Despite the Mountain-to-Sea trail’s best efforts, I am unaware of any way to enjoy seaside summer fun in Asheville, N.C. Yes, we here in Asheville are landlocked, tide-less, without a harbor or a dockside. And yet, while summer and the ocean may seem like a timeless pair, I have to wonder whether the mountains are actually a better bet. After all, here in Asheville there are plenty of gorges, waterfalls, pools, streams, and swimming holes to choose from.
Better yet, I find mountain wildlife to be far more agreeable than sea life. I would much rather swim with a bear than a shark, but maybe that’s just me. Regardless, there’s no doubt that a dip in fresh mountain water can temper even the hottest summer day and so here I’ve arranged some suggestions of place to go swimming in and around Asheville.
The whale is purely metaphorical, let me assure you—a fanciful description of the curvaceous rock which springs out of the center of this placid pool. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, Whaleback most certainly qualifies as a hidden gem of Asheville mountain swimming. The boulder-fringed water provides plenty of space for wading, splashing, and general liquid fun. The dryer area above the cascades is perfect for a picnic. To find Whaleback, park at the Cove Creek Group Campground and hike the trail towards the Davidson River. You’ll find this pool right after where Cove Creek joins the river.
How Far is It? One hour. All travel-times are given assuming one starts from downtown Asheville.
Perhaps you seek a slightly less naturalistic setting; a swimming locale with restrooms, changing rooms, and the like. In that case, I’d recommend Lake Lure. Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, a $9 entry fee ($7 for children) lands you access to one of the largest lakes in the area, with stunning mountain views and of all things a sandy beach. Now this sand may not be up to my sandcastle building standard but I do find it to be kinder to the feet than rocks and whatnot.
Be advised though: all these modern amenities (sand included) come both at the monetary price mentioned above, and a greater concentration of fellow swimmers. Its more of a traditional beach-experience than a mountaineering expedition. But if you’d prefer to skip the hike in favor of soaking up the sun from atop a towel, Lake Lure is your choice for outdoor swimming near Asheville.
How Far is It? One hour.
Now technically, the Green River is more suited for tubing and kayaking than swimming but its close enough I see no problem with drawing it into this discussion. Devoted readers may remember how I dropped the Nature Center into a list of summer hikes and then wonder if I’m gradually losing my grip on reality. Well, let me just say that I almost included the PARI space center in this blogpost, but I chose not to—you can’t swim there at all.
Back to the topic at hand. The Green River winds through old-growth forest and whitewater gorges—just the kind of place you imagine when you think “mountain river.” The upper river is rougher and more suited to kayaking, whereas the lower river is calmer, perfect for tubes. The latter can be rented for $10 and can carry you up to 6 miles downriver. The Green River provides options for enjoying the mountains’ waterways both rigorously and relaxed—its up to you.
How Far is It? Forty-five minutes.
Sliding Rock is a local classic if there ever was one. Tourists and Ashevilleians alike line up to take the slide down this broad, slippery boulder, splashing into the pool below. Just a couple strokes back to shore, and they’re at it again. What’s so attractive about careening down wet surfaces? Its plenty safe, but I still have to ask: why do we do it? What force from the depths of our minds compels us to engage in such amusements? I cannot say.
However, I can say the environs are stunning and easily enjoyed from several viewing-platforms dotting the area. And for the price of $4 per person (credit card accepted), there are few better ways to enjoy Asheville’s wild waters.
Sliding Rock is open 10am to 6pm until Labor Day. The line can get rather long from noon to 4pm, so I would suggest targeting Sliding Rock’s early or late hours.
How Far is It? One hour.
I’ve mentioned Skinny Dip Falls before as one of Asheville’s best waterfalls and I do not hesitate in recommending it for mountain-swimming. Simply put, it includes everything I look for in such a locale. Crowds are mitigated by the fact that the falls are split up among several cascades. Sure, there may be twenty other people around, but you likely won’t be sharing space with more than half of them at a time. And if more people come, you can simply migrate to a higher or lower pool.
As far as the “mountain” element of “mountain swimming,” Skinny Dip falls is located a half-mile hike away from the Looking Glass Rock Overlook—perfect for photo-ops—and some of Asheville’s best mountain flora provide excellent shade over the pools themselves.
Just to clarify though: you can’t actually skinny dip here.
How Far is It? One hour.