Category Archives: Swimming Holes

Rapid Transit

One deep son of a beach. The shallow end is about 10 feet to the bottom. A steep series of rapids enters a hole shaped like an equilateral triangle. Beautiful dimension, and at the end of the pool is a boulder that’s the size of a 3-axle truck turned on its side. The resulting hydraulic scoops out a huge bunch of river bed. Live rock lines the river left, or near side. Some broken, less continuous rock forms the river right. The fall faces 140 degrees, so it gets good morning and afternoon light. Big open sky for lots of summer sun. A jumping rock is in the foreground of the photo.

It’s almost a classic swimming hole, except there’s lots of settlement upstream and the source is dam release. A light coat of silt covers submerged rocks. The spur trail is steep and muddy. Three points of contact means digging in both heels while you’re sliding on your butt. You’ll be grabbing at lots of laurel trunks to keep from falling, and if you don’t go down at least once, you’re probably on the wrong trail.

When water is being discharged, it’s popular with kayakers. Ledges appear undercut which can be a safety problem and there’s a big sieve downstream, so use caution if water is moving.

Fish Top Falls

The boating access at the Green River acts as a bozo filter for Fish Top Falls. Gobs of people choke the beach at the boat access — beer coolers, boom boxes and all the rest. The good news is that the dumb fun downstream prevents the less distinguished bathers from cluttering the really good spot upstream at Fish Top.

A few minutes up from the boat access is a sweet place where the water goes all the way to the bottom. A nice wall of live rock on river left has, for the past couple of hundred years, been kicking off large boulders. Some form a line across the river and produce the modest fall, but one huge boulder, the size of a cabin, rolled into the river downstream from the fall. It forces the river back on itself hard enough to cut out a nice hole with a deep channel running out the bottom – right where the jumping rock is. Not much vertical, though. Eight feet maybe, depending on water levels.

And water levels can vary, especially on the hottest days of summer when Duke Power releases water from a private upstream dam to generate peak power for air conditioning. Call 828-698-2068 before making the trip
Bonus feature: again depending on water levels there may be a twoperson island of sand at the top of the hole.

Big Laurel Narrows

Big Laurel cuts a steep, rugged gorge out of Madison County, NC. It’s more than 1,200 feet deep and the portion called The Narrows is the most dramatic part of the gorge. A low wall of bedrock forces the creek left and accelerates the water enough to gouge out a really deep channel that’s about 200 feet long overall. A boulder garden at the lower end limits the fat spot to something like 80 to 100 feet.

And above that hangs an epic rope swing. It’s fastened 40 feet up. There’s a lower swing, also. It’s a big deal for a youngster when they work up enough courage to go off the big swing. The water is plenty deep during all but the lowest conditions. The danger is that, with such a long pendulum, riders must be careful not to drop on the opposing rocks. Remind the kids that they have to release early.

As befits a high activity spot like this, there’s almost no place to sit. About the only horizontal area creekside is where the drystone wall for the rail bed has collapsed leaving a few quarried stones flat enough to perch on. So it loses points for usability. Lots of visitors, also.

Suddy Hole

Big Laurel Creek bumps its way to the French Broad River and scoops out a series of pools just right for a family trip. At the top is a basin scaled for the little dippers. About one-half mile farther down is a good looking pool with a nice sand beach and two-thirds of a mile farther on is a steep, deep place with a famous rope swing that’ll make kids over 12 go nuts…but that’s on the following page.

Paddlers call the middle spot Suddy Hole. It’s a head-high drop, below which is a hydraulic that boaters consider dangerous at higher levels. Best safety rule is that, if you see lots of foam in the water, from which the feature likely gets its name, then stay out. Another good measure of safety is look for a small beach downstream. It’s a crescent of sand at the top of a quiet pool, one of the few streamside places on Big Laurel where you can stretch out.

The creek drains 130 square miles and residents may not be too discriminating about what they toss into the creek. I found more than a couple of auto parts that’d floated downstream and a week earlier a local environmental group had collected more than one dozen bags of trash in the three miles between the highway and the confluence with the French Broad. Nevertheless, it’s a venerable summer gathering place and none of the locals I spoke to expressed concern about the healthfulness of the water.

The walk in is mild, most of it along an old rail grade that closely parallels the creek.

Raven Cliff

Low fall. Tall wall. Deep pool. The wall on river right shows the bed has been uplifted and tilted at a high angle against the flow of the creek. Over time the water has excavated the softer rock, leaving a hole 10 feet deep or better. This turns an average sized swimming hole on an undistinguished series of falls into something special. Good seating and many trees produce a dense canopy of shade that adds up to a good place to visit on too-hot day.
A devil to find, and the trail down is steep. If you don’t wrinkle your lip, then you’re not at the right one. The gully will likely be the best descent, but it’s burly. In fact, the trail that travels up the canyon from the end of the road is itself primitive. Shortly after it begins, you walk past an easily identifiable rock ledge. You’ll see a descent at just under one-half mile; don’t take it. Rather, continue another 700 feet and look for a tough descent to the river.

Also, on the way up, about 500 feet from the trailhead, check out a little pool. A fall less than five feet high lands on a couple of table-sized rocks angled against the flow of the creek. A collar of rock wraps from the fall along one side of the pool, almost to the discharge. This, together with some small boulders at the discharge and a dump truck-sized boulder on river left, helps produce a nice kidney shaped pool.
Don’t confuse this – Raven Cliff Gorge – with Raven Cliff Falls in Caesars Head State Park.

Lower Upper Creek

Best hole on this part of Upper Creek. A perfectly smooth thumb of rock intrudes into the middle of pool. It curves about eight feet and 80 degrees, forcing the water into a short cascade that feeds a deep pool, 20 feet wide and eight feet long. Lots of bedrock slopes in from river right, and extends all of the way into the river bottom. On the river left is a rock about the size of a dump truck that you could jump from, but it’s heavily vegetated.

The amount of rhodo and the angles make usability a little difficult. There are a few tricky steps going down, but nothing major. Not much stuff to lounge on. Best way in is to come up from the bottom and swim in. Water here is moving. Anything less than low levels will push a swimmer out. Levels of about 20 cubic feet per second or lower are good. Plan on bringing river shoes, rather than barefooting it.

Upper Creek certainly gets used. But litter was light when reviewed.

Steels Creek

Put a kid here, pull the cord, and watch them go ape. Steel Creek has a rope swing perfectly scaled for school kids. It’s not tall enough to scare them – or their parents – yet, at 10 feet, it has enough pendulum to keep them occupied for hours.

