Beat the Heat at Five Georgia Swimming Holes
While summer’s winding down, the heat and humidity continue to blanket the South. Fortunately, Georgia has plenty of swimming holes where you can enjoy the outdoors without melting. Though most of the following trips require a bit of a walk, you’ll be rewarded with shady forests and cool waters at these five Georgia swimming holes.
Cohutta Wilderness: Jacks River Trail
A massive amount of timber was pulled from the Cohutta Wilderness in the 1900s, with four logging camp employing 300 to 400 men. The effort grew so intense that when logging began along Jacks River in 1929, a railway was built to carry out the lumber. By the late 1930s, the tracks were removed, and what remains is the popular Jacks River Trail, which follows the old rail bed through magnificent forest of hemlock, oak, hickory, and ferns. From the Dally Gap parking area, you’ll descend an easy few miles to reach the Jacks River. As you continue, you should look to the right for flat sections of riverbank that overlook cascades and large pools. Stretching almost 17 miles across the Cohutta Wilderness, the Jacks River Trail provides ample opportunities to cool off in the stream, and it’s just a matter of how far you want to trek.
Getting there: From Atlanta, take Interstate 75 north to Interstate 575. Travel north on I-575 to where it becomes U.S. Highway 76. Take U.S. 76 east to the intersection with GA Highway 5 north of Blue Ridge. Take GA 5 north for 3.7 miles to signs for Old State Route 2 and Watson Gap and turn left. Go 10.5 miles to Watson Gap and turn right onto Forest Service Road 22. Go 3.6 miles to the parking area for the Dally Gap and Jacks River Trailhead.
High Shoals Falls Scenic Area & Falls Trail
Tucked away in the mountains of north Georgia, the High Shoals Trail snakes down through an inviting hemlock forest to two waterfalls. After walking a little less than a mile, you’ll reach Blue Hole Falls, which gushes into a sunlit pool that makes a great swimming hole. If you continue another 0.3 mile on the High Shoals Trail you’ll reach the second waterfall, High Shoals Falls, which drops at least 100 feet with water careening down a rough jumble of rock. The trail to the falls is not especially steep, but the sustained climb back to the trailhead makes it moderately difficult.
Getting there: From Atlanta take Interstate 85 north to Interstate 985. Take I-985 to Exit 24 for GA Highway 369. Turn left onto GA 369 west, go 0.6 mile, and turn right onto U.S. Highway 129 North. Take U.S. 129 north to Cleveland, and turn right onto GA Highway 75 toward Helen. From the middle of Helen, continue traveling about 11.3 miles on GA 75 and turn right onto Indian Grave Gap Road (Forest Service Road 283). Travel 1.5 miles, fording the Hiawassee River (actually driving through it) and climbing steeply to the parking area at the sign marked “high shoals falls scenic area and blue hole falls”.
Panther Creek Trail
With steep cliffs, waterfalls, rushing streams, and exotic forest, Panther Creek ranks as one of Georgia’s most beautiful hiking paths. Since it’s also easily accessible, it can be crowded during weekends and holidays. Just 3.4 miles in is the trail’s main attraction, Panther Creek Falls, where multiple streams of water rush over a hulking bluff and collect in an immense pool. The flat patch of land at the pool’s edge is one of the most scenic campsites in Georgia. Granted, there are usually plenty of people vying to get this spot, and the trail nearby can see heavy traffic, but if you can visit midweek or in the off-season, you might nab it for a great overnight trip.
Getting there: From Atlanta take Interstate 85 to Interstate 985. Take I-985 to U.S. Highway 23/GA Highway 365. From the junction of U.S. 23 and U.S. Highway 441, take U.S. 23/441 north for 15 miles, and turn left on Glen Hardman Rd. Then turn right onto Old Highway 44, travel 1 mile to the parking area on the left.
Watson Mill Bridge State Park: Walking Trail
This park is notable not only for its quaint covered bridge spanning the South Fork of the Broad River, but also as the site of a sawmill and gristmill in the late 1800s. This stretch of the river was also used to power a hydroelectric facility that opened in 1905 and operated for almost 50 years. These days, one of the park’s main attractions, particularly in summer, is a natural waterslide just downstream from where the river runs beneath the Watson Mill Bridge. Here the shallow water flows down a broad base of rock, and on warm days this becomes a big playground for kids and adults. If you visit, you’ll probably want to pull out your camera and get some shots of the 229-foot covered bridge. According to park literature, Georgia once had more than 200 covered bridges, and the Watson Mill Bridge, constructed in 1885, is one of only 20 that remain.
Getting there: From Atlanta take Interstate 85 to Exit 106 for GA Highway 316 east. Take GA 316 east for 39.6 miles, and exit at the GA Highway 10 Loop North. Take the loop 0.4 mile and merge onto U.S. Highway 29 north. Take U.S. 29 north 10.3 miles and bear right onto GA Highway 72 East. Take GA 72 east for 17.3 miles, turn right onto New Town Road, and then turn immediately left onto GA Highway 426 (Old Fork Cemetery Road). Take GA 426 about 0.4 mile and turn right onto Covered Bridge Road, which leads to the park. To reach the park office, go through the covered bridge, pass Whistle Hollow Road and take the next left.
Sandy Creek Park
Sandy Creek Park surrounds 260-acre Lake Chapman, which was constructed to preserve the Sandy Creek watershed, act as an emergency water reservoir for Athens, and serve as a recreation site. Healthy populations of catfish, bass, and crappie draw anglers to the lake, while a sandy beach make this park a popular place to swim and catch some rays. The park also rents out canoes and kayaks. If you are looking for a good day hike in the park, the Lakeside Trail explores the shore of Lake Chapman where you might see great blue heron fishing at the water’s edge. Periodically, the trail climbs into the surrounding hills and rolls through the shade of a pleasant hardwood forest. Near the lake’s northeast tip, a lengthy wood footbridge carries you across Sandy Creek and a broad wetland habitat.
Getting there: From Atlanta take Interstate 85 north to Exit 137 for U.S. Highway 129. Turn right and take U.S. Highway 129 south for 11.6 miles. Turn left onto New Kings Bridge Road and go 5.3 miles. Bear right onto U.S. Highway 441/GA Highway 15 and travel south 3.4 miles. Turn left onto Bob Holman Road, go 0.7 mile, and turn right into Sandy Creek Park.
Marcus Woolf has served as an editor and worked as a freelance writer for national outdoor magazines like Backpacker and Outside. While mapping trails in Georgia for Backpacker, Marcus was inspired to write the hiking guidebook Afoot & Afield: Atlanta.