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.
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.
You can’t find a bigger piece of water without a TVA dam at the bottom of it.
The pool is 200-feet long and at least 80-feet wide. At the top of it is a fall 20-feet high. Not quite a plunge, more like a horsetail in two spouts. The fall and pool point directly north. Lots of sky, so the sun makes it enjoyable well into the afternoon. Seating is on the far side, or eastern bank. Nothing on the west except a low vertical bank with rhodo. The impound occurs by the grace of some slabs broken off and fallen into the bottom. It creates a hole that’s overhead deep just 10 yards from shore. The rock is bedded vertically against the flow of the Abrams Creek and that has lots to do with the formation.
Up at the top a big ponderosa was lodged in the river. Looks like it might be a fabulous diving board, but submerged ledges and dark water make it difficult to judge a safe landing.
Would be classic, ‘cept for the amount of people. The one hour hike doesn’t discourage many people. Of the three dozen people I counted one day, a few were little old ladies with hairdos. Also note that the park is incredibly crowded as evidenced by the drive to the trailhead at the top of Cades Cove Loop. It took an hour to drive seven miles as car after car stopped to photograph a deer.
Simply the biggest slice of Hazel Creek you can find. The main attraction is large enough to meet Olympic regulations. The creek passes over a low ledge into a pool that is 200-feet long, much of it overhead deep or better. It’s called Brown Hole since the brown trout spawn here in November. The hole faces south. The principal rock is eight feet above the surface, but submerged rocks make it unjumpable. Several low walls trailside add depth. You might be able to do a dive off of those. Even though the rest of the hole is not as deep, hydro has hogged it out well.
The wet description at Brown Hole rates as classic, but the dry details are lacking. There’s no beach, No massive slab of rock. On river right the principal rock has several places to sit and sun. Much of the rest of the seating is dispersed.
If you want to escape the sun, there’s a small place downstream. It faces due north and it’s hard to get sun on the spot. The hottest day of the year is ideal. It’s a process of falls comprising three short chutes, about four-feet high. That makes it hard to explain why the water is seven to nine-feet deep and the sweet spot occupies two thirds of the pool’s 30-foot diameter. Nothing to jump from, just a nice, happy place to get in some wilderness water.
The boat ride reduces the visits from people who come to the park prepared only for hiking. However, it may attract the powerboat crowd and they might arrive drunk, stupid, or both.
As many as 100 people will visit the cascade on Twenty Mile Creek during summer weekends. It’s main value is as a bozo filter that prevents people from walking a couple of hundred yards upstream to a darling little pool that does merit a review.
It’s at a sharp bend in the creek with a low rock wall on the far side. A beach on the near side is held together by a rhodo thicket. Both prevent the sort of cobble and clutter that fill so many creeks in this part of the country. The tub is completed by a 12-foot tall, perfectly vertical boulder that squeezes the stream just so that, as it rushes around the boulder, it augers out a nice tub at the foot of the large rock.
A little less than one-half mile farther on is another pool, not worth its own review, but worth a look. A typical rock ledge splits the creek in two and sends it tumbling into one-half dozen Jaccuzi’s with water entering at different depths and angles which almost seem therapeutically designed. There’s the rotator cuff seat. Below that is the lumbar lounge and upstream to the left is a neck massage station – all of it in cold water that’ll reduce swelling, even if it isn’t as relaxing as the 110 degree spa at your gym. Oh, the lowest pool is well suited for treatment of ACL. Make sure you don’t strain your own on the way down. The approach is short and steep. Plan on bouncing off some rhodo to slow your descent.
Little River has nothing to make you say “shazam!” But a couple of places do say, “hey now.” The first is called Old Hole and it’s just a couple of hundred feet upstream from Elkmont. It’s really just a basin between the stone bridge separating Elkmont Campground from the abandoned cottages upstream. Generations have played in the water here, but you’re better off traveling a moderate distance upstream.
Little River gets pinched by several flat boulders into a pool 30 feet across and shaped like a porkchop. It’s a gravel bottom, but under the cascade is a small sweet spot that will be at least eight feet in circumference. Orientation is east to west, so good light. And there is a killer lounge spot where the rock is dished out in ergonomic form. It’s got a depression for hips and shoulders and makes the perfect stone lounge. Six or seven boulders are large enough to relax on in the sun. In addition, the park service has installed a log bench up on the trail.
Just under one-quarter mile above, a short road leads to a nice process of big boulders that slow the river enough to produce a small spot. At least one half dozen big, flat-table sized rocks to stretch out on make this so enjoyable. The pool itself is not extraordinary. It’s got an irregular shape and is not quite deep enough to merit its own review.
A good trip for kids, or the novice hiker. Good trail run, too.
Here is the place to go if you want an easily accessible destination, but can’t bear the crowds at Indian Creek. The Lynn Camp Prong feeds the Middle Prong of the Little River. A long process of falls runs along a fin of bedrock with a nice slab tilted at 40 degrees toward the creek. Water continues 50 feet in a horsetail and lands in the pool 20 feet wide and chest deep. It makes a beautiful channel.
