On a hot summer day, nothing beats taking a dip in the cool waters of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! So we made this guide on where to find the best places to swim in Gatlinburg and the Smokies.
All of these swimming spots are within 30 minutes of Gatlinburg, so they're easy to fit into your trip. So grab a swimsuit, water shoes, and some sunscreen to explore the top 7 swimming holes in Gatlinburg, TN!
1. The Sinks Swimming Hole
One of the most impressive and popular swimming holes in the Smoky Mountains are known as "The Sinks."
This beautiful spot on the river features a deep mountain pool that's around 10 feet deep. Adding to the fun, there are lots of rocks to play around and jump from into the pristine water.
Though this may appear as a natural waterfall and swimming spot, it's actually a product of logging operations in the Smokies prior to the formation of the national park.
Loggers routinely used the Little River as a way to float logs out of the mountains, but when a log jam formed in this section of the river, the lumber companies had a problem on their hands. To free the logs and open the use of the river, the loggers resorted to using a large amount of dynamite.
This may have worked too well, as this explosion altered the course of the river and created a deep pool that's perfect for swimming!
Directions: From Gatlinburg, drive to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and turn right onto Fighting Creek Gap Road towards Cades Cove. After 14 miles, you'll see a small parking area on the right side of the road just before a bridge. This is the stop for the Sinks waterfall and swimming area.
2. Metcalf Bottoms
Located on a peaceful stretch of river, you'll find the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area. Although the water here is only around 3' or 4' deep, this swimming area is a popular stop for families with young children or anyone who just wants to dip their feet in the cool water.
As part of your visit to the swimming hole at Metcalf Bottoms, you could take a hike to the historic Walker Sisters Cabin or simply enjoy a summer cookout by the water's edge.
Directions: Starting in Gatlinburg, drive towards Cades Cove by taking a right at Sugarlands Visitor Center. You'll find the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area on the right after 12 miles.
3. LeConte Creek on Alum Cave Trail
Alum Cave Trail is easily the most popular hike to the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it's also home to some nice, shady swimming spots.
This high elevation stream is cool year-round because it's close the mountain springs where it originates. You'll find some nice swimming spots along the first 1.5 miles of the Alum Cave Trail with pools around 4' or 5' deep.
Directions: From Gatlinburg, drive 11 miles on US-441 (Newfound Gap Rd) towards Cherokee, NC to reach the Alum Cave Trailhead. Parking for the trail will be on the left side of the road.
4. The Townsend Wye
Located at the Townsend National Park entrance, the Wye is easily the largest and most popular swimming holes in the Smokies.
Pronounced like the letter "y," this deep swimming area forms where two branches of the Little River meet. The pool itself is about 30 feet wide and the depth is about 7 or 8 feet. On top of being a perfect swimming hole, the Wye also has ample parking, large rocks to relax on, and a large beach area.
Be sure to bring sunscreen on your trip to the Wye, as this spot gets plenty of sun.
Directions: To reach the "Wye" in Townsend, drive towards Cades Cove from Gatlinburg and the Sugarlands Visitor Center. After 12.5 miles, the road will fork. Parking for the Wye will be on the right side of the road.
5. Chimney Tops Trail
Not only is the Chimney Tops Trail one of the most dramatic and rewarding hikes in all of the Smokies, but it's also home to a great place for a swim!
Near the start of the trailhead, there is a bridge that crosses the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. This stretch of the river is filled with large boulders and deep pools that are the perfect place to cool off in after you hike the Chimneys.
Directions: Starting in Gatlinburg, drive 9 miles on US-441 (Newfound Gap Rd) towards Cherokee, NC. The trailhead for the Chimney Tops will be on the left and there is parking on both sides of the road.
6. Elkmont Swimming Hole
This historic part of the Smokies was once home to an exclusive vacation community that has since been abandoned. This historic part of the park is a destination in its own right, but there are also several swimming areas and tubing spots along the river.
There is a particularly nice swimming hole near the Little River Trail trailhead. This spot comes complete with a rocky beach, large flat rocks to layout on, and a natural swimming pool that's about 6' to 8' in depth.
This is a video of a swimming hole closer to Huskey Branch Falls further up the river, but there are numerous spots along the Little River where you could stop.
Directions: To reach the Little River Trail in Elkmont, begin at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg. Drive 7.4 miles on Fighting Creek Gap Rd and take a left onto Elkmont Rd. Follow this road for 2 miles. After you cross a bridge, you'll reach a parking area just before the main group of historic building in Elkmont.
The Greenbrier region of the national park doesn't attract as much attention as Cades Cove or Newfound Gap, but it's definitely worth seeing.
This part of the Smokies is also a favorite swimming destination for locals who know where to find good swimming spots along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.
Simply find a pull-off to park on the gravel Greenbrier Rd and you'll find paths down to the river so you can wade in the pristine mountain waters. The best swimming spots are located on the left side of the road before the ranger station. While you're in Greenbrier you can hike to Ramsey Cascades, enjoy a picnic, or tour historic cabins in the Greenbrier community.
Directions: From Gatlinburg, drive 6 miles on US-321 N (Gatlinburg's East Parkway). On your right, you'll see a sign for the Greenbrier entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Turn onto this gravel road and look for a pull-off spot in the first two miles before the ranger station.
Map of Swimming Holes in Gatlinburg
Water Safety in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Officially, the national park states that it is dangerous for people to swim in the streams and rivers in the Smokies. After all, water-related accidents account for the highest totals of injuries and deaths in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In fact, the Abrams Falls Trail that leads to a popular waterfall and swimming hole was named among the most dangerous hikes in the nation for the number or accidents that occur there.
When planning your excursion, be sure to review the
- Wear Water Shoes – Rocks and sticks in the water can be sharp, so project your feet with closed-toed shoes or water shoes.
- Watch for Snakes – There are a few poisonous snakes that live in the Smokies, but they will do their best to avoid meeting you. Just look before you take a step or place your hand for a handhold. Snakes typically like sunny spots or brambles along the river's edge.
- Keep an Eye on the Weather – Occasionally, water levels can change drastically in the event of large rain storms. This results in flooding and strong currents that are hazardous to swimmers.
- Avoid Strong Currents – In parts of the river, there are likely to be rapids or waterfalls. These areas can have dangerous currents that are known to pull swimmers under the water.
- Take Care Around Slippery Rocks – In the national park, algae and moss grow on rocks making them slippery and wet. Watch your footing as you move around natural swimming areas.
On top of going to swimming holes near Gatlinburg, there are plenty of other great ways to cool of during your summer trip to the Smokies. Check out our tips on how to beat the heat during your Smoky Mountain vacation!
Written by Hayden Brown