The river has a cascade six to seven feet high that empties into a small pool that’s 20 feet wide and very square. Lots of freestone in the creek that would normally inhibit depth, but below the cascade, about one dozen boulders trap water and make the creek seven to eight feet deep in the tiny sweet spot under the rope swing. It’s easy in and easy out. When you’re tired you can get comfortable on the rock between the cascades, maybe do a couple of five foot dives from the fall face.

It’s a small watershed, less than seven square miles. So it can dry up earlier, but the water will be a bit warmer since the highest elevation is below 3,000 feet. Usership is not too heavy. The trailhead is primarily for equestrians, but the horse trail doesn’t seem to travel this far up the creek. Still, plan on seeing maybe six other people there on a summer day. Best visited at midday.

North Harper Creek

So pretty you have to sit down to look at. North Harper Creek has a process of falls that is stunning and a pair of swimming holes that are Yosemite-class. At the bottom, the main pool is close to 200 feet wide and perhaps twice as deep. Observed one local: “You could drive a tractor trailer into either of them holes, and never see it again.”
At the upper fall water leaps over sheer granite into a hole deep enough to arrest the momentum of a satellite falling out of orbit. Unfortunately, there appears few places any but expert plungemeister or madman would leap from. Sheer rock affords little footing for a clean leap and access is from sketchy ropes.

The main hole below is more user friendly. It’s formed by a enormous collar of bare rock, angled at about 40 degrees. There’s almost enough room to accommodate the student body of Appalachain State University, the principal users, but its a steep angle for lounging. Put sticky rubber on your feet.

The main hole is reachable from the hiking trail. To reach the upper hole, best return to the trail and continue upstream to a couple of fixed ropes that ease the descent down a steep spur trail.

Plenty of ways to break your neck here. Use sense, stay within your abilities, or be prepared to ride back to the trailhead on a stretcher.

Hunt Fish Falls

Rock so smooth and beautiful, you’ll want to lick it. The main fall spills Lost Cove Creek into a basin, turns 90 degrees and spills once more into a wide angle of water with a sand bottom below and the Carolina sky above. The pool is funnel shaped, facing northeast and around 70 feet long. The right bank is a perfect collar of bedrock that stretches beyond the pool. All sorts of little pockets and buckets to sit down on and relax. Close to a classic swimming hole, but lacks the depth and height, plus privacy is only moderate during the season.

The main hole is not profound, but suitable for a low-altitude cannon ball right under the fall. Beware of a submerged ledge on river right, just under the launch. Entry and exit is a bit complicated at this part of the hole, ‘cause the rock, though less than six feet high, is steep. Look for a crack toward the bottom that you can use to regain the ledge. Best wear sport sandals with sticky rubber. Alternately, scramble around from river left and climb over a tributary creek, down the woods 10 or 15 yards past a fire ring, and look for red trail tape leading you around to the bottom where the entry and exit is less complicated.

Oh, one note on the licking bit. Geologists frequently moisten a rock sample so the crystals show up better in the hand lens. So go ahead. Lick the rock.

Babel Tower

Major real estate. There’s enough horizontal area to get the whole scout troop in here. Heck, you could host the entire jamboree. A 12-foot fall is surrounded with huge rock slabs. There is a wonderful sense of enclosure, almost 180 degrees of tall rock. The eastern wall reaches 100 feet into the sky. Lots of the rock in Linville Gorge is on the same plane as the river, much of it thinly bedded and stacked together like the flaky dough of a good croissant. Larger, blocky fractures produce at least a dozen different slab levels that step down into the water like it was quarried that way. Nice and smooth. You don’t need a blanket. Probably don’t even need clothes.

The fall empties into a chute about 15 feet long, rolling, boiling, churning. Think of the letter P. The chute is the stem of the letter and the hole is the body. Water quality appears excellent. It looks like there are a couple of jumps. There’s a modest one on the right, about 10 feet high, that you can walk right down to. It seems there’s a much higher jump on the left, about 20 feet, but you have to cross deep, fast moving water just above the fall. Potentially dangerous.

Plenty of people visit, the 1,000 vertical feet of hiking not withstanding. I saw remnants of at least five campfires on the rock adjoining the river. And if you’re going to make a fire in the wilderness, that is the most responsible place to put it.

Wilson Creek Gorge

Would-be classics. Best is the uppermost where a lovely semi-circular fall roars into a plunge pool, then into a deep wide crescent of water. On either side are opposing rock slopes that are as smooth as poured concrete and angled at the perfect dip for an inclined body. The middle hole is 70 feet wide at the hem with long, sloping slabs that join the pool. Nothing steep to jump from, but the real trouble is that the river is so close to the road. Wilson Creek Gorge gets lots of visitors. Lots.

Alan Philyaw of Lenore recalled one April trip to Wilson Gorge: “Me and a friend laid out of school and went down there with a couple of girls. I was the only one with shorts for swimming, but one dare led to another and all four of us were skinny dipping when the deputy came up on us. He gave us a good talking to and told our parents, but he didn’t take us back to school.“ Why?Philyaw smiled. “One of the girls was the principal’s daughter.”

Follow directions on the road map to State Route 181 in Morgantown. Drive north on SR 181 for 11.2 mi to Brown Mountain Beach Rd. Turn right 5.1 mi to SR 1328 and Wilson Creek. Turn left up the creek and, after less than 2 mi, you’ll see a series of holes over the one-mile length of Wilson Creek Gorge.

Twisting Falls

A conspiracy of stone and water. A wide curtain rolls into an epic pool that’s deeper than some marriages. Opposite the fall face there is (depending on water level) a slab smoothed into a long sunning lounge that’s gently sloped toward the fall face and a broad southern sky. Looking upstream, a tall headwall on the left terminates in a pulpit of rock that invites you to whisper a prayer before you leap 20 feet into the dark water of the Elk River. Spindrift pours off Twisting Fall to the left and over a rock buttress in a chill curtain that creates a tiny patch of lush grasses and flowers 15 feet above the level of the hole. It makes the footing wet as you work your way up to the jumping rock on the left, but the stone is surprisingly grippy.

If you’re bathing ambition is more subdued, water on the downstream side of the sunning slab fills a flat, quiet pool that reaches 50 feet across the riverbed and possesses a magnificent solid stone bottom which, when I visited, was absolutely clear of trash rock and cobble clutter.

It’s an unmaintained trail that’s very steep and loose. Lugged soles are a good idea. Heavy smokers or people more than 30 percent overweight should avoid this. At the bottom of the trail is a tree trunk with two decades worth of initials carved in it. Note its location, otherwise it can be difficult to find the trail back up. Too many people on a weekend, but still a classic swimming hole.

