by Sandy McLeod
One of the best parts of a North Carolina Mountain vacation is dipping into some clean, crystal clear, cold mountain water. For visitors coming from urban areas, swimming in pure mountain water is a welcome, life affirming experience that highlights any outdoor adventure. Even beneath a foliage of age old trees summer can still be hot. One way of tempting others out into the open air is to visit a waterfall with a swimming hole. For those who don’t want to swim, bring a chair and catch a cool breeze and a mist from the falls on the banks of a river.
I have selected two waterfalls to visit near Asheville. Sliding Rock is in Pisgah National Forest and can be accessed via the Blue Ridge Parkway, or near Brevard, a popular area for outdoor activities. Hooker Falls is located in Dupont State Forest, which is about a one-hour drive south of Asheville. Both waterfalls are easy to access from a road with a walking distance of only about ¼ mile or less from the parking area.
Exercise Caution! Waterfalls can be Dangerous.
Always exercise caution when visiting waterfalls. Do not plunge into pools from high rocks or cliffs above the falls. Injury or even death may result from this. Avoid areas upstream of the falls where it is slippery and there is a chance of falling and being swept into the current. Swim in pools beneath the falls and wear water shoes, waterproof sandals, or hiking boots when traversing rocky areas for extra grip.
Sliding Rock (Intersects with Highway 276, near Brevard, NC)
This sixty foot smooth and natural rockslide ends in a 6’ pool of chilly mountain water. Kids and adults of all ages line up to take this natural waterslide in the summer months. Children under 7 years old must slide down an adult’s lap and those under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult. There’s $1 fee per person at Sliding Rock. Come early, because the parking area and Sliding Rock fills up quickly in summer months. Access Sliding Rock via 276 in Brevard, NC. Or, take the the Blue Ridge Parkway South of Asheville and just past Mount Pisgah, go south on 276 for about 8 miles.
Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest
Dupont State Forest is located in the heart of The Highlands, NC. This public recreation area is located in Nantahala National Forest and recently made national headlines when it was revealed that portions of the forest were used as a setting for scenes in the The Hunger Games. The Dupont State Forest is an area with sharp and often slippery rocks that are not nearly as smooth as the Sliding Rock area. The waterfall described is a short hike – approximately ¼ mile – on a gravel road. There are other trails and waterfalls to explore in the Dupont State Forest, but this trail provides a nice calm swimming hole at the base of the falls and does not require a strenuous hike with elevation climbs.
Since motorized vehicles are not permitted on these roads except under special circumstances (and only with a permit) plan on hiking a short distance with a towel, bathing suit and plenty of water to stay hydrated. Wear water shoes or waterproof sandals to protect feet from the shop rocks and sediment. There are many smooth rocks where bathers may stretch out and picnic while taking a dip in the pool beneath Hooker Falls. For safety, avoid the area above the falls and just enjoy the view.
Observe the State Park’s rules while visiting, including the most important one:
(c) A person may wade, bathe or swim at his or her own risk in any body of water in any State Forest, except within 300 feet upstream of the top of a waterfall, and in other designated non-swimming areas.
A visit to a waterfall for a plunge may take a half-day to a full day. Make it special. Bring loved ones, lunch and refreshments along. Do not forget the bug spray or sunscreen and camp chairs, especially if you would like to linger and explore the area a little more.
Book a cabin in Asheville, close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other public recreation areas in Western North Carolina.