Virtual visits

5 of our favorite summer hikes with water

A summer hike isn’t a summer hike unless it includes water, the more water, the better. And the more water in more forms, better still.


You know, the 5 major forms of mountain water:

  1. Mountain pool form
  2. Wading form
  3. Hiking in form
  4. Short Hike In form
  5. Falling form

Today, we share one of our favorites in each of these 5 categories. And the envelopes, please …

Favorite Mountain Pool(s)

Gragg Prong / Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Wilson Creek area, Pisgah National Forest, Mortimer 

The Wilson Creek area, where much of the runoff from that massive massif Grandfather Mountain drains, is rife with great water options. Drive up Brown Mountain Beach Road on a hot summer’s day and you’ll be hard pressed to find parking to access Wilson Creek proper. But veer off the main road (it’s gravel) and your odds of finding solitude and water together are pretty great. That’s what makes Gragg Prong so awesome: the hike in on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is for experienced hikers only, but the payoffs are oh-so-numerous. For 2 miles or so Gragg Prong tumbles, pools, tumbles, pools, tumbles … well, you get the idea. Cold mountain swimming holes rimmed by smooth granite slabs make for the perfect afternoon of sun, splash, repeat.

Learn more here

Favorite Wading area

Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area

South Toe River, Pisgah National Forest, Burnsville. Could there be such a thing as a tubing and swimming hole resort? There could and there is: the Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area, which sits on a stretch of the South Toe River that has a ridiculous number of great places to wallow in the bracing waters that drain from the Black Mountains, the highest mountain range in the East with elevations approaching 6,700 feet. Wander through the Carolina Hemlocks Campground (36 campsites) and the majority will sport tubes and other gear suited to days on end spent frolicking in this mountain creek. A lot of people, true. A lot of options as well. 

Learn more here

Favorite Water for Hiking in

North Mills River Recreation Area

Mills River to Big Creek, Pisgah National Forest, Pisgah Forest

We did a trip here in 2016 that had us spending most of our time in the mercifully cool waters of burbling North Mills River and Big Creek. Our 5-mile hike from the campground up to Little Pisgah Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway spent all but the last mile splashing as much as hiking (the last mile was a bearish climb to the summit). It also included a pass by the Hendersonville Reservoir (probably not for taking a dip). A great hike in the right water shoes.

Learn more here

Favorite Short Hike In

Huntfish Falls has a generous swimming hole at its base.

Hunt-fish Falls

Wilson Creek Area, Pisgah National Forest, Mortimer

Hate to have two so close to each other (they actually connect), but Hunt-fish Falls is a no-brainer. It’s not quite as remote as Gragg Prong (see Favorite Mountain Pool(s), but being a lengthy gravel road drive from much of anything is a big attraction for the solitude-seeking. Then, it’s just a 0.7-mile hike down (and back up, upon your return) to one of the best pools around. Hunt-fish is encased in granite, including a nice smooth slab perfectly situated for sunning. On every visit, the water has been frigid; fortunately there’s a nice wade-in section. There’s also a spot to jump into its deep waters (I’ve never hit bottom). You’ll have some company — but not much.

Learn more here

Favorite Waterfall

Schoolhouse Falls and various other falls

Panthertown Valley, Nantahala National Forest, Cashiers. 

You have to hike in about a mile-and-a-half for this hole, but what a hike it is, past towering hemlocks and rock outcrops in an area described as the Yosemite of the East. The payoff is sweet: Schoolhouse Falls is a picturesque curtain of water dropping 20 feet into a luxurious pool, at the far side of which is a sand beach. Those of you who apply to the gradual immersion school will be especially pleased by the gentle incline that introduces you to the cold. Fed by the Tuckasegee River, it’s possible to walk behind the falls at lower flows. Panthertown has a number of other falls to round out your visit.

Learn more here.

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