Laurel Falls

A leftover piece of geology from Black Mountain shoves Laurel Fork left, then right, then drops it into a pool, a beautifully oval pool measuring 55 feet on the major axis and 30 feet on the minor axis. It isn’t as deep as it might otherwise be since a wall on the river left is jagged and creates rock fall that produces much of the boulder clutter in the bottom of the pool.

The beach will average less than 1,000 square feet. Not lots of comfy seating, maybe one dozen rocks large enough and flat enough to sit on comfortably, but no place really to enjoy an entire afternoon reclining. The fall faces southeast and the canyon has lots of open sky, most notably toward a dramatic spire of rock named Potato Top which rises a couple of hundred feet above the creek. It gives the sense of being in a much deeper, more remote canyon.

This place gets visited. It’s right by the Appalachian Trail. It’s only a good swimming hole. No jumps and seating is limited. But it has a good sense of enclosure and nice rock surrounding. It’s a worthy side trip if you’re hiking the AT.

Turtleback Fall

Best waterslide featured in this book. Too many are smack on the road and full of people; Turtleback requires some knee muscle to reach.

The ledge is 65 feet wide and just under 20 feet tall. Opposite the fall, the largest boulder has a nice, straight face. Probably jumpable, but marginal water quality with poor visibility means submerged obstacles have to be scouted with a mask or goggles. There’s seating for 15 or 20 on a big slab downstream. Ropes lead to the top of the slide and some arm strength is required to make the short, high-angle assent. Use caution making the traverse to get into position for the slide. Preferred swimwear is denim shorts, although Kate Sperber said her Bridget Jones underwear from Banana Republic was entirely adequate.

“The rock was so smooth I didn’t feel anything but water under me.” Sperber, a waitress from Florida was celebrating her 40th birthday on the Horsepasture River. She took warm memories with her, but left behind some expensive bridge work. “I was laughing so hard my tooth popped out.”

Forty yards below Turtleback is Rainbow Fall, a raging spray of angry water. A short distance above Turtleback is Drift Fall, a formerly popular swimming hole that’s posted as private.

Mills River, High Fall

Nothing not to like. The hole is 45 to 50 feet wide, fed by a fall that’s more than 12 feet in height. Water quality was excellent and standing on the entry ledge, I could almost see the bottom at seven to nine feet. Gorgeous to look at. It’s on a fairly well used trail, great woodland setting. Not much sky, but the pool is so large and surrounded by forest that’s awfully pretty. Close to classic, but lacks anything to jump from.

Rock on the South Fork Mills River is bedded at a low angle, pointed downstream. That probably accounts for the many tubs along the river, as rock makes a smooth ramp for the high water to push cobble out of the low end. The rock, when it does fracture breaks into tablets that make great sunning platforms facing upstream to the fall. Even though it doesn’t break easily, the rock has many edges and corners that make the water lively to the point that, if you poured a teacup over High Falls, it’d look like a torrent. It’s south facing, and a good thing, too. High Falls has such a dense canopy, that if it collected any less thermal energy, dipping would be uncomfortable during anything other than record heat.

It’s on a historically well used, if slightly overgrown, trail. The only tricky part is a wet ford at a huge hemlock tree. Angle slightly downstream to the right bank to find the trail, and continue a couple of hundred yards to the fall.

Otter Hole

A small clearing on the trail points to a huge hole in the South Fork of the Mills River. Best on a day when the sky is a Carolina blue, so you can enjoy the big overhead. The trail follows the river closely to the clearing, where a short spur leads to a pool wider than an over-the-road truck. It’s got plenty of life, fish jumping and some otters that make a good living on the heavily used tent area immediately adjacent. However, the pool is flat, with few surrounding rocks of interest. Some modest geology at the top causes a cascade and some at the inside elbow keep the water from eroding the camping platform. Plan on it to be around six feet deep. Very limited sunning space next to the water. Also, water quality is somewhat dark, originating as it does in the Pink Beds, an upland bog.

Don’t be fooled by a pool just one-quarter mile in. There you’ll find a large, triangular rock forcing a bend in the river. Walk past the first campground to the second major spur trail, the pool is almost visible from the trail. Neither should you be suckered by a significant fall five minutes below with a deep hole, but steep, heavily vegetated sides and a poor usability index.

Note: The South Fork of the Mills River Trail is open to hiker’s cyclists and equestrians.

Davidson River

It’s a hole greater than the sum of its parts. The cascade above is pleasant to look at. The rock forming it is smooth and attractive. The water filling it is clean, clear wilderness runoff. The trees surrounding it are nicely spaced and there is a convenient plot of land slightly above to behold it all. In combination, the result is almost startling.

An oval incised into the Davidson River, it’s about 45 feet long and 12 feet wide at the waterline, even wider below water where ledges are undercut by as much as six feet! Depth is nine feet with excellent visibility. Loads of rock on river left for relaxing. The river faces east — not desirable — but the orientation gives it a really enchanting dappled light. The rock is highly banded and folded by metamorphosis. Quite pretty.

The gloriously smooth rock would make a killer waterslide but for the deadfall landed in the stream. Also, those undercuts will produce dangerous hydraulics if the water is moving fast. It’s along a popular trail that can have as many as 32 cars at the trailhead. The good news is that many will be on a trail the travel above the fall.

Whaleback

A beautiful piece of bedrock 50 or 60 linear feet, wraps in a semi circle with deep water on both sides. There’s a good impound at the bottom, a long bench of rock that makes this a swimming hole rather than just a cascade. Cove Creek enters on the beach side and the Davidson River slides down on river right. The hole is rectangular, 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, at least the top portion is. The deep water extends beyond the main hole another 40 or 50 feet, doubling its size.

Vertical description is limited to a chunk of rock that gives a ride of three to four feet. Not a jumping spot, more like hop in and cool off. It’s a little difficult getting from the water back to the top. Look for a crack on river right that you can clamber up. Visibility in the water is six feet or better with some evidence of nutrients that will produce light moss and dark algae later in the season as water slows and warms. A camping bench immediately adjacent to the swimming hole is the way most people get back to the top of the cascade. There’s a good chance that, even with water shoes you’ll slip back into the water if you scramble straight up the rock.

Plenty of room to sit, probably 300 to 400 square feet comprising the top of the fall and rock at the bottom. More than enough seating to hold a party, and I’m certain that it does. All the locals know this place and visit often.

Cove Creek

Best tubs in the Pisgah Forest. They’re three magnificent pot holes like you’d expect to find in Vermont or New Hampshire. At the top is a seven foot, almost perfectly round tub. From it a narrow curtain of water accelerates into a cascade, then pools into a perfectly dimensioned oval, eight feet long and four feet wide.

