Beat the Summer Heat at Tennessee’s Coolest Swimming Holes

Who needs air conditioning?

Cummins Falls At Cummins Falls State Park | Jim Vallee/Shutterstock
Cummins Falls At Cummins Falls State Park | Jim Vallee/Shutterstock

The weather is getting warmer, and the call to get wet is getting louder. Maybe you don’t live in an apartment complex with a pool, or your friend that does won’t invite you over again after the notorious Marco Polo cheating scandal of last summer. That’s OK, because nature is calling with plenty of opportunities to take a dip in a cool pool at any of these rural swimming holes across the state. Pack a towel, sunscreen, and some shoes to clambor over rocks, and always make sure to check the depth to the bottom before you go jumping off anything into the water.

Flickr/Michael Hicks

Distance from Nashville: 126 miles
Thousands of years of erosion from a torrent of water plunging over the 110-foot waterfall have carved out a lovely natural amphitheater that serves as the backdrop for this popular swimming hole. The topography captures the mist from the falls, acting as natural air conditioning for swimmers in the deep pool at the base of the falls. It’s such a beautiful spot that it was used as background scenery in the movie The Jungle Book, so you can swim where Mowgli did.

Flickr/Joel Kramer

Distance from Nashville: 154 miles
This massive recreation area offers all sorts of outdoor opportunities, but one of the favorites, and easiest to access, is the historic Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole where the male residents of Rugby, TN would take a dip to cool off on a hot day. Now it’s open to both sexes and accessible by an easy, short walk down a trail to the Clear Fork River. Because the park is on the westernmost point of the Eastern Time Zone, the sun sets later than anywhere else in the state to allow for more hours of daylight for swimming.

Distance from Nashville: 127 miles
Right off the bat, “Soddy Daisy” is just a delightful name for a town, and Big Soddy Creek is a marvel of nature that is reason enough to visit. Fed by underground rivers, the creek features beautiful azure “blue holes” where the subterranean streams emerge through crevices in the rocks. Thanks to a rope swing and a jumping rock, the largest blue hole in the park can get pretty crowded during the summer, so be careful where you leap lest you land on another swimmer.

Flickr/Tim Creque

Distance from Nashville: 111 miles
Dale Hollow is a deep reservoir formed by the damming of the Obey River for hydroelectric power back in the 1940s. This dam project from the US Army Corps of Engineers also created some really nice swimming holes at the Obey River, Lillydale Campgrounds, and Willow Grove. Each location features a sandy beach and restroom facilities, plus the swimming area is buoyed off to protect visitors from boat traffic.

creek cascades
Flickr/Steve Harwood

Distance from Nashville: 12 miles
The designated swimming areas at Percy Priest are off Anderson Rd and Cook Recreation Area, accessible for the bargain rate of just $5 per vehicle. You can reserve a group shelter online as a home base to stash your stuff and a little food, with available dates through the end of October. If you’ve ever wanted to try out a paddle board, Nashville Paddle Co. rents them along with kayaks by the hour so you can tool around the coves for an hour or so.

Distance from Nashville: 26 miles
Long Hunter State Park, in Hermitage, consists of 2,600 acres of hiking trails, boating, and lakeshore camping. Follow the Bryant Grove Trail (four miles), which connects the designated swimming beach at Bryant Grove with the Couchville Lake area along the shore of Percy Priest Lake. While the beach is no 30A, it does offer volleyball courts, restrooms and a playground for the kids. Be aware that dogs aren’t allowed in all sections of the park, so you might want to check the regulations before packing your pooch in the car.

Harpeth State Park
Kayak ramp at Harpeth State Park | Brent Moore/Flickr

Distance from Nashville: 27 miles
The park runs along 40 scenic miles of the Class II Harpeth River, a popular route for canoe and kayak trips, and there are several swimming holes and rocky beach spots along the way. There are also numerous upstream and downstream access points for beginners and advanced kayakers. Try the five-mile float with several small beaches to stop for a swim, or visit the Narrows of the Harpeth to see one of the oldest man-made tunnels bored to provide water to a long-lost iron foundry. The 100-yard tunnel is hand-carved from stone and empties into a small swimming hole on the other side.

Old Hickory Lake
Old Hickory Lake | KennStilger47/Shutterstock

Distance from Nashville: 29 miles
Old Hickory Lake is a 22,500-acre reservoir created by the Old Hickory Dam on the Cumberland River. There are three designated areas for swimming: Old Hickory Beach, Cedar Creek, and Laguardo. Entry fee is $5 per vehicle, and guests can hike along the Old Hickory Lake Nature Trail, or grill out at the picnic shelter by the beach. If you’ve got a buddy with a boat, pilot yourself to a shallow sand bar known as “Two Foot Cove” where dozens of party barges drop anchor daily for some aquatic summer fun.

