Summer in the Smokies can get hot, and there are many ways in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park to make a splash and cool down. From just dipping your toes along the banks of a stream, to diving into one of the swimming holes in the area, from river tubing to whitewater rafting – and with swimming pools thrown in for good measure – here are some ways to feel the spray and get a soaking.
In Great Smoky Mountains National Park there are more than 2,000 miles of streams, many near hiking trails, picnic areas and scenic drives. And while you should always be cautious around water in the park and follow the ranger safety guidelines, here are some of the notable spots to take a dip.
National Park Swimming
Metcalf Bottoms offers a hiking trail, picnic area and some good places to take a dip in the river and cool off. When you’re done exploring the trail, which includes a 19th century schoolhouse, or before enjoying a picnic lunch, you can go for a swim. Just make sure you move around in the river with care, since some surfaces can be slippery.
When you’re looking for a quieter area to go swimming, head to the Greenbrier Area. This part of the park doesn’t get as many visitors as other areas, making it an ideal spot for swimming in a peaceful setting. The surrounding old growth forests provide stunning views to enjoy while you’re in the water. You’ll also find Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the park, in this area.
If you’re planning a scenic drive along Little River Road, Townsend Wye provides a perfect swimming spot. At this spot, you’ll find a swimming hole to help you stay cool in the summer heat. The area also has plenty of shade along the riverbanks to avoid being directly in the sun.
In the Mouse Creek Falls area of the park, you’ll find Midnight Hole. This swimming spot has cooler mountain water, even on the hottest summer days. You can reach this swimming area around the 1.5-mile mark along Big Creek Trail. Since this is a popular place for swimming in the park, you might have plenty of company in the water when you go.
River Fun and Moving Water
When you’re looking for a more adventurous time in the water during your trip, whitewater rafting offers an exciting experience. The Upper and Lower Pigeon River in the outlying areas from Gatlinburg provide a chance to do some whitewater rafting in rougher or calmer areas. The upper branch of the river is filled with challenging rapids, while the lower offers a more gentle and scenic rafting experience.
When you want a more leisurely time in the water, tubing is a great activity to consider. Tubing is also a safe activity for families with younger children who aren’t able to go whitewater rafting. You can go tubing in Little Pigeon River close to Sevierville or Little River near Townsend. Both areas provide calm places for tubing, as well as spots where you can go for a swim.
There are many waterfalls in the park, and often the hiking trail that leads to them follows a creek or criss-crosses over one along the way (one reason always to take spare socks and a towel with you when hiking). Lots of times you can find beautiful spots along the trail just to sit quietly and listen to the rushing water, and dip your feet or go all the way. Watch out for unannounced, sudden water surges from around a curve that you can’t see coming, just as the ranger guide cautions. See our guide to all the Waterfalls in the National Park.
Some people love to stand in river water for hours and still stay dry – fishing, of course, is another great way to cool down in the water. While you need the right license(s) to fish in the park, it’s available all year around and never closes. See our many guides to Fishing in the Park.
Water on Dry Land
Swimming pools are the answer to a hot day (and indoor heated pools are the answer to winter). So if you prefer avoiding the sun and heat, consider staying in one of our cabins with indoor swimming pools. And there are many vacation cabin resorts that also have a communal swimming pool (usually in season) – check out our descriptions of the various Cabin Resorts in the area.
Dollywood’s Splash Country in Pigeon Forge is a great water park, filled with plenty of slides and rides for all the family to take a soaking and cool down. Check out our feature on Splash Country.
More Water Fun
If you don’t want to spend the whole day at a massive water park, try your hand at the Bumper Boats of The Track in Pigeon Forge. These are like the bumper cars we all know about, but in the water instead. A great way to get on the water, as well as enjoy the many other entertainments at The Track.
TIP: here’s how to find an affordable Gatlinburg cabin, and see all of our cabins in the Smoky Mountains, including our Pigeon Forge cabins and our Wears Valley cabins.