Water continues another 40 linear feet and 15 vertical feet of what’d be a pretty good waterslide, except for a mature hemlock that has fallen smack across the prime portion. It’ll be there a long time unless someone cuts it out. After bumping into the hemlock, water continues 60 feet to a relaxed pool that is nice.

This lower pool has a sweet spot 10 to 12 feet long. On the right is a small piece of continuous rock. It’s about the only place to lie down in this steep little drainage where all of the horizontal space is filled with water. This lower tub is also the sunniest place on the creek. Overall it rates as fair. But the tubs at the top lift Cove Creek’s overall rating to good, even though the second one is — only chin deep. It just needs more scale and volume than a watershed fewer than five square miles can produce.

Note: Use only the spur trails descending from the road. Don’t walk along the trail that parallels the creek. It’s fragile and deceptively dangerous. Even native creatures can get hurt. I saw a spike buck that’d slipped and drowned.

Courthouse Fall

Glorious tank of water in a dramatic setting. Just a big, deep punchbowl wrapped on three sides by vertical rock and garnished with a 40-foot cascade. Rocks piled at the bottom improve the depth, which is at least 10 feet under the fall. The tank is kidney shaped, about 40 feet on the major axis and 20 feet on the minor. It’s heavily shaded with only a small break in the canopy of rhododendron, hemlock, poplar and sycamore. The creek points southwest, so it gets better afternoon light than the vertical walls and heavy canopy would suggest.

Geologically it appears to be a new fall, with little headward erosion in the rock. The main liability is a lack of seating. You will find some flat rocks you can relax on, but there’s room for no more than six or eight people. And you’ll find that many cars at the parking area on a sunny weekend. No safe jumps, but there is an enticing, wedge shaped rock platform adjoining the fall lip. I don’t think you can get the 12 ft. vertical clearance required, but Darwin can be the judge of that.

You have to walk downstream of the fall to find the descending trail. A set of stairs indicates that the falls are heavily visited. It’s basically a beer cooler and bait fishing crowd that makes the short trip. Note: Please stay on the trail and don’t cut switchbacks.

Skinny Dip

On the northern tip of Graveyard Ridge, dark rocks recede into a slot that’s straight as a grave digger’s hole. The East Fork of the Pigeon River creates a short fall that’s the color of marble, while the forest floor and trees absorb sound like the deep carpet and thick drapes of the funeral home.

Yet on a hot day in summer it looks like a honeymoon suite. A footbridge crosses above a bedroom-sized pool like a canopy. Quartz veins in the surrounding rock shine like satin, and the fall at the top is no tombstone, but a bridal veil tossed over the bedpost.

Sad news: There will be people with cameras in your bridal chamber.

It’s a short hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway. And it’s along a designated thru trail. Visitors are tired hikers and day trippers. The footbridge sort of spoils the wilderness aspect. Up here on the parkway, though, the water is absolutely wild, with no settlement that empties junk into the river.

Good place to go if you’re not a frequent outdoor visitor. An ideal trip for swimming hole non-cognoscenti. The seating is good, the entrance and exit is a simple wade-in at the cobble filled hem. Shade is deep and the water cool. Wait for a hot day.

Middle Snowbird

An authentic backcountry destination. The middle fall on Snowbird Creek is 60 feet wide with lots of sky overhead and brite sun all day long. The fault face is 30 feet across and around 12 feet high. It’s visually intriguing, too. The pool is shaped like a teardrop, while the rock cleavages are especially smooth and straight. Most of the rock fall is the size of a major home appliance.

The devil is there’s no place you can take a running leap and land in deep water. All of those washing machine and refrigerator-esque boulders that’ve fallen into the riverbed catch too much cobble and fill. Great place to wade and splash, but it’ll probably only be overhead deep immediately in front of the fall.

Good place to work on your tan, but there’s not lots of room to toss out your blanket. Very user friendly, though. Easy entry and exit, not any hazard like a sieve or hydraulic downstream that’ll kill you if you get swept out. In fact the volume of the pool will absorb so much velocity, that the limiting seasonal factor is temperature rather than water level.

Note: The amount of mountain laurel can be a nuisance.

Lower Slickrock

Not simply bodacious in part, but bodacious throughout. The falls gouge the bottom out of the creek, producing a hole 120 feet long and 50 feet wide. It’s the definition of a wilderness creek. No dam impounds it. No bridge crosses it. No road touches it. It is the crystalline runoff from a place named Naked Ground. Lester Carrington knows this as well as anyone. He’s fished the entirety of Slickrock Creek and he remembers one trip in particular.

“I came up on the hole and there was a couple of women there swimming,” he said. “Swimming naked. They didn’t see me until I did a roll cast and shot a fly right past the ear of one of ‘em.”

Neither the bathers or the fish were moved. Carrington said he threw a couple of casts and moved on up the creek.
An approach note: because the trail is so uneven, consider wearing a long-billed cap. You’ll find lots of exposed roots and rock that’re a real pain in the ankle. This is combined with lots of spider webs on the trees. Since you’ll be looking down at the trail to make the foot placements, you won’t be guarding against a web in the face. The bill of the cap will act like a snow plow catching all the spider webs.

This is almost an advanced trail with potentially injurious falls toward the Little Tennessee River. I’d hate to do this late in the year when it’s covered with leaves.

Wildcat Fall

Of the three short falls on Slickrock Creek, the middle is the better, even if the bottom one is the more popular because it’s more usable. The middle one is difficult to get into and out of. But it’s got a clear bottom, unlittered with freestone, smooth as a mason’s trowel could make it and streaked with quartz veins. The sweet spot is 12 by 20 and 10 feet deep. Stone on the river right is 15 feet tall with plunge potential. Plenty of seating above on smooth stone inclined south, toward the upper cascade.

The lower spot is not as deep, maybe six feet in a narrow sweet spot. It’s a cobble bottom, 35 to 40 feet wide, nice and round with a big northern sky. And there’s a smooth stone shoulder at the bottom of a short spur trail. Nice for relaxing.

The trail down is three miles and 1,500 vertical feet, but it’s well maintained and frequently traveled. North Carolina resident Andy Vandam (pictured leaping) and his friends made the trip twice. “All us came down here yesterday; three of us hiked back up.” For fun? “No, we left the beer in the truck.”

Mule Hole

An underwater canyon. The Shavers Fork of the Cheat River meets a geologic boundary of softer stone where it has undercut the bed rock to such a degree that almost one third of the swimming hole’s total volume is under a stone roof. It’s not at all apparent to an observer unless the water level is extremely low. (Above photo taken with the Bemis gauge at 3 feet.) I visited a couple of times before I figured it out. It seems like you’re standing on a smooth block of rock right at the water’s edge when in fact you’re standing on rim of stone that extends as far as ten feet out over the water.

