside turn. The rock faces generally east and measures about 100 feet long. It steps down in ledges to submerged shelves for about 35 linear feet to a dropoff. The middle portion is the jumping rock and is about 15 feet high. Most of the rest of the rock face suffers from submerged ledges that inhibit jumping unless you have bungees for quadriceps and can get the 20 feet of clearance required.

The swimming hole was clean when I saw it. Minor graffiti, but no trash. That’s not always the case. The spur trail is plenty steep, but at about 50 yards, not nearly long enough to discourage the bozos and yahoos who, drink cheap beer and litter. Apart from the map on the opposite page, about the best way to find Blue Hole is to look for empties, mainly trash brands. If you find a case of Busch Lite empties, you’re there.

Meadow Run

About 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh, Meadow Run is among the top five waterslides east of the Mississippi River. Depending on water level you can ride 100 feet and more. Just before its confluence with the Youghiogheny River at the town of Ohiopyle, Meadow Run carries visitors through a corkscrew flume of rock before delivering them – grinning broadly – into a modest pool below. Pamela Hall, an Ohiopyle native, says that during high water you can do the entire length of the slide.

“We spent hours there during the summer. We wore out more shorts; we’d have to take two pairs. And when we got home our mother used to bless us for ruining another pair.” Hall recommends cutoffs. No bathing suits, no Speedos.

The Youghiogheny below Ohiopyle is one of the most popular white water destinations in the Northeast. When you get tired of the slide you can watch the paddlers or explore the river by foot, or bike along a converted railroad right of way.

Note: You will immediately identify yourself as an outsider if you try to pronounce the entire name of the Youghiogheny River. Paddlers and locals simply call it “The Yawk.”

Stony Fork

Totally impressive. At Big Falls water hits some very finely bedded, wafer-thin rock. It gouges out a short trough 20 feet long then drops into a pool that flares into a tasty container 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. A long, razor-straight, concrete-smooth slab of rock forms the entire eastern boundary of the pool. The action is on the far side, the western side. Really good jumping about the size of a horseshoe pit. Above that is a hemlock parkland with lots of picnicking. The lounging slabs are heavily shaded, but pool is open to the sky and there are fine views south, out of the canyon.

The water is the color of a wet chalk board. Depth was difficult to guess because the water is cloudy, but it does have two of the best engineered rope swings I’ve seen. There’s a cable between two trees more than 30 feet above the water with a couple of lines hanging from it.

Upstream is Little Fall. The best hole is directly below the fall. Very good rock on the near side where there’s an intact block that’s nice and smooth on top about 12 feet off the surface of the water. I doubt it’s jumpable. It doesn’t seem the water gets much more than seven feet deep.

The place was extremely well picked up, but obviously heavily used. Water quality is suspect and some brown algae and seeps make footing slippery.

Rattlesnake Rock

Rattlesnake Rock is a large parking area at the southern end of the West Rim Trail. The trail is a well marked and maintained trail running 30-miles on a plateau high above Pine Creek through the portion known as Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. The trail generally lies 800 feet above the wooded gorge and has been called the best trail in the state.

Even if you’re not big into hiking, Rattlesnake is a good place to enjoy the outdoors. It’s is right along State Route 414. Plus, there are flushing toilets!

From Lock Haven. PA take US 220 east to SR 44. Turn north for for 10.25 mi along Pine Creek to SR 414. Continue north along Pine Creek on SR 414 for 22.75 mi.es to the well marked parking area for Rattlesnake Rock.

Mine Hole Run

Mine Hole Run drains part of the plateau above Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. It’s a very small watershed, barely 10 square miles, with a steep gradient that drops more than 1,000 feet in just over 4.5 miles. At the very bottom of the run, water takes several leaps through a narrow cascades and bounces against a tall wall that helps form a modest swimming place. The wall is close to 30 feet high, considerably taller than the pool is wide. Any jumps? Not without your kneecaps becoming lodged in your larynx.

Despite the verticality, the pool is barely six feet deep. The rock structure isn’t so great. There is virtually no impound at the bottom and the rock is so brittle that there’s just an awful lot of freestone. The way it works out is that the velocity of the water shoves a few truck loads of cobble into the downstream end, making it deeper than a wading pool, but not deep enough to call a hole. Man, if you could just get in there with a backhoe.

The horizontal isn’t that great, either. Just a couple of rocks to squat on. The main charm is the location, tucked just around the corner from a frequently traveled two-lane road. You dodge off on this side road and discover the dramatic rock. It’s a nice surprise.

Black Run

Black Run travels due south and runs across about 120 yards of exposed rock. The stone causes several small cascades before concluding in a four foot drop that creates the swimming hole about 40 feet long and half as wide. It’s bounded on the cascades west by a good ledge several feet above a small sweet spot that will be around seven feet deep. Take a deep breath when you jump in. Water is so cold in late September that the brook trout were wearing sweaters.

Getting to the hole is not physically difficult, but it is confusing. Access is though state game lands where the path is mowed in a crazy quilt pattern that provides and optimum combination of forage and protection for wildlife and maximum confusion for hikers. Once down at creek, follow a fisherman’s trail south from the fire ring. Mild bushwhacking required.