Distance from Nashville: 35 miles
The beach on Acorn Lake is free, and open daily through Labor Day weekend. If someone in your party isn’t into lake swimming, there’s also an outdoor pool close by the beach. There are 94 campsites available for overnight trips, 19 miles of hiking trails, and three lakes for fishing, boating, canoeing, and kayaking.

Stillhouse Hollow Falls
Stillhouse Hollow Falls | Brent Moore/Flickr

Distance from Nashville: 66 miles
The 90-acre natural area of Stillhouse Hollow Falls is located in the appropriately named Summertown, which is 21 miles southwest of Columbia. There’s a 75-foot waterfall less than a mile hike from the entrance. Below the falls is a small, but incredibly serene, swimming hole. Parking is quite limited, so consider carpooling to the pool.

Distance from Nashville: 84 miles
One of the most scenic swimming holes in Tennessee, Cummins Falls State Park is a 211-acre day park, featuring an impressive 75-foot waterfall. You’ll need to reserve a $6 Gorge Access Permit in advance, and then a fairly strenuous 2.5 mile (round-trip) hike takes you to the falls, which empty into a deep gorge that's perfect for spending a day swimming and sunning on the rocks. The descent into the gorge is steep, so use caution and remember you’ll have to climb back up at the end of the day.

Rock Island State Park
Rock Island State Park | Flickr/Michael Hicks

Distance from Nashville: 85 miles
Rock Island State Park offers both a natural sand beach (located off Center Hill Lake) and several swimming holes throughout the 883-acre park. The lakeshore is decorated with stately old family homes and camps, which make it look like the set for the Tennessee version of Dirty Dancing. Great Falls is a 30-foot, horseshoe-shaped waterfall, and Caney Fork Gorge features scenic overlooks, waterfalls, and deep swimming holes.  

South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland State Park

Distance from Nashville: 92 miles
South Cumberland State Park stretches across more than 25,000 acres and three separate counties. The Grundy Lake area has a man-made beach with plenty of room for recreation just four miles from the visitors center. There are several waterfalls that provide refuge from the heat with year-round cold water. No jumping here though, because the pools are pretty shallow. However, they’re perfect for swimming and lounging. Greeter Falls is an excellent spot in the Savage Gulf area and is only a one-mile hike to the falls.

Distance from Nashville: 95 miles
As hikes go, the Grundy Day Trail and Fiery Gizzard Trail are pretty easy to manage. Sure, there are some hills to climb, but your effort is rewarded with several secluded natural pools, some with gentle waterfalls plunging from springs. Crowds are sparse, so you may even have your little oasis all to yourself.


Distance from Nashville: 108 miles
Foster Falls isn’t the sort of waterfall where you’d want to stand directly under the cascade, as the 60-drop of the water would pretty much beat you senseless. (You would end up nicely exfoliated, though.) Instead, enjoy the deep cool pool around the falls and take in the lovely scenery that surrounds the falls. You can even stay overnight nearby at a campground that features a bathhouse with heated showers to warm up after your plunge.

Distance from Nashville: 123 miles 
Located in the most visited state park in Tennessee, the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls is one of the biggest waterfalls in the eastern United States. Other waterfalls within the park are Piney Creek Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades -- with deep natural pools for swimming. There’s also a swinging bridge over the swimming hole where locals like to dive into the water.

Ozone Falls Area
Ozone Falls Area

Distance from Nashville: 127 miles
Conveniently off Interstate 40, Ozone Falls is such a picturesque locale that it was chosen as a filming site for the latest Jungle Book movie. Dropping into a natural amphitheater, the falls plummet more than 100 feet into a deep rocky pool and then disappear into an underground spring before emerging again a short distance downstream. It’s a bit of a rugged hike to get to the bottom of the falls, so plan accordingly.

North Chick Blue Hole

Distance from Nashville: 130 miles
As if the chance to visit a town named Soddy Daisy wasn’t reason enough to hit the road, this popular swimming hole draws big crowds to enjoy the deep blue water of the main pool, a rope swing, and rocky platforms to take the plunge from. A caveat: The beautiful azure water is actually part of an underground cave system, so the water is pretty chilly all year round.

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Chris Chamberlain is a Nashville-based, food, drink and travel writer who’s not afraid to go rolling in the deep.