“You put a mask on and dive down in there and it’s like a cave,” said Rob Mullennex, who’s been visiting Mule Hole for 25 years. “It’s as deep as 13 feet. When the water is lower you can stand up on a ledge behind the fall and count the pebbles in the bottom. That’s how clear the water is.”

It’s a well-loved place that, because of its low relief, is favored for camping. It’s just far enough from the parking area that campers who like luxury need to be industrious about getting their kit and caboodle to the swimming hole. Mullennex and his half dozen friends used a wheelbarrow to transport an estimated 1,200 pounds of gear, food and beverages for their annual campout. An earlier group of college students visiting the Monongahela National Forest reportedly fashioned a dolly to fit the railroad tracks in order to transpor beer kegs just over one mile from Bemis.

High Falls

Fast water meets soft rock with excellent effect here on the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River. It’s four or five times wider than the average width of the river and it has an arc of at least 120 degrees. Very impressive. The cause is likely shale from the New River formation resting under harder sandstone. The river works its way into the softer rock and erodes it faster than the sandstone above — similar to the process at Wonder Fall. With the support of the underlying rock gone, the sandstone collapses.

The fall is eight to ten feet high and the water is deep enough for jumping. There’s virtually no place to sit below the fall on the near side. Just a cobble beach. Plenty of good seating on the opposite shore where the soft rock is so deeply undercut that a roof extends 10 feet over a ledge. Also, when water is low there’s plenty of room to kick back above on the smooth, flat sandstone.

A stair leads down to the river from some train tracks that are maintained for rail excursions. The former Maryland Western and abandoned railroads like it have been taken over by tour operators providing rail junkets throughout the Monongahela National Forest.

Slippy Weasel

A typical boulder hole. Two medium size boulders squeeze Otter Creek together such that it’s about three feet across, but very hydraulic. The pool below is about thirty feet long and half as wide. Depth in the pool was seven to eight feet when the Evenwood gauge was at 47. You’ll find one really good sunning rock opposite the trail and a deeply shaded rock trail side. The sunning rock faces south so you’ll get good rays, but it’s immediately trail side. Not lots of privacy, so better keep your trunks on. Fifty yards above you find a longer, more relaxed pool. It’s got a cascade at the top and lots of rock at the hem. Seating there is lousy.

A little less than one mile up is a ford with a fabulous sand beach. No swimming hole, though. About one hundred yards after the ford start looking left for a descending trail that leads to a nice little fall with a flat bench of land above it.

The trail continues generally south. One mile above is a small, aggressive fall seven to eight feet tall. Very muscular and with lots of rock clutter, but the fan-shaped pool at the bottom may be usable at lower levels. Farther still, at Morris Run, you’ll find a smooth, limestone vastness. Although the main channel is well directed and quite tight, it’s not strong enough to blow out a hole. The deepest it gets is four feet. On the whole, a great place to lie on the rocks and take it easy when you’re visiting the Monongahela National Forest, but that’s all.

Flathead Pool

A good low water, warm weather spot. Typical water temp in this part of the Monongahela National Forest goes from pretty darn cold to really damn cold. The pool is formed by a couple of large boulders in the Otter Creek Wilderness. They pinch Otter Creek together and give the water enough velocity to keep the cobble cleared out. Dimension is roughly 50 feet long, 20 to 30 feet wide and seven feet deep in the middle. The canopy is almost complete with hemlock on the trail side of the creek and beech and maple on the far side that practically grow together over the creek.

Another interesting factor is the wall on the right as you look upstream. A low wall of what’s probably limestone has some really interesting erosion on it, tiny potholes so close together — separated in some places by inches. It looks like the crater pocked surface of the moon.

This hole is barely visible from the trail. You can see a big rock, the corner of which pops up above the level of the trail. The best way to locate the pool is to look for a poplar tree about 20 inches in diameter that has fallen over the trail just high enough for hiker to walk under it.
The gauge at Evenwood was 47 when the above photos were taken.

Dry Fork

It’s the sort of place schoolboys go when they’re skipping class or where good ol’ boys go when they call in sick. You can swim laps on this fork of the Cheat River. It’s a good 75 feet long and 20 feet wide. Out in the middle of the channel the depth is about eight feet. The beach is marginal, an enormous gravel bar on river right containing the crunched up bones of Rich Mountain. It slopes down into the river opposite some low ledges on river left. They contain some decent slabs for sitting on and it looks like you can achieve some simple dives. One spot looks like it’s around eight feet off the water. Lots of open sky and good sun.

It’s a community type swimming hole, mainly just a drive up. It’s not public land, but neither was it posted when I visited. Nevertheless, locals said other owners have closed some swimming holes along the road because they were sick of picking up other people’s trash.

To find it follow the map on the left. Look on the right for a path that leads through a grassy field to the river. Parking is 200 yards farther on in some trees. To check water levels go to our web site for a link to the gauge at Gladwin.

Glady Fork

The Cheat River has more forks than the Queen of England’s silver drawer. The Dry Fork, the Laurel Fork, Shavers Fork, Black Fork…Here is one more, the Glady Fork. Whereas the upper part of the Laurel Fork is wild and remote, the lower part of the Glady Fork is the place to look for solitude, thanks in part to road washouts and trail collapses.

There is a pretty good swimming hole at the first wash. It’s about thirty feet long and six feet deep. There’s a riffle at the top of the pool then the river flares wide and the water slows enough to make this a good spot for moderate levels. The photo above was taken with the gauge at Evenwood measured 68. Velocity was around one foot per second, which is to say manageable for someone who can swim. Check the web site for a link to live gauge levels.

Some hard rock cleaves off nice and flat, making good forms for an afternoon spent listening to water traveling all the way from Pocahontas County at the top of the Monongahela National Forest. Privacy lifts rating from fair to good.

Pringle Run

It’s a big, round hole cored straight into pale yellow rock and dressed with dense, dark green fringe of hemlock and rhododendron. A dandy fall just above the main fork of the Cheat River with 180 degrees of surrounding rock and unbelievable headward erosion that has left it undercut by as much as 10 feet at the lip. That’s almost as deep as the fall is tall. So charmed is this place that even the rock that clutters the pool has the advantage of being nice flat slabs that make for excellent seating. The water color and clarity is superb, but for all the wrong reasons. The starling color is probably due to metals like aluminum that have leached into the stream from the mines above. And part of the rock’s pale yellow tinge is also from the mines.

It’s a really puzzling creek bed at low water, kind of like one of those fun houses where the floor is tilted. Above the fall, water runs 200 linear feet along a creek bed with many, many small tiers less than one foot high. You’d think the water would seek the lowest level. But because the creek bed is tilted a few degrees to the river left, the water sloshes in that direction and exits the fall lip at a point higher than the lowest point of the creek bed.