I found some depressing litter at the fire ring, a case of Heineken. Typically it’s bargain brands littering the outdoors. People with enough taste to drink good beer, generally have the sense to carry out the empties and not leave them around the campfire. On that topic, it should be pointed out that fires are illegal on game lands in Pennsylvania. So is swimming, though for a time it was legal to “bob and wade.” The distinction seems even more silly than the law itself. Several states prohibit swimming to limit their liability, but it’s rarely enforced.

Upper Rock Run

The upper fall on Rock Creek comprises three features that add up to one classic swimming hole. At the top, a cascade about seven feet high comes through a single notch in a tiny gorge. Differential weathering has undercut the rock by several feet and produced a triangular hole about 20 feet wide and 35 feet from top to bottom. It’s a small watershed, just over 20 square miles, but it produces enough runoff that the water’s velocity keeps the ample freestone piled up at the bottom of the pool, leaving the center deep and clear.

Below, Rock Run exits over finely bedded rock whose successive layers have the look of corduroy. Water rolls some 55 feet, narrowing into a chute two feet wide before dropping into a pothole. From there it continues another 10 feet to a shallow basin that marks the end of the run.

Just a little more than one-half mile downstream is the second fall. It’s directly behind one of the several private cabins within the Tiadaghton State Forest. It may seem like you’re recreating on private property, but you do have legal right to pass. Problem is that second fall isn’t really worth the effort. It’s really just a low-pitch cascade with a basin at the bottom that is little more than six feet deep. Lots of sun, though.

Lower Rock Run

First Fall is an improbably long and impossibly deep hole that had an added feature — several speckled trout, one of them was big enough to saddle and ride like a pony. I could not believe there are such big fish in a place so regularly visited. Every ten minutes or so another one of them would take a run at the fall before flopping back into the tank below.

A magnificent rock shelf lines most of the pool’s 80 foot length, giving you a six foot step off into some astonishing water with a tremendous emerald color. It’s a minimum eight feet deep at the bottom of the fall, but gets really deep below, where water has scooped something that’s scuba deep. The only drawback is that once you jump in from the ledge above, you have to swim around to the bottom and walk a short distance back to the top.

Entry and exit is less of a problem one mile downstream where a low, flat ledge forms a teenage makeout spot called Lover’s Rock. There’s no sign saying as much, so I had to ask around to learn the name. I stopped at the bank and described the place to a couple of tellers. Both women said they knew the place, but to make sure we were talking about the same spot, they began describing how to get there. Confusion ensued and as we were trying to sort it out, another employee stepped in.

“They’re just a little mixed up,” he said. “Whenever they went it was dark.”

Abrams Fall

You can’t find a bigger piece of water without a TVA dam at the bottom of it.

The pool is 200-feet long and at least 80-feet wide. At the top of it is a fall 20-feet high. Not quite a plunge, more like a horsetail in two spouts. The fall and pool point directly north. Lots of sky, so the sun makes it enjoyable well into the afternoon. Seating is on the far side, or eastern bank. Nothing on the west except a low vertical bank with rhodo. The impound occurs by the grace of some slabs broken off and fallen into the bottom. It creates a hole that’s overhead deep just 10 yards from shore. The rock is bedded vertically against the flow of the Abrams Creek and that has lots to do with the formation.

Up at the top a big ponderosa was lodged in the river. Looks like it might be a fabulous diving board, but submerged ledges and dark water make it difficult to judge a safe landing.

Would be classic, ‘cept for the amount of people. The one hour hike doesn’t discourage many people. Of the three dozen people I counted one day, a few were little old ladies with hairdos. Also note that the park is incredibly crowded as evidenced by the drive to the trailhead at the top of Cades Cove Loop. It took an hour to drive seven miles as car after car stopped to photograph a deer.

Hazel Creek

Simply the biggest slice of Hazel Creek you can find. The main attraction is large enough to meet Olympic regulations. The creek passes over a low ledge into a pool that is 200-feet long, much of it overhead deep or better. It’s called Brown Hole since the brown trout spawn here in November. The hole faces south. The principal rock is eight feet above the surface, but submerged rocks make it unjumpable. Several low walls trailside add depth. You might be able to do a dive off of those. Even though the rest of the hole is not as deep, hydro has hogged it out well.

The wet description at Brown Hole rates as classic, but the dry details are lacking. There’s no beach, No massive slab of rock. On river right the principal rock has several places to sit and sun. Much of the rest of the seating is dispersed.

If you want to escape the sun, there’s a small place downstream. It faces due north and it’s hard to get sun on the spot. The hottest day of the year is ideal. It’s a process of falls comprising three short chutes, about four-feet high. That makes it hard to explain why the water is seven to nine-feet deep and the sweet spot occupies two thirds of the pool’s 30-foot diameter. Nothing to jump from, just a nice, happy place to get in some wilderness water.

The boat ride reduces the visits from people who come to the park prepared only for hiking. However, it may attract the powerboat crowd and they might arrive drunk, stupid, or both.