Road Trip Time: The South’s 20 Best Lakes, Waterfalls & Swimming Holes
Summer is here, and with it, so is the suffocating heat. But no matter how hot it gets outside, you can always find a way to cool off if you know where to go. If you’ve ever wondered where are the best swimming holes near me, we’ve got you covered. Here are 20 of the greatest swimming sites, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes to enjoy in the southern U.S. and beyond, broken down state by state.
Kinlock Falls, Alabama
Tucked away in northwest Alabama, Kinlock Falls is a favorite swimming hole for people in the area. The water from Hubbard Creek drops approximately 15 feet into a refreshing pool below. It’s incredibly close to the road, so if you’re hiking in Bankhead National Forest, you can beat the sweltering heat by taking a dip before you head home.
Twin Falls, Arkansas
If you’re in the Natural State and you’re willing to hike roughly a quarter of a mile, you can take in the lovely sights at Twin Falls. If you visit after a period of rainfall, you might get to see the site’s third cascade which is not always visible, according to the Outbound. But no matter when you visit, it’s a pleasant destination for a summer day.
Ichetucknee Springs, Florida
For tubing in the state of Florida, it’s hard to beat Ichetucknee Springs. At just $6 a vehicle (tubes not included), you and your friends can float down several miles of pristine waters and enjoy a relaxing, lazy afternoon. If you want a unique experience, you can snorkel the crystal-clear water found at Blue Hole, where the water remains a cool 72 degrees all year long.
Wakulla Springs, Florida
Did you know “the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring” is slightly south of Tallahassee? Wakulla Springs boasts 70-degree water in a sapphire shade, manatees, and alligators. Oh, and it’s surrounded by a beautiful cypress swamp. A $6 vehicle fee gets you access, and after that, you have plenty of options for how to spend your day.
Helton Creek Falls, Georgia
If you like to see your state’s hidden treasures, free of charge, Helton Creek Falls is for you. The trail leading to the falls is only 0.3 miles, but the payoff is worth it. You can see both the lower and upper falls (a combined drop of about 100 feet), but make sure you’re not too adventurous around the edges. Explore Georgia notes the rocks are deceptively slick.
Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
New York and Ontario share Niagara Falls, but Kentucky has the “Niagara of the South” all to itself. The water powerfully tumbles more than 60 feet into a gorge filled with massive boulders in a truly stunning display of nature, according to the Kentucky State Parks website. Cumberland Falls is also one of the only places in the entire world that regularly produces a moonbow. While it looks like a rainbow, this phenomenon is caused by light refracting in water droplets when the sky is clear, and the lunar cycle is just right.
Bogue Chitto River, Louisiana
If a lazy, inner-tube float is your preferred way to spend time on the water, the Bogue Chitto River could be for you. $25 cash (or $28 on a card) gets you a tube and all-day floating along the river. For an extra $5, you can get an ice cooler tube that will float your favorite summertime sips beside you. Just make sure you’re out of the river and on the way back to your vehicle by 7 p.m.
Torch Lake, Michigan
Residents of the Great Lakes State can cool off in Torch Lake’s crystal-clear waters. The lake’s Caribbean blue color helped it earn a place on National Geographic’s list of most beautiful lakes around the world, according to Michigan.org. Torch Lake is roughly 18 miles long, making it Michigan’s longest inland lake, and it’s the second-largest lake the state has to offer. You can swim in the pristine waters, hang out on the lake’s famous sandbar, or enjoy watersports.
Union Falls, Mississippi
Northeast of Hattiesburg lies the tiny town of Ovett, and in Ovett lies the hidden gem of Union Falls, according to Only In Your State. A waterfall in Mississippi? Yep! While it might not have a steep drop like other members on our list, the falls are still pretty, and the swimming hole formed below is refreshing.
Lake Lure, North Carolina
Take a trip to Lake Lure, explore the area, and maybe recreate the most iconic scenes from Dirty Dancing! While the Catskills served as the film’s setting, many of the movie’s most famous scenes were shot in the Lake Lure area, including the famous lake lift scene. What a memorable way to cool off on a warm summer’s day! Some people might even say that you’ll have the time of your life at Lake Lure.
