Category Archives: North Carolina

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.

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.


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.”

Dismal Creek

A popular spot where Dismal Creek bounds over a highly stratified sandstone ledge and into a hole about 40 feet long. There’s a sweet spot 20 feet by 10 feet wide, meaning you can jump from the top of the ledge for a ride of eight vertical feet. Southern exposure means that Dismal warms early in the season and stays open late. Limited seating at the bottom, but lots of room to relax up at the top. The Appalachian Trail parallels the entire length of the creek.

However, access on the county road can attract drunken idiots and broken glass. Cleanup is effected by an unlikely Boy Scout with black toenails, an imposing necklace made of boar’s tusks and a Confederate battle flag. He’s Brian Pauley, a Tar Heel transplant to the Old Dominion who does volunteer cleanup while offering unprintable opinions about how people in Jiles County take care of their natural places.

“I’ve been here five times this week,” he said during a break. “There was an awful mess. It took me eight trash bags to collect all the junk that (irresponsible) people left behind, stuff that’d been lying around here for years.”
Pauley uses a broom to sweep the rock for glass, but you should not walk barefoot here.

Cascades Falls

Gorgeous fall. Big damn pool. Water comes off a wafer thin ledge that overhangs the wall by three to five feet. That creates a plunge fall for about 20 feet until, at about the hallway point, the water explodes onto a belly of slate and scatters into a pool about 60 feet long and 30 to 40 feet wide.

The sandstone forming the pool is certainly overhead deep and better, but depth is really immaterial, because there’s nothing to jump from. Nothing vertical, anyway. The entire eastern side of the hole is comprised of bed rock that’s just under the water’s surface. It arcs all the way around to the fall. For a dive you could wade over to some submerged slabs adjoining the fail. It’s around ankle deep, but then you’d be jumping out of the water in order to jump in the water and that’s just not as satisfying as catching air.

During the summer there will be at least one club van from a summer camp or youth outing parked at the trailhead. Fortunately there is ample space to spread out around the pool. The fall faces south so there is good sun.

I spent a Saturday afternoon there and often when a guy gets to the top of the 50-foot fall, he hollers Woooohoooo!” Lots of that at Cascades Falls.

Campbell Fall

The best high water spot in this part of the state. The multi-tiered fall face is 50 feet wide and the pool below is very broad given the size of the stream. That means it takes lots of water to fill it up. Glorious ledges to relax on, but with the picnic area and campground less than one mile away, privacy is not to be had.

Looking at a map you may notice that several place names in the park refer to the area’s moonshine heritage. The illicit craft can still produce minor leg injuries for overland hikers. After whiskey barrels rot the iron bands remain camouflaged in decades of leaf litter until someone steps on one and it pops up to whack them in the knee.
“Just about any branch you go up there was somebody cooking,” said Curtis Laxton, a park employee. Laxton pedaled his grandfather’s moonshine — literally.

“I used to ride around and do deliveries on a 28-inch Mohawk. I was just eight and I couldn’t even reach the pedals on a bike that big. I had to wait ‘till the pedal came up to the top of the stroke and push it down halfway until the opposite pedal came around to the top.”

Nearly all the watershed is within the state park and water quality on Camp Creek is excellent. Maybe that’s why it made such good ‘shine.

Little Bluestone

Not the Little Bluestone swimming hole favored by every beer guzzling, monster truck mud bogger in Summers County. This is a place tucked up around a corner from there. It’s a horseshoe shaped pool against a small outcrop of what appears to be some flaky limestone. The river, which is usually less than five feet wide, broadens considerably. It’s cut one deep notch into the limestone that makes a deeply shaded pool, good on the hottest days.

The entire 80-foot length of the wall is trimmed in a lovely scalloped edge. The rock reaches its height at about 10 feet. You’ll be able to float and paddle around below the ledge, but it’s not likely to be deep enough to jump into. This is more of a lazy afternoon spot.

Opposite the rock there will be a nice sand beach during lower levels. And of course the ledges are a lovely place to toss a blanket. An old fire ring and some pit scars indicate that some people do come here, but it’s very lightly visited compared with much of the rest of the Bluestone Public Hunting and Fishing Area.

