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Editor's note: This story originally published on Aug. 1, 2016. With the coronavirus pandemic, park officials recommend arriving early to avoid large crowds and to continue practicing social distancing.

Summers in Tennessee can be brutal.

When the temperature threatens to inch into the triple digits and humidity smothers the air, not even the stale breeze choking from dying A/C units can provide relief.

Not like Chattanooga's swimming holes can.

Luring locals in with cool waters and stunning scenery for decades, the area's natural swimming spots have always offered refuge from the summer sun, but that isn't the extent of their appeal. Chattanooga is home to some of the most unique swimming holes ever sculpted by Mother Nature, and a quick look at some of our favorites will show you what we mean. Crafted by nature's artistry and dripping with personality, each pool offers an extraordinary blend of features sure to turn "hot as hell" into a slice of heaven.

1. North Chick Blue Hole

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North Chick Blue Hole
 

Located in the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge, this beautiful series of pools has been a favorite among Chattanoogans for years, and with good reason. Created by boulders that disrupt the creek's flow, each pool offers crystal clear water that can plunge more than 10 feet deep. Find a small, secluded pool to hide out in or jump into one of the bigger holes, which offer water more than 14 feet deep, a rope swing and giant boulders for leaping or tanning.

Drive Time: 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: Less than 1 mile

Hike Difficulty: Easy

Parking: Large, rugged lots at the trailhead

Area Amenities: Picnic tables

Fast Facts: Gorgeous as this site is, it would be remiss of us to overlook the significant litter problem. Please help keep this swimming hole enjoyable by picking up after yourself when leaving and by collecting any trash you find along the way.

2. Big Soddy Creek Gulf

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Big Soddy Creek Gulf
 

The biggest selling point of this creek's deep swimming holes is accessibility. With a flat gravel road running parallel to the water, this spot is ideal for families with younger children looking for a peaceful outing. Visitors can whet their appetites for nature with a short hike featuring gorgeous mountain and gorge views before dipping into one of the foliage-framed pools or resting on one of the large rocks.

Drive Time: 25 minutes from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: 1.2 miles

Hike Difficulty: Easy

Parking: Spaces at recreational area's gates

Area Amenities: Picnic area and trash cans

Fast Facts: The "Gulf," acquired by the city of Soddy-Daisy in 2014, sits on land once used to transport coal from surrounding mines. The gravel road once served as a railroad for the operation — at least until 1923, when the six mines were closed.

3. Rainbow Lake

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Rainbow Lake
 

Pooling beneath the waterfall-like dam that created it, Rainbow Lake is another Chattanooga favorite. The water cascading over the structure provides a beautiful view to soak in before getting your feet wet, while a nearby rope swing and the dam itself offer plenty of ways to salvage a bit of summer fun before it's time to dry off. Not to mention that a visit to this Signal Mountain spot is noticeably cool — as in typically 10 degrees cooler than the Scenic City below.

Drive Time: 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: 1 mile

Hike Difficulty: Easy

Parking: Minimal spots at the trailhead

Area Amenities: None

Fast Facts: Rainbow Lake celebrates its 100th birthday this year. The dam that formed the lake was built by the owner of the nearby Signal Mountain Hotel, now called Alexian Village.Watch Out: The water at the base of the dam is usually deep enough to jump into, but don't take our word for it! Check the depth before attempting any daredevil-like stunts, as the water level fluctuates greatly.

4. Ozone Falls

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Ozone Falls
 

The aqua blue pool under this 110-foot waterfall may be quite the drive from Chattanooga, but the mystical quality and ease of access make it the perfect destination for a memorable weekend escape. The dome shape of the rock towering over this hidden swimming spot creates a natural amphitheater that keeps the air swirling with mist from the waterfall. With the falls located only 15 minutes from the parking lot, the hardest part of your trip to Ozone Falls will be leaving.

Drive Time: 1.5 hours from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: Less than 1 mile

Hike Difficulty: Easy

Parking: Small parking area close to the top of the falls

Area Amenities: None

Fast Facts: We weren't the only ones who noticed Ozone Falls' natural beauty. Disney chose the location to shoot scenes from the recent Jungle Book film.

Watch Out: Getting to the bottom of the waterfall may be easy, but the path is very steep and the top is without railing. Be careful!

5. Blue Hole Ocoee

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Blue Hole Ocoee
 

Most swimming holes boast exotic locales with beautiful landscapes, but at the Ocoee, the best views are found underwater. Along with a few traditional blue holes, the Upper Ocoee River is home to a series of underwater tunnels that make for an unforgettable snorkeling experience. Filled with water ranging from 3 to 12 feet deep and an assortment of wide and narrow tunnels big enough to slip through, this submerged paradise is accessible to swimmers of all levels.

Drive Time: 1.25 hours from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: Less than 1 mile

Hike Difficulty: Easy

Parking: At the Ocoee Whitewater Center ($3 fee)

Area Amenities: Restrooms

Fast Facts: None of the tunnels are longer than 5 feet. It should be perfectly safe for children as long as they're good swimmers.

Watch Out: Sometimes, the river is too high to swim safely due to excessive rain or a recent dam release. Call the Ocoee Whitewater Center at 423-496-5197 before going to ask about the water level.