Sliding Rock, North Carolina
Southwest of Asheville in the Pisgah National Forest sits one of the most interesting geographic landmarks on this list. The Sliding Rock is almost certainly what you’re picturing in your head. A roughly 60-foot-long waterfall gently flows over a smooth rockface, forming a natural slide, according to Romantic Asheville. It’s a great way to entertain kids (and awaken your inner child). $4 gets you access to the area, and you can keep sliding down until your heart’s content.
Mineral Springs Lake, Ohio
Mineral Springs Lake is part of a resort and campground, but the highlight of this property is the pristine, spring-fed lake right in the center. You’ll have to pay a small fee to get in and enjoy the water (campers get a discount), but once you’re inside, you can swim, kayak, or check out the inflatable water park.
Perkiomen Creek, Pennsylvania
Located northwest of Philadelphia, locals and day-trippers head to Perkiomen Creek to enjoy time on an 18-mile stretch of water. Paddling the Perkiomen is a popular activity, and there are plenty of places along the route to pull over and enjoy the public parks found in the Perkiomen Valley.
Chau Ram Falls, South Carolina
Chau Ram County Park is Oconee County’s “Best Kept Secret.” There are plenty of aquatic activities to enjoy, like tubing, fishing, and swimming, but the biggest attraction in the park is Chau Ram Falls, a 40-foot waterfall and pool below that could help you cool off after a day spent exploring. One of the most fantastic things about this waterfall? The park has made it handicap accessible so everyone can appreciate it!
Cummins Falls, Tennessee
For many years, Cummins Falls has been considered one of Tennessee’s most scenic spots and best swimming holes. Locals from Jackson and Putnam Counties frequent the area, but many people drive from hours away to take in the sights and take a dip. If you want to access the base of the falls, you must purchase a gorge access permit for $6, but for the experience you get, it’s a small price to pay.
Harpeth River, Tennessee
If you live in the Nashville area, the Harpeth River is the perfect spot for canoeing, kayaking, or floating. There are plenty of companies that will rent you the required gear to get on the water, and as a Class I river, the water is perfect for beginners. You can get your feet wet (literally) before you travel somewhere and take on stronger currents.
Barton Springs Pool, Texas
Barton Springs Pool is one of Austin’s most noteworthy attractions. The roughly three-acre pool is filled with underground spring water that hovers around 70 degrees all year long. When other pools, lakes, and streams turn into bathwater later in the summer, Barton Springs is still cool and refreshing. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to swim in the waters every year, and at $5 a day ($9 for non-residents), can you blame them?
Krause Springs, Texas
Texas Hill Country heat too much for you to handle? Head over to Krause Springs, one of the area’s most highly regarded campgrounds and swimming spots. There are 32 natural springs on the property, and they feed a combination of manmade pools and a natural one that flows into Lake Travis.
Devil’s Bathtub, Virginia
The name might sound unpleasant, but the main attraction of Devil’s Fork Loop Trail certainly isn’t. The hike is a 7.2-mile round trip and rated as difficult, but Devil’s Bathtub is a naturally smooth swimming hole perfect for rinsing off the sweat you worked up to get there, according to Virginia.org. Plan your visit during low water conditions and be prepared to scramble over boulders. This hike isn’t for everyone, but the payoff is worth it!
Lake Crescent, Washington
If you want to cross off a National Park visit and cool off in the Pacific Northwest, head to Lake Crescent inside Olympic National Park. Carved by a glacier thousands of years ago, Lake Crescent is more than 600 feet deep and has cold, clear waters. The site’s brochure has all the info you need on the different beaches, boat rentals, picnic areas, and more.
Olympic National Park charges $30 for individual vehicles, $25 for motorcycles, and $15 for pedestrians and bikers.
Note: Before you visit any of the places on the list, do some research and make sure you can handle the current conditions. If websites or social media tell you not to visit, listen to the experts. If signs say swimming is off-limits, follow them, so you can stay safe and keep driving to new adventures. It’s also worth noting that many of these spots don’t have lifeguards on duty, so it’s swim, kayak, or float at your own risk in many cases.