Tennessee's Coolest Swimming Holes You Need to Visit This Summer
Waterfalls are involved.
If you’ve listened to any popular country music over the past decade, you’re aware that all good things apparently happen near your truck, with some beer, by the river. That sounds a lot like a trip to the local swimming hole to us, so if you’re looking for some musical inspiration to write the next Bro Country hit or just to have some fun in the sun, check out some of these spots to get back to nature and cool off in some knee-deep water. Bringing your truck, beer, and your loved one is optional.
Distance from Nashville: 12 miles
The designated swimming areas at Percy Priest are off Anderson Road 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. There are great spots for cliff jumping like Hole-in-the-Wall Island and Elm Hill Marina, but most of them will require a boat to get to, as security in the surrounding neighborhoods is tight.
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.
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.
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.
The Stones River consists of three forks: West, Middle, and East. Along the East Fork of the Stones River is the Old Mill beach and swimming hole. There’s also a tree swing, but be sure to always check the depth of the water as it can change throughout the year.
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: 68 miles
Guests of the bed & breakfast have long boasted about the 40 acres of serene forest, Cooper’s Lagoon swimming hole, and the 90-foot Carmac Falls, but you don’t have to stay overnight to see it for yourself. Day visitors are welcome to hike the trails and take a dip in the lagoon—with a reservation and purchase of a boxed lunch. The terrain is a little rugged though, so boots are preferred over flip-flops.
A 30-foot, multi-tiered waterfall in Tullahoma, cascades into a pool of water that stays refreshingly cold year-round. It’s just a short hike from the road, and you can follow the sound of the rushing water to guide your way. The natural area is free and open to the public from dawn until dusk, but privately owned. The owner simply requests that you be respectful and clean up after yourself.
Not only is this the most badass name for a tiny Tennessee town, but Metal Ford is also a historic spot along the Natchez Trace where travelers crossed the Buffalo River at a narrow and shallow water level. It’s a fine place to hunt for crawdads or just loll around in ankle-deep water while you rest under the shade trees.
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 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.
There’s nothing fancy about this favorite Houston County swimming hole near Kentucky Lake -- just a nice gravel beach, some picnic tables, and a rope swing. But what else do you need for a terrific afternoon escaping the summer sun?
South Cumberland State Park stretches across more than 25,000 acres and nine separate counties. The Grundy Lake area has a man-made beach 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.
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: 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.