Western North Carolina is known for its picturesque vistas, vibrant history, and mild climate. That said, we are entering that brief season during which the Southeast’s sweltering summer heat infiltrates even the balmiest mountain paradise. Luckily, Asheville sits amongst innumerable freshwater springs, swimming holes, waterfalls, and rivers. These idyllic natural water features are a low-cost way to cool down and have fun, making them the perfect daytime retreat.
Looking Glass Falls
Located within the picturesque Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Falls is a gorgeous roadside waterfall set just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thanks to its scenic cascades and general accessibility, Looking Glass is one of North Carolina’s most beloved waterfalls. Even on the hottest days, Looking Glass Falls is a temperate oasis shaded by granite cliffs and the forest canopy, constantly enveloped in the cool spray of mist. You’ll find tourists and locals alike enjoying the cool, clear waters of the swimming hole at the base of the falls.
Looking Glass Falls requires no admission fee, but there is often limited parking due to its popularity. We suggest arriving early or visiting on weekdays to avoid crowds and snag a good parking spot.
Graveyard Fields is a 3-mile roundtrip trail through ancient forests and picturesque wildflower meadows that offers stunning views of the surrounding mountain peaks. Only an hour's drive southwest of Asheville, this gorgeous hiking trail meanders along several valley streams and visits two waterfalls.
Hikers descend through a thicket of colorful rhododendron to the Lower Falls, which is located only 0.3 miles from the trailhead. The Lower Falls cascades into a swimming hole of cool mountain water, perfect for splashing around and cooling down. The Upper Falls are more remote and are not safe for swimming, but they are stunning nonetheless.
Graveyard Fields does not require a fee or reservation. That being said, the rocks surrounding the Lower Falls are slick and there are no lifeguards, so visitors are advised to swim with caution.
Elk River Falls
Elk River Falls is a 50-foot cascade near Beech Mountain in Pisgah National Forest. The hike is a steep but short trek that descends from the trailhead for 0.3 miles. This impressive waterfall features a calm pond where visitors can enjoy a refreshing swim in the cool mountain water. There are also plenty of boulders that are perfect for picnics or sunbathing.
Elk River Falls does not require a fee or reservation. It is important to note that the falls can be dangerous, especially in the strong currents directly beneath the cascade. Jumping from the 50-foot cliff into the pond below is forbidden and has caused injury in the past.
Upper Creek Falls
Upper Creek Falls is a gorgeous spot nestled in the Jonas Ridge Area of Burke County. This spectacular 1.6-mile loop trail features multiple cascades and a picturesque swimming hole surrounded by vibrant summer greenery. The boulders surrounding the swimming hole are the optimal picnic location. The site also includes a rope swing for those seeking a bit of fun.
Upper Creek Falls does not require a fee or reservation. That being said, the trail down to the swimming hole does pass over a creek. Hikers are advised to turn around if the creek is flooded, as this may present hazardous conditions.
Located in DuPont State Forest, Hooker Falls features a lovely, 12-foot waterfall as well as a swimming hole. This site is perfect for children and below-average swimmers, as the water is calm and holds virtually no current. The mild, 0.4-mile trek down to the swimming hole takes only 11 minutes, making Hooker Falls incredibly accessible.
There is no admission fee or reservation requirements for Hooker Falls. The site does not have a lifeguard, so visitors must swim with caution.
Written by intern Mollie Lund