Dives and Drives

Southeastern Swimholes: Head south for some great backcountry dips
By Pancho Doll
  |  Gorp.com
Page 3 of 4   |  

Babel Tower
Pisgah National Forest, NC
Major real estate. There's enough horizontal area to get the whole scout troop in here. Heck, you could host the entire jamboree. A 12-foot fall is surrounded with huge rock slabs. There is a wonderful sense of enclosure, almost 180 degrees of tall rock. The eastern wall reaches 100 feet into the sky. Lots of the rock in Linville Gorge is on the same plane as the river, much of it thinly bedded and stacked together like the flaky dough of a good croissant. Larger, blocky fractures produce at least a dozen different slab levels that step down into the water like it was quarried that way. Nice and smooth. You don't need a blanket. Probably don't even need clothes.

The fall empties into a chute about 15 feet long, rolling, boiling, churning. Think of the letter P. The chute is the stem of the letter and the hole is the body. Water quality appears excellent. It looks like there are a couple of jumps. There's a modest one on the right, about 10 feet high, that you can walk right down to. It seems there's a much higher jump on the left, about 20 feet, but you have to cross deep, fast moving water just above the fall. Potentially dangerous.

Plenty of people visit, the 1,000 vertical feet of hiking not withstanding. I saw remnants of at least five campfires on the rock adjoining the river. And if you're going to make a fire in the wilderness, that is the most responsible place to put it.

Map and Directions

White Oak Canyon
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
There are six waterfalls between the bottom of White Oak Canyon and Skyline Drive. However only one fall that's accessible from the main trail is a good swimming hole. The trail follows blue blazes into Shenandoah National Park. A couple of hundred feet after the parking area it forks. You stay right.

After one mile and 250 vertical feet you come to a modest basin. It's a good scale for kids who just took the training wheels off their bike. The next stop is an impressive couple of falls just above a confluence entering from the right, or about 1.35 miles in. The fall is a horsetail 30 feet high with a pool about 55 feet wide. Depth is lacking due to rock fall and snags. From there the trail climbs steeply toward the swimming hole that I like.

It's a rocky pool, roughly oval in shape and about 20 feet long. Loads of debris rafted up at the bottom improves the depth. Problem is there's no place to sit or get comfortable. You could probably swim over to the short cascade that feeds the pool and haul out on some smooth rocks there. Other rocks are very slippery. Definitely wear sandals or water shoes. A walking stick is also an excellent idea.

Map and Directions


Published: 4 Apr 2007 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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