When summer temperatures rise on your Smoky Mountain vacation, an you’re wanting to find a place to hop in some water you are in the right place. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 2,100 miles of flowing water! With this much wate, there many places to go. Grab your sunglasses and swimsuit, sunscreen, and take your water shoes.
The Greenbrier section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is easy to access. It’s only 6 miles outside of Gatlinburg. There are two large parking areas at the entrance and are the most popular spots to park and hop into the river. With plenty of large boulders, there are plenty of places to soak up the sun as well. Afterwards, head back into the park to the first-come, first-served picnic area with 12 tables and grills.
Highlights: wildflowers, picnic areas, walking trails, fishing
In spring, the Greenbrier area of the park is renowned for its wildflowers. The drive to the Ramsey Cascades trailhead provides good wildflower viewing from your car, while the Porters Creek Trail makes a good wildflower walk.
To hike Porters Creek, follow the signs to the trailhead of the same name. Good displays of wildflowers can be seen along the first 1.5 miles of trail. Wildflower displays generally start in March and peak in mid to late April.
Ramsey Cascades is another popular trail in the area with good wildflower viewing opportunities. From the trailhead, it’s 4.0 miles to the cascades, which are the tallest in the Smokies.
Six miles of mostly gravel road follow the river and its tributaries into the upper Greenbrier area. Bicycling is permitted on Greenbrier roads but is prohibited on all trails.
The Greenbrier Picnic Area is open year round.
Trout fishing is open year round. Anglers need either a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license.
Little River at the Sinks
One of the most well-known swimming holes in the Smokies is on Little River Road, approximately 12 miles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, is known as The Sinks. The waterfall plunges into a giant pool that was created during the logging camp days predating the park. Little River was a heavily used body of water to float logs out of the mountains down river. Sometimes, logs jammed up. A large jam often was broken up by tossing a stick of dynamite at the logs. Local legend says this pool got its name after a logging train fell into the water and was never seen again.
While this pool is more than 10 feet deep and you’ll spot plenty of folks jumping off the higher rocks into the water below, you’ll want to use caution here. There are strong currents, and deaths have occurred.
Located approximately 18 miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg you’ll find the Townsend Wye (or Townsend Y). This confluence of two steams has always been a popular picnic and swimming spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There’s a large grassy area to spread out beach towels and relax in the sunshine, too! Little River is almost 30 feet wide at this point, and ranges from shallow to up to 6 feet deep toward the middle. Whether you want to just splash around or want to get in a good swim, there’s plenty for the whole family here.
The Metcalf Bottoms picnic area is considered by many to be the best picnic area in the national park. There are 165 individual first-come, first-served picnic sites with grills here. Make a day of it and arrive early to get a site next to the river. While Little River is more shallow here, Metcalf Bottoms is still a great place to play in a mountain stream. After splashing around and having a big picnic lunch, burn off those calories with a walk or two. You can visit the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse or, if you’ve got energy to burn, take a stroll to the Walker Sister’s Cabin.
Chimney Picnic Area
The Chimney Tops picnic area, which is open between 3/11 and 11/26, has 68 picnic sites and is our favorite picnic spot in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At this famous picnic spot, the several tables overlooking the river are beautiful and are difficult to procure. Once you finish your meal, consider hiking the challenging Chimney Tops Trail to enjoy a great workout and stunning mountain views.
The Chimney Tops area is located in the National Park about 20 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg.
Make sure when you swim in one of the best swimming holes in the Smoky Mountains you exercise caution.
Streams in the Smoky Mountains can rise quickly after periods of rain. Even if it’s not actively raining where you are, be aware of weather conditions around you, as low elevation water can rise fast during an upstream rain storm.
Water shoes are recommended in Smoky Mountain swimming holes. River rocks can be sharp or slick, and water shoes will help you protect your feet.
Avoid swimming directly in the path of a rapid or waterfall. Strong currents can pull swimmers underwater or cause you to get your foot stuck under a rock.
While there are 23 species of snakes in the Smoky Mountains, only two are venomous. The Northern Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake are both residents here. Keep an eye out for snakes while on the edge of water, as snakes prefer sunny and rocky outcroppings. Always give snakes plenty of space and never try to grab or move a snake.
See this video for safety tips when you’re near the water in the Smoky Mountains:
Now that you know the best places to swim in Gatlinburg, it’s time to book that trip and get planning! Let us help at My Bearfoot Cabins.
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, Owners