Patrick Simsox, a Tennessee Tech University student, cools off under a waterfall at Cummins Falls in Jackson County/The Tennessean
By Claudia Pinto, The Tennessean
Like walking barefoot and catching fireflies, there are few summer pleasures as joyous as cooling off in a secluded swimming hole.
"When it's oppressively hot and you jump in, nothing feels better," said Tim Armstrong, 30, of Nashville. "The water is just cold enough to make you shiver a little."
Armstrong, a Nashville native, grew up frequenting area swimming holes. His brother introduced him to some when he was in middle school, and he discovered others while hiking with friends. But for outsiders, these hidden holes can be tricky to find. And people who know about a good one aren't always excited about sharing the secret. Seclusion is part of the allure, after all.
Fortunately, Tom Hillegass - known as the swami of swimming holes - has spent 15 years searching out pristine rivers, creeks, and springs where it's deep enough to swim. Hillegass has posted information about hundreds of these natural pools - about 30 of which are in Tennessee - on his website, www.swimmingholes.org.
"To me, it's the surroundings that make swimming holes so special. You have rocks, trees, waterfalls," said Hillegass, who lives in Alexandria, Va. "You are in the embrace of nature."
Ready to take the plunge? We've got the locations of five worthwhile swimming holes within a 90-minute drive from Nashville.
Narrows of the Harpeth
Distance: 35 minutes from Nashville
Town: Near Griffintown
Directions: From Nashville, take I-40 west toward Memphis (6.5 miles). Take Exit 201 to US-70 and head west (13.7 miles). Turn right at Cedar Hill Road (2.8 miles). Take a slight left at Narrows of the Harpeth (0.2 miles). Take the first left to stay on Narrows of the Harpeth Road (0.1 miles).
Site: There are several swimming spots where it's deep enough to swim. This section of the Harpeth River is also a popular canoeing spot.
Distance:1 hour from Nashville
Directions: From Nashville, take I-24 eastbound via exit 213A toward Chattanooga (30.1 miles). Merge onto South Church Street via Exit 81B toward Murfreesboro (0.8 miles). Turn right onto South Rutherford Boulevard (3.8 miles). Turn right onto Mercury Boulevard (8.6 miles). Turn left onto Old Woodbury Pike (1.9 miles). Turn left onto Bivens Hill Road (0.7 miles). Turn right onto Goochie Ford Road.
Site: The swimming hole can be found on the east fork of the Stones River. There's also a rope swing here - fun for making a splashdown!
Stillhouse Hollow Falls
Distance: 1 hour, 10 minutes from Nashville
Town: Near Mt. Pleasant
Directions: From Nashville, take I-65 southbound toward Knoxville/Huntsville (30.2 miles). Take Exit 53 toward Columbia/Spring Hill (4.4 miles). Exit onto TN-6 southbound toward Columbia (8.9 miles). Turn right at TN-6 South (21.3 miles).
Site: The swimming hole is below the waterfalls.
Distance: 1 hour, 30 minutes from Nashville
Town: near Cookeville
Directions: From Nashville, take I-40 East to TN-56 northbound, exit 280 (66.9 miles). Turn left at TN-56 North (7.7 miles). Turn right at TN-290 eastbound (0.9 miles). Turn left at Cummins Mill Road (1.8 miles). Turn left to stay on Cummins Mill Road (0.2 miles).
Site: The swimming hole is at the bottom of the falls. The trail is on a steep incline and is not child-friendly. There are several camping areas nearby.
Note: The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation is in the process of purchasing Cummins Falls, but for now the swimming hole is on private property. (After the purchase is complete, the agency plans to pass the land to the appropriate state agency to manage it as public parkland.) It's widely popular and has been featured in national publications, including Travel and Leisure magazine - but do know if you go that you are swimming at your own risk.
Distance: 1 hour, 30 minutes from Nashville
Town: near Hohenwald
Directions: From Nashville, take I-65 toward Knoxville/Huntsville (30.2 miles). Take Exit 53 onto TN-396 West toward Columbia/Spring Hill (4.4 miles). Exit onto TN-6 southbound toward Columbia (10.7 miles). Turn right at West Seventh Street (1.7 miles). Continue onto TN-99 westbound (16.4 miles). Turn right at TN-99 westbound (6.6 miles). Turn left toward Natchez Trace Parkway and continue to mile marker 382.
Site: You'll find a rope swing, picnic tables, grills and restrooms. Fall Hollow waterfall is nearby, at mile marker 391. Meriwether Lewis Campground is at mile marker 385.