Note: the last portion of the drive is dirt road. HCV recommended. If it’s wet, you’ll be better off with 4-wheel drive.

Big Blue

Generations have ridden the rope swing at this pale green swimming hole on the Little Bluestone River. It happens within a formation of blue gray shale and sandstone. Very pretty how the creek slides along in a low-angle cascade, cutting a beautiful sinuous line before it hits softer rock. The differential erosion produces an oval shaped container about 50 feet long and perhaps 30 feet wide. It’s deeply shaded by hard woods, many of which have toppled over in the loose soil. Fortunately, there’s at least one tree sturdy enough for the rope where Gino Moye spent his summer vacations.

“All of my grandparents are from Nimitz,” Moye says. “I grew up in Idaho, but we used to come back for family reunions and we’d go to that swimming hole.”

Something about water in the Little Bluestone fosters aquatic aggression. Moye ended up as a Navy SEAL and when he brings his own son back to West Virginia the pattern repeats.

“My boy loved it. A real water hound. He scares the hell out of me.” Now, the bad part. Visibility is no more than three feet. Lots of vehicular activity, too. The road is a real mud bog in places. Level at an upstream gauge was 220 cfs when this photo was taken.

Rhoda Ann

An interesting blend of the sacred and the profane. A pool directly behind the Rhoda Ann Memorial Church has the prettiest conformation of just about any swimming hole I’ve seen. The container is very solid rock about 30 feet long and 12 feet wide. The water is seven to eight feet deep, but the really intriguing aesthetic is a submerged collar of sandstone that rings almost the entire pool. It creates the perfect place to stand in water up to your knees before you step off into the deep end. Great for baptisms. Jack Pack, a retired timberman, recounts services by the swimming hole.

“I can remember winters when we had to cut the ice off that pool to do the baptisms, yes I do.”

Lots of country churches like Rhoda Ann, closed when parishioners either died off or raised enough money to build a brick church out on the state road. Today it’s opened only for reunions and funerals. Now the trash barrel next to the baptismal pool is filled with beer cans and a couple of half-pint bottles.

I should have asked Pack how he felt about the hallowed spot making the transition from the Holy Spirit to the distilled variety. Instead I asked if winter baptisms in icy water wasn’t uncomfortable. “Son,” he said, “when you’re called to the Lord, temperature don’t matter.”

Blue Fish

Largest hole on Glade Creek. It’s a two-tiered, scallop-shaped fall with gorgeous ledges on the left for sunning. A natural impound downstream maintains a depth of at least six feet, with water as deep as eight feet in places. The fall is probably l5 feet wide, depending on water level and the hole is 25 feet in diameter. No high vertical to dive from, more like low ledges where you can sit and dangle your toes in the water.

Lots of open sky. Upstream you can go explore the contours of the stream bed, looking for small potholes and lounging spots in smooth, sculpted bedrock. Plenty of room to space out for privacy.

There are more charming water features along this stream. At one point between One Fish and Blue Fish the water rolls over an expanse of rock big enough to build a house on. A trough cut into the rock produces bath tubs, one of which is probably 12 feet long and about four and a half feet deep.

Kind of a steep scramble down to Blue Fish from the jeep trail. Sure footing is of benefit. If you get to a succession of three stream fords spaced closely together, then you went too far.

Red Fish

Small scale, but very pretty. The bed of Glade Creek above the pool is wide, exquisitely level and continuous, with few cracks or weakness. So the water, instead of draining into a couple of channels, spreads evenly over the breadth of the creek like icing over a sheet cake. The probable cause is a boundary of late Pennsylvanian rock from the Pocahontas Formation and Mississippian stone from the Bluestone and Princeton formation.

The jeep trail that parallels the creek can attract ATVs. Not the high throttle yahoos you find mud bogging in river beds. The trail isn’t challenging enough for them. What you find instead are families traveling in pods like marine mammals. Dad takes point on the big red 450. The kids are in the middle on two-strike 250cc engines with blue smoke coming out the tail, and mom is riding sweeper on the 375 Mag.

Fortunately, the road surface on Glade Creek is really firm, some of it scratched out of solid rock, so the knobby tires don’t hog it out except in a few soft spots. You won’t find the litter normally associated with ATV access apart from the odd beer can and bait container.