Visitors are mainly local and the place was generally free of litter when I visited. Several superannuated washing machines and retired refrigerators dumped at the bottom of the road suggest that this might not always be the case.

St. Mary's River

A hiker approaches the fall along a bench of land backed by a crag thirty feet high. Twelve feet above the creek and directly opposite the fall, the ledge ends abruptly, leaving you — a hot, sweaty observer — staring down at a tank of water 10 feet deep. What do you do? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. You jump.

The pool is around twenty feet long and oriented at 90 degrees to the fall face. It’s aesthetically pleasing since the sides are generally solid stone and arranged at straight angles, giving it a rectangular form. Plus the water is exquisite. Cool, clean runoff from the top of the St. Mary’s Wilderness. The deepest water is under the ledge, where it appears that about 25 cubic feet of rock simply disappeared. The pool faces west, so it ought to be good in the afternoon, even though the canopy partially covers the creek. There’s about 150 square feet of seating, which is unlikely to accommodate the number of people you’ll find here on a weekend.

The St. Mary’s Fall Trail begins in the George Washington National Forest on the north bank of the river. You might see one or two blue blazes on the way to the first crossing at 1.1 miles. From the ford continue .2 miles to the junction with St. Mary’s Trail and continue upstream a short distance, then cross back to the north bank. It’s .6 miles and one more ford to reach the fall.

Bullpasture Gorge

A cable bridge stretches from the parking area across Bullpasture Gorge to a sand and gravel beach. There is a low wall on the west at an outside bend in the river and as you might expect, a beach on the inside turn. It’s mainly gravel with mixed hardwoods. One of the trees provides a rope swing. It’s about 10 feet high. Get good clearance on the swing, ‘cause without any impound downstream, the depth is not that great. If you are skeptical about the safety of the swing, there are a couple of low rock launches on the west that stand over deeper water.

The pool is quite open, 70 feet long and 20 feet wide with a riffle below. Hard to think of it as a “gorge,” though. Users have piled rocks downstream to improve the impound. It raises the water level by as much as 18 inches, turning what would be an insignificant spot into a marginally good swimming hole. Just around the corner is another swimming spot with similar dimensions. Easy access. Lots of sun. Lots of kids.

It’s in the Highland Wildlife Management Area. There is some agriculture upstream, but it doesn’t seem to be very intensive. Not like some huge pig barn or a poultry operation that produces tons of waste per week.

Sugar Hollow

Charlottesville’s swimming hole. It’s about and formed by some rock that’s tilted at a low angle across the stream at the top of the hole. The rock ends the water flares into a pool about 20 feet in diameter. The cascade has burrowed out a good sweet spot as much as ten feet deep. I was able to dive off the rock to the left of the fall on the trail side of the hole. Nothing like a jump though. Just a shallow dive.

The biggest liability is lack of seating. There’s only room for about a half dozen people to perch comfortably, and there’s apt to be many more visitors than that on a weekend. Water is very turbid with visibility no more than two feet. That might simply have been due to a recent rain. The South Fork of the Moorman River is within the Shenandoah National Park, hence it’s a well-protected watershed.

In sum, a good swimming hole. If it were a car it would be a two-door sedan, which is to say nothing fancy. Worth a visit when Charlottesville gets too hot.

Dry River

A spring under the principal diving rock keeps the hole filled with water, even during drought. Buck Rexrode, a lifelong resident of Rockingham County said that until a flood in 1985 there was a tunnel you could swim through. Rexrode, a former state boxing champ in the 133-pound class, was considerably more hydrodynamic than his current outline, pictured above.

“The flood tilted the rock back five or ten degrees to where a good ol’ boy like me can’t get through there no more.”
Rexrode has been a regular at Blue Hole even since before he was born. His father was from Franklin, WV and his mother was from Harrisonburg, VA. Blue Hole was approximately midway and that’s where the young couple got together one summer day in 1958.

“My mother always told me the reason I was so small was that half of me floated down the Dry River during conception.” Rexrode still honors the place by spending afternoons fishing with his son and picking up the odd pieces of litter that roadside swimming holes like this collect.

Cave Falls

A tub so straight and square that Pythagoras would have been the first one to pull off his tunic and dive in. He might bump his Greek forehead on Virginia sandstone. The pool is small, less than less 20 feet long, about eight feet wide at the top and ten feet wide at the bottom where an anvil shaped rock has dropped into the stream, creating the impound. This spot where the Hazel River runs through Shenandoah National Park isn’t that deep, but the pool’s beautiful trapezoidal dimensions make it look like something that could be in a suburban backyard with a barbecue kettle parked next to it.

The pool is well below the fall itself, which is an outstanding setting, but not worth mentioning as a swimming hole. Unfortunately, too many rocks and boulders inhibit the depth. One side of the fall is partially scarred by fire, but there’s some mature beach and hickory with excellent shade. It’s worth the short trip. On the way you pass some pretty good rock faces, 25 and 30 feet tall. They contain the namesake cave, really only a rock fissure about 15 feet deep and five feet wide.

The water is a little bit murky from sediment likely caused by erosion that followed the 2000 wildfire. Much of the hike is through the burn area. Great wildflowers as a result.

Naked Creek

At the lower fall you’ll find a collar of rock about twelve feet high with a cascade about eight feet tall. The pool at the bottom is approximately forty feet wide and about twenty feet long and nine feet at its deepest. Nothing you can jump from. The other deficiency is lack of anyplace to sit. Lots of vegetation like poplar, beech, chinkapin and sycamore. Plenty of wide-open sky with lots of sunshine in the afternoon. You’ll be able to jump in this cool water, get out and dry off in the sun.

Upstream is a taller fall with a smaller pool. An abandoned logging road goes along the rim of a bowl 80 feet wide with the fall and pool below. Pretty impressive view. The fall is a twenty-foot horsetail. Depth is a little better than six feet because of all the stones and cobble.

Getting to the trailhead requires lots of confusing turns. See the map on the left for details. The trailhead isn’t marked, either. Most people walk through a gate, past a “No Trespassing” sign and follow the creek upstream to the fall. You may park just to the right of a white frame house, then take an ATV trail uphill to the left. Climb for 36O vertical feet over .3 miles then bear left and climb another 140 vertical feet to a junction with a logging road that contours east. Soon that road/trail begins a descent toward Naked Creek. As you get down toward the creek the trail crosses another couple of roads. Pick the downhill direction at each junction.