6. Foster Falls

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Foster Falls
 

Outdoorsmen may hail the Foster Falls State Park as one of the South's premiere rock climbing destinations, but hidden at the base of the hallmark 60-foot waterfall is a pool whose reputation rivals the area's stone. A playground for adrenaline junkies, the hike down is steep, rocky and a little uneven in some places, but the cavernous promised land at the bottom welcomes wanderers with 10 feet of refreshingly cold water and a jaw-dropping view of the canyon-like cliffs from below.

Drive Time: 45 minutes from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: Less than 2 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Parking: Paved parking lot

Area Amenities: Restrooms, campsites, picnic area, grills

Fast Facts: Foster Falls' swimming hole has a bit of competition. While it's the largest pool in the area, there are other swimming spots along Fiery Gizzard Trail, including the one under Sycamore Falls, which some say is the best in the area. If you've got time for an additional two-hour hike and a second test swim, you can find out for sure.

7. Greeter Falls

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Greeter Falls
 

The blue hole resting under this 50-foot waterfall may sound too good to be true. Not only are its crystal waters seemingly bottomless and postcard-ready year-round, the large pool is also fairly easy to hike to. The quickest route takes you half a mile from the trailhead and down a memorable spiral staircase, but there are also several other marked trails for those hoping to work for their reward.

Drive Time: 1.25 hours from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: Less than 1 mile

Hike Difficulty: Easy

Parking: Lot at trailhead

Area Amenities: Picnic area and trash cans

Fast Facts: Greeter Falls is located in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area, which just so happens to be the largest unit of the South Cumberland Trail.

8. Cummins Falls

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Cummins Falls
 

Consistently crowned one of the 10 best swimming holes in the United States by both Travel + Leisure and CondéNast magazines, Cummins Falls reserves its cold waters and gorgeous view for the worthy. Those longing to gaze upon its famed stair-stepped waterfall and bathe in its depths must first tread through moving water and climb a ridge intent on thinning the herd. Only the warriors will reap its rewards. Godspeed, explorers.

Drive Time: 2 hours from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: 2.5 miles

Hike Difficulty: Hard

Parking: Gravel lot next to restrooms

Area Amenities: Shaded picnic area, restrooms

Fast Facts: This swimming hole truly puts you in the presence of royalty: Cummins Falls is Tennessee's eighth-largest waterfall in terms of water volume.

9. Middle Creek

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Middle Creek
 

Middle Creek is home to an elusive natural water slide whose admission is paid in sweat. To reach this Holy Grail of swimming holes, explorers must trek roughly three miles up the creek bed through untamed land with no definitive trail. The few who successfully traverse the giant boulders and fallen trees are rewarded not only with a unique sliding experience, but also with decent ledges for jumping and sweet, sweet seclusion.

Drive Time: 15 minutes from downtown Chattanooga

Hike Distance: 3 miles

Hike Difficulty: Hard

Parking: Unmarked pulloffs along the roadway

Area Amenities: None

Fast Facts: Middle Creek is home to several swimming holes. If you don't make it to the pool with the water slide, chances are you'll find one of the other swimming spots along the way. Don't be afraid to stop and enjoy!

Watch Out: Middle Creek is notorious for car break-ins. Since a smashed window will probably ruin your day, it might be best to clean everything out of your car and leave the windows rolled down to prevent unwanted damages.

RULES OF THE POOLS

While swimming holes can bring sweet relief from the sun’s rays, they aren’t without their risks. Within the last two years, two men have drowned at Blue Cove Hideaway, raising questions about the safety of the McMinn quarry, as well as the safety of unsupervised swimming holes. To ensure your summer stays fun and incident-free, here are a few guidelines to consider before taking the plunge.

DO check the weather.

Not just today’s, but yesterday’s, and the day before that. Heavy rainfall can cause pools to swell and currents to quicken for several days after a storm. That means your favorite swimming spot can be dangerous even on a calm, sunny afternoon.

DON’T swim alone.

For one, it’s not the way summer was meant to be enjoyed. But it’s also a surefire way to drown if there’s an emergency. No buddy means no rescuer if something goes wrong.

DO look before you leap.

Water levels are constantly changing. A lack of rain could mean jumping into a very shallow pool. Assuming that the entire water hole is uniform below the surface can also be hazardous. Some areas of the pool may not be as deep as others, and even if they are, the water may be blocking your view of underwater boulders or debris. Test the area you plan to land in before you take flight.

DON’T dive in headfirst.

Diving is an easy way to get a back or head injury that can lead to paralysis. Or worse.

DO swim sober.

Yes, we’re all adults here. But alcohol slows your reaction time and impairs your judgement, which is the last thing you want when swimming — especially since the Centers for Disease Control linked alcohol usage to 70 percent of all water recreation deaths.

DON’T stand or swim directly under a waterfall.

Rocks sometimes wash over the falls. Also, the pressure from a waterfall could trap a swimmer underwater.

DO mind your feet.

Chacos could save your life — or at least your feet from broken glass and sharp rocks.

Pro tip: If rocks are super-slippery, walk on all fours.

 

 

 

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