Two Fish

A swimming hole under a highway bridge is hardly notable. The same conditions that produce many swimming holes — a narrow channel and solid rock on both sides — are the same places engineers prefer to build bridges. Furthermore, roads nearly always make the river too accessible, resulting in a bozo factor that’s unacceptably high. This bridge is altogether different. It’s 600 vertical feet above the creek, so it frames the feature, rather than polluting it.
The best view is from the upper pool. Water runs over a hard rock bed of Glade Creek to a broad, low ledge about 20 feet wide. Some of the sandstone is worn in a ripple pattern that looks like corduroy. The pool below is at least 40 feet long and framed at the bottom with small boulders and cobble. Not that deep, but there are a couple of places you will need to tread water. Plenty of shade. Not much seating.

A lower pool below the bridge has some boulders on the near side that create the cascade. It’s about 25 to 30 feet long, but as much as one third of that is likely to be a stale eddy that forms behind a finger of hard rock stretching across the stream. The only good lounging, apart from a bench sized boulder, is the gravel bar on the far side. Very easy to get into and out of.

One Fish

Probably the best place on the creek, the deepest anyway. Unlike the other falls on the Glade Creek, this one is not a wedding cake. It’s a cascade that’s cut an old fracture into a pretty little fan-shaped pool. The middle portion of the pool is completely unobstructed. It runs for approximately 30 feet. On the west side is a continuous, submerged ledge which is largely responsible for the depth. On the right is a nice sunning ledge three or four feet above the water.

The real star is the water quality. In this part of West Virginia it’s really difficult to find something with visibility more than a couple of feet. But this is discharge from a reservoir. Plus there is hardly any settlement above it except a golf course which may let some nutrients into the watershed. Regardless, this is the best water quality I could find on the southern rim of the New River Gorge.

The pool is located right along the jeep trail and certainly gets some use. Scarcely any litter when I was there. It faces north so it may be a little cooler on very hot days.

Middle Keeney

The best beach in this book. Any water that runs with the velocity of the New River is going to grind up some rock. And where to put all that sand? Right at the bottom of Keeeny Rapids. So deep are the deposits that scarcely a rock pokes above its pale, powdery surface. It seems that deposition is caused by the morphology of the riverbed. Below the rapids the river flares momentarily and the bottom gets deeper. So when all the ground-up product of that tumbling bedload gets to this spot, it slows and settles out of suspension, especially on the river right in the slackwater pool that comprises the swimming hole. Result: a big open beach with enough room to put up a circus tent.
It’s highly accessible. On the day I surveyed it I saw an old arthritic man bent over his walking stick and a twenty-something couple with their infant child. Same swimming caveat for this place as for Karma. The best part is above water. You can paddle around in the pool, but just a little too far out into the main channel and you’re going to get your name in the newspaper.

From the parking area cross the railroad tracks just north of the bridge over Keeney Creek. Look for an obvious trail and walk less than 500 feet to the New River. You may be able to take an HCV down to the rapids, but road improvement was stalled for environmental reasons. Better plan on taking a 4-wheel drive.

Halls of Karma

Less than four miles upstream from the bridge over the New River Gorge, Halls of Karma is a magnificent rock terrace—almost an auditorium. There are literally hundreds of square feet to take in the sun and picnic. In addition to the terrace, a finger of rock extends toward the center of the water and creates a polite eddy 35 to 45 feet long in what is otherwise a huge, muscular white water river.

There’s a set of stairs that step down into the water, but straight forward entry doesn’t necessarily mean simple exit. It might be easy to find yourself too far out of the eddy, get swept downstream and turned into fish food. The park service discourages swimming. If you’re not a bozo or yahoo, you can, in my opinion, cautiously enjoy this place at flow levels below 4,500 cfs which is when the accompanying picture was taken.

Best advice: Use Halls of Karma mainly for above-the-water recreation. Apart from potentially swift current, the New River can be yucky. It drains such a large area that funk abounds. So pack a picnic basket and bring some cocoa butter for your honey to rub on your while watching the paddlers go by. Better make sure the coconuts come from a tree with high SPF. The rock faces west and gets plenty of sun, even 1,000 feet down in the canyon.