The better spots are immediately above the main cascade. They’re three spots that are a little tighter, tucked a little deeper and just a bit harder to see from the trail. Two of the three are tubs, 10 feet wide and six feet deep smack in the center. The middle of the three is more robust, big enough to swim a couple of strokes, and for that, it can be called a pool rather than simply a tub.
Above it is a proud little cascade, about 15 linear feet. Roiling water from that runs up against a couple large boulders and that’s what creates the feature. It’s easy entry and exit. This one is the best choice for an afternoon on Lynn Camp Prong. The cascade faces southwest and the adjoining slab of rock gets plenty of sun, a nice place to get toasty. Good thing, too. Water is chill. The trout are happy, but the people have blue lips.
Lynn Camp Prong is far from secret, though. If adventure or privacy are important to you, look elsewhere.
Indian Creek Falls has a pool that’ll delight kids under 10 years old. It’s around 50 feet wide. There’s no impound other than a line of rock that people piled across the hem of the pool, improving depth to five or six feet. Adults can enjoy it sitting down, kids at any posture. The fall is a cascade 15 to 20 feet high and at a 50-degree angle. The surface is too rough for a slide, but might work with an innertube. That’s why the park service has posted signs that say “No Tubing.”
The officially sanctioned tubing launch is at the confluence with Deep Creek. And there are a couple of slow spots along Deep Creek that pool up pretty well, though none is as nice as Indian Creek. Even so, it gets the lowest rating in this book based on lack of depth and heavy usership. Seating is limited to a beat down spot among the laurels and there’s a devil of a lot of visitors.
Nevertheless, it’s good for kids and folks that don’t have lots of endurance. Bottom line: If you don’t spend lots of time outdoors and this is your first trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, come to Deep Creek and Indian Creek Falls.
The top of the gorge contains lots of large boulders, many of them only recently separated from the canyon walls. The best pool occurs below a pair of boulders notched together at a 40-degree angle. The hole is generally round and about 40 feet wide. Water eddies in the main channel with a hard rock bottom and uneven contours, but one that’s consistently seven to eight feet deep. There is only one good jump, but you need to get some good horizontal clearance.
Some of the bedrock forms a nice collar about 20 feet wide and bedded vertically at a low angle toward the flow of river. That also helps with the impound. Sunning slabs point northeast, making this the place to go on hot days. All the lounging is on river left, most of it heavily shaded. One place on the descent even has a roof.
It’s on the descent from river left. (You can also reach the hole from the right bank, but it’s a scramble.) The boulder is roofed by eight feet of overhang and is about four feet high. You have to crawl under to reach the lounging space just above the hole. It even has a patch of sand about the size of a twin bed.
It’s a late autumn day. The sun is baking the sap in the balsam trees, turning this remote part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into a 50,000-acre incense factory. You reach the ridge after almost two 2 miles and 1,500 vertical feet. You are hot, probably tired. Yet you perceive the rugged Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee River below one mile and 800 vertical feet below. Do you turn around and go back to the vehicle, or take a pull on your canteen and press forward to test other restorative uses for water?
Onward. Enloe Creek is a tiny tributary to the Raven Fork. It’s less than three square miles. Nevertheless, it creates a fall that’s visually appealing, but whose real value seems to be as a trap that collects freestone to keep it from cluttering a tub one step below.
The lower spot is adorable. Perfect for two people. Any more would be a crowd, any fewer a shame. Most of the tub is visible from the trail, however, the small lounging rock appears private enough for an assignation. It’s even deep enough on the extreme left for a shallow dive. This, in a pool less than 12 feet wide.
Notice: Don’t be a chump like I was and take the sucker trail in front of the principal fall. It’s a tough way in. Rather walk 20 yards down and look for a place with a few steep downsteps to the creek. And beware of stinging nettle.
A national treasure, loaned to America by the grace of four small sycamore trees. Nobody sees Midnight Hole for the first time without exclaiming something. It’s deep and wide, even though there’s scarce surrounding rock structure here on Big Creek, no impound at the bottom and the fall is just a few feet high. Fortunately, the fall’s bedrock face overlies softer stone, and the differential erosion supplies the condition for a good swimming hole.
But it’s when Big Creeks bumps against a bank held together by those trees that it scours a swimming hole 70 feet wide and at least 10 feet deep throughout. The entire 25 square miles of Big Creek lies within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As a benefit, water has color and clarity that sets the standard for southeastern swimming holes.
But this is a loan. Before hurricanes in 2004, the trees were snugly fastened, if not dangerously close, to the shore. The deluge removed at least a ton of rock, raising the prospect that one more decennial storm might topple the trees and cause the hole to blowout substantially.
The hike is a flat 1.5 miles in the northern portion of the park. It’s popular, used by hikers and equestrians. No pets, though. Perfect trip for somebody new to the outdoors. Mellow trail; great destination.