Cedar Run

It’s a steep, narrow hole more than forty feet high on the right side. A long, twisting slot cuts a shallow trough into the rock until the creek reaches a void then leaps over the lip. Water is correspondingly deep at the bottom, but nothing to jump from and not lots of surface area to aim for even if there was. The pool is five feet wide where the fall enters and no more than ten feet wide at the discharge. Plus there is a cleaver shaped rock in the middle. One misplaced dive and it would split you in two.

There’s almost no horizontal component at all. Just a couple of benches and boulders to sit on. It might seat three or four people. The value of this swimming hole is as refuge on the hottest days in the driest season. If Northern Virginia turned into the Gobi Desert, there would still be water in the bottom of this hole. It’s so dark and cool that a vampire could party all day without sunblock.

It takes a good pair of legs to hike the length of the trail. It’s a wicked 2,260 vertical feet to the top at Skyline Drive and this place is about one-third of the way up. This is a popular trail in Shenandoah National Park and you can be certain that lots of people peep over the lip of the fall into the hole, so forget about privacy. But comparatively few will make the trip down into it.

White Oak Canyon

There are six waterfalls between the bottom of White Oak Canyon and Skyline Drive. However only one fall that’s accessible from the main trail is a good swimming hole. The trail follows blue blazes into Shenandoah National Park. A couple of hundred feet after the parking area it forks. You stay right.

After one mile and 250 vertical feet you come to a modest basin. It’s a good scale for kids who just took the training wheels off their bike. The next stop is an impressive couple of falls just above a confluence entering from the right, or about 1.35 miles in. The fall is a horsetail 30 feet high with a pool about 55 feet wide. Depth is lacking due to rock fall and snags. From there the trail climbs steeply toward the swimming hole that I like.

It’s a rocky pool, roughly oval in shape and about 2O feet long. Loads of debris rafted up at the bottom improves the depth. Problem is there’s no place to sit or get comfortable. You could probably swim over to the short cascade that feeds the pool and haul out on some smooth rocks there. Other rocks are very slippery. Definitely wear sandals or water shoes. A walking stick is also an excellent idea.

The Forks of Red Creek

Three features in close succession. The best is the second one. Here’s the rundown: At the top a confluence widens into a basin about seventy feet long. It’s formed mainly by freestone, hence not very deep, but there is a smashing sand beach just up the Left Fork of Red Creek where you can stretch out for a siesta.

The lower swimming hole is the lesser of the three. It’s a scramble getting there and significant intrusion from boulders limits the surface area of the pool. Plus, it doesn’t get much sunlight. It’s probably only good on hot days during a dry spell.

But the middle is a classic. Some very hard rock lines the bed of the creek. It’s interrupted in a few places by slots of softer stone that get worn away and produce deep undercuts in the form of headward erosion. Water pours off in a low plunge across a beautiful sheet twenty feet wide. It’s cut back under the fall lip by four or five feet. Interesting, but not meaningful. What’s important is a similar lip downstream, opposite the fall face. It forces downward rushing water into a hydraulic that digs deeper and deeper into the bottom of the pool. Difficult to explain, but when you see it, you’ll understand.

The water apparently has few nutrients in it, hence no algae. It is however dark red from the tannins vegetation in the Dolly Sods Widerness. The color has the red brick appearance of a very old, very fine wine.

Upper Falls on Red Creek

Unlike the ledge falls below, this is a cascade into a modest, parallel-sided pool about 25 feet long that gets eight feet deep. That empties onto a large slab about the size of a dance floor. Best when water levels on Red Creek are higher. On the eastern side is a nice little stack of rock. The best thing this has going for it is privacy. It doesn’t seem to get lots of people, even though the trail on the western side is pretty apparent. There’s potential rump bumping above the cascade with relatively smooth rock running for 150 to 200 feet. The angle is kind of shallow, though. There’s also a pocket of sand about the size of a double bed.

Perhaps more interesting than the swimming holes is the wildlife, specifically the number of deer in the Monongahela National Forest and its surroundings. In the evening it’s not unusual to see 40 or 50 deer grazing on a hillside.

They’re not plentiful, but since they’re in the wilderness they’re not hunted and as such are very passive.

One man from Elkins said that during a boyhood trip into the Dolly Sods Wilderness she carried a wooden hiking stick. Each time he got close enough to a deer to throw it and hit the deer, he carved a notch in the handle. At the end of five days he had seven notches in his stick.

Lower Fall on Red Creek

A couple of spots in the Dolly Sods Wilderness formed in finely bedded, brittle stone. The rock is aligned on the same plane as the water flow on Red Creek, so it’s smooth rather than badly fractured as you might expect from such stone. At the lower fall, water comes off the lip in a couple of broad scallops. The pool below is modest, about 10 feet long and not quite as wide. Not much size, but pretty and lots of sun with close to 1,000 square feet of slabs relax on. If you have a Teflon tailbone you might test it for water slide suitability, but it looked marginal for that use.

Upstream is a slightly higher fall, a little more rambunctious and more blocky. It’s not as pretty, doesn’t have the aesthetics of the downstream fall, however the pool is far bigger and much deeper. This, because there is a hole at the bottom of the fall that catches all the rock and leaves the swimming hole unobstructed and deep. Not nearly as much sky as its downstream cousin, plus it’s east facing so it gets cool in the afternoon.

Stern Warning: Do not plan overnight trips in this part of the Monongahela National Forest. You’re not supposed to camp so close to water, for starters. In addition heavy visitorship and campfires have damaged the area. It’s bad enough that people unconcerned about the environment are spoiling watersheds; it’s worse when people who should care are doing the same thing.

Cave Hole

A family spot about 150 feet long. The best part is where the North Fork South Branch Potomac River bumps up against some of the bedrock and makes a deep hole. The rest of the water stretches more than 100 feet downstream in a placid basin. There’s a large gravel beach deeply shaded with sycamore and several rock perches on the other side of the river at the bottom of the crag. The namesake cave is bored into the rock over there. Difficult to find, but fun to look for.

Above is Seneca Rocks, one of the most recognizable features in West Virginia. It’s a formation of very hard Tuscarora sandstone that was uplifted and eroded over 400 million years until it looks like a pale dorsal fin rising 900 feet above the North Fork South Branch Potomac River. It appears incongruous among the moderately sloped, mixed forests of eastern West Virginia, but several similar formations dot the landscape, they’re little known and less visited because they’re on private land.

Seneca Rocks has been a Mecca for eastern rock climbers for decades. The Monongahela National Forest recently built a plush visitor’s center to accommodate sightseers. There’s so much parking around it, so many signs that say Seneca Rocks, that the swimming hole a little difficult to find.

Beechy Run

A modest feature in the Monongahela National Forest, but it gains points for being wilderness. Water is so clear that you can count the whiskers on a crayfish walking across the bottom of the creek. It’s a low fall across a ledge 30 feet wide. A couple of large rocks offset from one another form a constriction that makes water flow fast enough to prevent the pool from filling entirely with sand and cobble.

