Top 5 Dreamy Swimming Holes In Tennessee

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Summer foliage at Spruce Flats Falls in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Image: Shutterstock/anthony heflin

Top 5 Dreamy Swimming Holes In Tennessee

Sometimes it feels like the dog days of summer will never end in Tennessee. It’s hot, muggy, and uncomfortable for days on end without the relief from rain. But that’s alright, because you’re about to discover some of the most dreamy swimming holes in Tennessee to explore all summer long.

From the rolling hills of the Great Smoky Mountains to the languid creeks of Middle Tennessee, you might have just found your new favorite hangout! Whether you’re in the mood for super cold mountain runoff or a quick dip in a stream, one of these swimming holes in Tennessee is for you!

Fort Dickerson Quarry

Knoxvillians have a tumultuous history with Fort Dickerson Quarry. While the historic lake has been around for ages, it wasn’t always open to the public to swim. While that didn’t exactly stop the flow of college-age explorers, it was seen as a somewhat precarious place to visit. The water is 350 feet deep, but the cliffs are high—higher than some jumpers estimate. Add hordes of students making the 5-minute trek from campus, some under the influence, and what do you get? Tragedies.

The water is open to the public these days and security measures are in place to protect those who want to enjoy the epic quarry lake. Cool and refreshing in summer, simply stunning and peaceful in the winter.

To reach Fort Dickerson Quarry from downtown Knoxville, take the Henley Street Bridge south towards Chapman Highway. After around three quarters of a mile, turn right at Fort Dickerson Road, where you’ll find the park at the end. You can also park on Augusta Avenue on the other side of the quarry, which has direct access to hiking/biking trails that lead down to the water.

You’ll probably see people cliff jumping, but take all of the basic precautions before participating. The ledges reach as high as 100 feet from the water, which can easily turn an adrenaline-enhancing fun time into a dangerous situation.

Cummins Falls

Known as the best swimming hole across Jackson and Putnam counties for the last 100 years, Cummins Falls is an undeniable destination for Middle Tennesseans. To this day, adventure seekers and families alike travel from as far away as Nashville to take a dip in the cooling waters.

To reach Cummins Falls, take exit 280 off of I-40 onto Highway 56 and head north towards Baxter and Gainesboro. After 7.75 miles, turn right onto Old Gainesboro highway and travel one mile before turning left onto Blackburn Fork Road. The park entrance is on the left in .2 miles. The parking area for Cummins Falls is .5 miles down the gravel road.

Be warned, the trail that leads to the falls and plunge pool is quite short, but difficult to navigate. Beginner hikers are not advised to attempt it. Also note that the trail crosses several pools, some as deep as the waist, so it’s a good idea to come prepared with appropriate water shoes and clothing.

The trailhead is located on the western side of the parking lot. As the two mile trail begins, you’ll come to a Y at just .1 miles in. To get to the swimming area, take the right turn towards “Downstream Shortcut.” Keep right as you continue on an unmarked section of trail. On the left, you’ll see a trail marked Falls Overlook Trail, but don’t turn onto it—stay on the Downstream Shortcut trail!

Shortly you will reach Blackburn Fork Creek. Turn upstream and hike along the banks until you reach the swimming area below Cummins Falls.

Use extreme caution before deciding whether or not to hike upstream. When water levels are high, it’s difficult to determine water depth and current strength, so it’s best to turn back with any inexperienced navigators. Even serious hikers should practice caution before wading through the water!

Spruce Flats Falls

For a quick hike with massive (and refreshing!) payoff, drive to Spruce Flats Falls in the Tremont section of the Great Smoky Mountains. As a relatively little-known hike, Spruce Flats is mostly traversed by student groups from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. After a short yet challenging two mile trek through the dense forest, the trail opens up to cascading Spruce Flats Falls itself (and it’s irresistible plunge pool below).

To reach the trailhead, head down Tremont Road for 2.2 miles towards the Great Smoky Mountains Institute. There’s parking at the visitor’s center, where you will see a paved walkway to the Tremont Complex. The trail begins at the end of the pavement (.2 miles from the visitor’s center).

Within the two mile trail, there are several intersections with other trails. At .1 miles in, turn right at the junction to continue on towards the falls. Another intersection appears at .2 miles in, where you should also turn right. From there, the trail begins a continuous ascent until Thunderhead Mountain appears at the right. Finally at .8 miles, the steep descent into Spruce Flats Falls begins. This last section is rocky and has many exposed roots, so be sure to take care while navigating the trail.

The waterfall rises some thirty feet into the air, flowing down onto lower ledges and creating a cascade system. At the bottom, a deep plunge pool welcomes hikers who need sweet relief from the Tennessee heat.

This short, but sweet hike is perfect for an adventurous day in the mountains. Just pack up a picnic, throw on your swimsuit, and hit the road!

Old Stone Fort State Park

Not far from Nashville rests a historic state park with more than enough water to cool off. Old Stone Fort State Park, just outside of Manchester, is a prehistoric Native American structure dating back to 80AD. It’s open to the public year round to enjoy, but the park truly comes alive during the summer.

Check out the visitor’s center to learn more about the unique hilltop enclosures built during the Middle Woodland Period of history. In fact, Old Stone Fort is the most complex structure of this kind in the entire South.

After you’re done exploring the history of the land, it’s time to hit the water! The Duck River flows throughout the park with many entry points along the trail. Waterfalls of various sizes flow over limestone shelves to create ponds of various sizes.

At Old Stone Fort, you’ll find shallow cascading waterways, deep pools, and even a few whitewater rapids. As the Duck River converges with it’s lesser Little Duck River, several gorges have been carved over time. This natural process is what’s created some of the best swimming holes in Middle Tennessee!

If you’d like to spend the weekend lazily exploring the refreshing water, make sure to book a campsite ahead of time. Around fifty sites are available to rent, but they go fast! With access to toilets, showers, water, and BBQ pits, camping is the perfect homebase for a weekend away.

Manchester is also the home of the world-famous Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival each June. As more than 80,000 people crowd the campsites on the festival grounds, Old Stone Fort is like a secret oasis away from it all. Even if you choose to camp at the festival, hop over to Old Stone Fort for a zen getaway from the excitement. You can thank us after you cool off in the water.

Rutledge Falls

Off the beaten track near Tullahoma, Rutledge Falls is a peaceful escape from Nashville city life. Located on private property, the falls are open to the public all year long. The flowing water of Crumpton Creek makes for an ethereal cascading fall experience, with deep pools at the bottom.

To reach Rutledge Falls, take I-24 south from downtown Nashville. Exit onto Highway 55 and head south (turn right). At Belmont Road, turn right, then immediately left to hop onto Old Tullahoma Highway. Soon you will come to Rutledge Falls Road, where you will turn right. The parking area and trailhead for the falls is just a short drive on this road.

After a short hike down to the top of the falls, you’ll have to scramble a bit to reach the swimming hole below. It’s the perfect place to relax all day long. You’ll even see cliff jumpers taking the plunge from the steps of the falls themselves.

Mandy Burkholder is a travel, adventure, and outdoor writer who honed her craft in the foothills of the La Plata Mountains of Southwest Colorado. After a stint in the Swiss Alps, she now resides in Tennessee. Follow her on twitter — @mandyburkhold3r

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