Western North Carolina boasts more waterfalls, swimming holes, lakes and streams than you can shake a stick at, and Asheville is a perfect home base to start your exploration of these natural wonders. Whether you're looking for cold, clear mountain streams, challenging rapids or just a serene swimming hole to wade into, the Blue Ridge Mountains offer a plethora of options.
Some of the best swimming holes are in Asheville's backyard, barely hidden from view. If you're lucky, you might stumble onto one after a long hike—feeling like you've walked into a dream—but for everyone else there's this concise guide to the best swimming holes in the area. We like juicy secrets like everyone else, but some things are too good to keep to yourself.
Top swimming holes in Western North Carolina.Read More
Outside Magazine named Asheville the number one whitewater town in the country.Read More
Mother Nature carved out a water park in the area, leaving behind water slides, swimming holes and rapids.Read More
See a complete list of water-related tours and outfitters in the Asheville area.Read More
When you want to learn about swimming holes, you go to the experts. The crew at Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine (BRO), who get paid to mountain bike, raft, hike and paddle in places most of us don't even know exist, provide the following adventurer insider list of top swimming holes in Western North Carolina.
For more features like this, visit the BRO Web site at www.blueridgeoutdoors.com
Asheville is the envy of many cities with its beautiful mountains and proximity to great rafting locations such as the French Broad River, Nantahala River and Nolichucky River. Outdoor magazine named Asheville the top whitewater destination in the U.S. It's not a coincidence that rafting companies such as Blue Heron Whitewater, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Wildwater Adventure Centers, and Huck Finn Rafting Adventures have chosen to make the region their home.
The French Broad River's long, peaceful stretches are ideal for calm water floats and family canoe trips, while its whitewater rapids can also be exciting for kayaks and canoe enthusiasts. The wide river winds through Pisgah National Forest mountainside, offering eight miles of small and large rapids, with occasional placid pools perfect for swimming.
The Nantahala River is ideal for families and beginners, but offers options for those with more experience. The river meanders through the beautiful Nantahala Gorge, and even the most inexperienced paddler will enjoy this beautiful river that is dam-controlled, making water releases regular and predictable.
Adventurous rafters can challenge the fast-moving Nolichucky River, located near Spruce Pine and Burnsville, N.C. Hemmed in by one of the steepest and most beautiful gorges in North Carolina, the river requires considerable maneuvering around rocks and boulders to get through its many rapids and pools as it runs through the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests.
You actually don't need to pack a lot of extra gear to include a whitewater trip in your vacation plans. Here's a basic list. And once you know which river guide company will be guiding your trip, contact them to find out if you'll need any specific items for your trip.
A towel and change of clothes
Sturdy shoes or river sandals
A bathing suit and/or shorts and a T-shirt
Many trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway lead to waterfalls, depending on the season and rainfall conditions. The Graveyard Fields Loop, found at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 419, allows easy access to a number of waterfalls flowing from Yellowstone Prong. The trails at Graveyard Fields are well mapped, but can become slippery in wet conditions. Nearby Transylvania County is home to 250 amazing waterfalls including Triple Falls, Looking Glass Falls (see below) and Toxaway Falls. Here are a few more favorite waterfalls in the region.
To experience some of the many breathtaking views, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway south from Asheville to N.C. 215. Take 215 south to U.S. 64 and continue west through Lake Toxaway, Sapphire, Cashiers and Highlands. Follow 64 through the colorful Cullasaja Gorge where numerous waterfalls - including Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls and majestic Cullasaja Falls - cascade close to the highway. In Franklin, turn north on U.S. Highway 441 and head to Dillsboro. From there, hop on U.S. Highway 23 and drive straight back to Asheville.
The highest waterfall east of the Rockies, Upper Whitewater Falls drops 411. A trail along rugged terrain leads to the falls. Wildflowers abound throughout the year. Take 240-West to I-26-West. Go to the Asheville Airport/Brevard Exit (exit 40) and take a right onto 280 and follow it toward Brevard. Drive west on U.S. 64. At Sapphire, turn left on NC 281 and go south to the Whitewater Falls entrance.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is also a connection point to a scenic loop that meanders through a part of the Pisgah National Forest once owned by George Vanderbilt. From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway south and exit onto Highway 276 at milepost 412. On this drive you will pass the Cradle of Forestry, which is a great place to stop and learn more about the birth of forestry in America, and several hiking trails are available on the property. Look for the trailhead on the left past the Cradle of Forestry to take a short hike to Moore's Cove Falls or continue south on Hwy 276 where you can park and walk down stairs to see the breathtaking beauty of the 85-foot Looking Glass Falls. Sliding Rock is also along this stretch of scenic road. You may want to stop for lunch at one of the many scenic picnic spots. The Pisgah Ranger Station, located further down Hwy 276, can provide more information on activities in the area. Continue on 276 until you reach Highway 280. Follow 280 east back to Asheville. Exit to I-26 back into town.
Located at milepost 316.3 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, north of where US 221 crosses the Parkway and south of where NC 181 crosses the Parkway, this series of falls are along the Linville River as it cuts through a steep gorge. An easy trail to the upper and lower falls starts from the Visitor Center.
The trail to Crabtree Falls begins in the Crabtree Meadows picnic area located at mile post 339.5 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A steep descent nearly one mile down the mountain takes you to the base of the falls where you can view the 100 foot drop of the Toe River.
A .75-mile trail offers a leisurely walk through hardwood forests of oak, hickory, maple and basswood harboring abundant plant life, including rare and endangered wildflowers and old favorites such as Jack-in-the-pulpit and Solomon's-seal. The reward is 404ft Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. Dainty white blossoms of Lady rue and grassy fronds of Deerhair bulrush thrive in the waterfall's mist. Deerhair bulrush is a grass-like plant with small knobs at the end of shiny, wiry leaves, found growing out of the cracks along the rock and cliff wall near Hickory Nut Falls.
Join us for guided "mild to wild" whitewater rafting near Asheville on the French Broad, Nantahala, Watauga, and Nolichucky Rivers. No experience is required and there is a professional guide in every raft. Also offering guided caving trips. …more
With seventeen-plus years in the fly fishing guide business in Asheville, Altamont Anglers' experienced staff guide fishing enthusiasts to the finest trout and smallmouth bass fishing found in the Blue Ridge Mountains. …more
Asheville Adventure Rentals, a locally-owned and operated business, is a full-service gear rental, retail and instruction company located in Asheville, NC. High-quality rental and retail inventory includes whitewater, recreational and touring boats, …more
Asheville Drifters is a year-round fly-fishing guide service offering float and wade fishing trips for trophy trout and smallmouth bass. Our trips include: transportation, all equipment, quality instruction, gourmet-hot shore lunch, and a guarantee …more
Family-friendly quiet water float trips on the French Broad River through the Biltmore Estate property in Asheville, NC. Canoes, kayaks, rafts, tubes & stand-up paddleboards. Asheville's only riverside gem mining! Bicycle rentals for use on the …more