At about 20 feet across, the pool is big enough for a couple of strokes, but that’s not its best use, according to Tom Easton, a DC area carpenter and back pain sufferer.

He said that walking up the trail to Big Beechy helped relieve pain and release some fluid from two discs that he herniated on the job.

But if the Cranberry Wilderness seems a long way to go for occupational therapy, listen to this:
“In January and February the level is really up,” Easton says. “There’s a special seat off to the left as you look at the falls. Sitting in the fall with the cold water pounding on my back really reduces swelling.”

He says that after a couple of treatments, he felt so much better that he fed his Vicodin and Flexeril to the chipmunks…not really, but I can report that the ground squirrels at the campsite adjoining the fall did seem unusually relaxed in his company.

Woodbine

If you don’t think you can convince your kids to hike four miles into a wilderness spot in the Monongahela National Forest, you don’t want to carry him and you don’t mind crowds, then welcome to the Woodbine picnic area. The Cranberry River has a bedrock bottom here and long, low limestone ledges that produce a good channel of water that’s highly accessible. A rock outcrop below and a collection of about one-half dozen boulders slow the water and make it deep enough for a rope swing.

Locals advise that if you try to swing straight out perpendicular to the river, you’ll be out over a blind ledge when you let go. Rather, wrap the rope over the tree from the downstream side of the river. That makes the rope swing in an arc instead of a pendulum and puts you out into deeper water. This info courtesy of Nicole Anderson of Richwood. That’s her older sister Miranda pictured above demonstrating more technique on water entry.

Swing Hole

A couple of swimming holes, one better during higher levels, the other during lower water. Early in the season when water is higher, go a little over 400 yards upstream from Camp Splinter to the remnants of a cable crossing. The Cranberry River is a little deeper here due to some upstream boulders that apparently catch a lot of free stone that might otherwise occlude the bottom. Some people call it Swing Hole. However, the concrete footing and the steel poles that formed the anchors for the bridge are badly bent and barely high enough for a rope swing.

During low water conditions in the Monongahela National Forest, head downstream from Camp Splinter to a point about 50 yards below the portion of the river that’s marked as catch and release. There’s a basin about 30 feet long and when the sun hits the pale bottom just right, the color is beautiful. You’ll likely have a couple of small, steep sand beaches to sit on. The sweet spot is about 12 feet by eight feet and it’s overhead deep. Visit during higher water levels and it will of course be deeper, but there’s not going to be anyplace to sit.

Bubbie Hole

A magnificently large rock the size of a small home splits the Meadow River and forces a bend in it. On the near side the river has banked up a pile of sand that’s probably 15 feet deep. It slopes smack into the fat part of the pool and at such an angle that you can sprint downhill, kicking up sand as you pull off your shirt, fling it behind you and dive into the water. There is an equally good, perhaps better, pool on the other side of the rock. It’s got a rope swing, but doesn’t have any seating.

The rock island is 15 feet high at its tallest, that’s at the upstream edge. It’s only six to eight feet on the near side, however the lack of depth of the water between this rock and the beach may make jumping a little risky at lower levels like those pictured above.

The hole clearly gets use from foot traffic and perhaps ATVs. Not a scrap of litter though. Could mean people are exceptional citizens or that volunteers cleaned up right before I visited and that there are normally many beer cans and bait containers.

McClung

Just a big, big slackwater pool. A limestone ledge on the opposite side sort of mirrors the shape of the sand bar, more of which later. It’s a very flat swimming hole. Nothing you can jump from. The best use is probably bobbing up and down with your beverage of choice. ‘Nother great sand beach — 300 feet curving around the Meadow River. Trees are evenly spaced and that helps for shade and probably contributes to the deposition of sand. All this sand might be due in part to the strip mining that was carried on above. At any rate, the mines were closed long ago.

Moderate visitation and, thankfully, conspicuously clean when I reviewed it. Even unopened canned goods left behind from an earlier campout had been neatly stacked on a vinyl covered bench. If youre lucky to experience it by yourself as I did, it’s a treasure.

Start looking for this hole about 20 minutes into the hike. The tip off is a corrugated steel shelter big enough for a couple automobiles. The hole is right beyond that.

Deegan's Station

A champion. Big enough to float a battleship and deep throughout. It’s 180 feet on the major axis and 80 feet across. It happens where the river travels east to west through a rapid, then runs up on a highly eroded slab tilted against the Meadow River at a 35-degree angle. From there the river turns northeast and immediately flares into the main hole. Downstream towards the bottom of the hole is a nice sloping rock that you can sit on while dangling your feet in the water. Easy to jump off the nose of it. Bring sandals with sticky rubber because the steep angle makes the rocks difficult to remount for subsequent jumps.

Back at the top, there is a rope swing on the near side. You have to get some good clearance to make it into the sweet spot, but there is no really good launch. There is one spot to leap off, but there are substantial rocks in front. You best be able to tuck your knees up under your chin, or you’re apt to have your toenails torn off.

Shade and seating: the top part of the hole is shaded with mixed forest, especially hemlock. The sand bar has lots of growth that detracts from seating. Best makes it over to the slab at the top of the hole. It has a king-size declivity that makes a perfect three-person lounge chair. Faces west, also. Killer afternoon spot if you’re visiting the Gauley River National Recreation Area.

Gateway

The pools occur at the bottom of a rock garden. On the near side is a nice glob of rock that stands at the top of a great big hole. The rock is about six feet above the water and with plenty of room for a small group. Be forewarned that the Lower Meadow River is perhaps the most dangerous stretch of whitewater in the state. When it’s pumping you can hear the deep grating sound of huge boulders being shoved downstream. Undercuts produce so many powerful holes that one paddler says, “you might be looking back at one of your buddies, then turn around seconds later and he’s gone. Just disappeared underwater.”

Of course those are not swimming conditions. Guides say that optimal paddling on the Lower Meadow is about 750 cfs. Locals say swimming shouldn’t be considered at anything above 400 cfs. In my opinion it’s even lower. Wait until the Mt. Lookout gauge is below 300 cfs or approximately 4.4 feet. Alternately, you can judge safety the low-tech way.

Break a branch off a tree and toss it into the hole. If it washes out the bottom before you can get your clothes oft, you should think twice about getting in.

Bonus Feature: If you’re on a bike and want some more exercise, pedal to the confluence with the Gauley River. There’s a huge sand beach. But it’s a party spot for ATVs.. Not worth a stay, but perhaps a visit. On the way there you pass through a long tunnel. At one point it’s entirely dark, you can’t see the light on either end. Spooky.