I remember back when the quarry was illegal for swimming. Nobody cared though. The area down below was full of college kids hanging out, dipping in the water and drinking beers and the cliffs drew in the odd cliff jumper ignoring every sign and grim reports of death from local media.
But now it’s different, kinda. I arrived at Fort Dickerson Park, famous for being the site of earthen Civil War earthworks. But the real attraction, beneath the shrubs that appeared golden in sunset light was the Augusta Quarry, known as Fort Dickerson Quarry by most people I know.
More and better established trails greet visitors to the park nowadays allowing visitors to climb down from this overlook to the pool itself. Fences with warning guard the cliffs from jumpers nowadays, but the deep quarry pool itself now has an official swimming area that visitors can enjoy, legally, though at their own risk. Before the city had discouraged swimming altogether. But now they’ve resigned to it being something people will do. And regardless, I will continue to do it.
I hope at some point to explore the other trails, but just wanted to let visitors know a bit more about all that’s happened at what they’re now calling Battlefield Loop.
Piney River Pocket Wilderness near Spring City, Tennessee has just a tiny number of trails and even fewer roads (the main one of which is closed now). But it is a glorious place for swimming holes. The clear, cool Cumberland water is delightful in a Tennessee summer, and unlike certain other places, it never gets crowded.
While there are swimming holes further back that are so obscure you can swim nude, you don’t even have to walk far from the parking lot to get in the water. Near the park’s picnic area there are a series of clear pools for splashing about in.
But even the beaten path in Piney River isn’t that beaten. Even on Labor Day, Yvonne and I just saw a few families visiting.
I’m no expert on fish. Fishing and/or ichthyology will probably be something for another episode. For now though I’ll just say that I love the fish in wild Tennessee pools as they’re among the few woodland creatures that actually enjoy a human presence.
This was my first time visiting with Yvonne. When I visit with Dad, we usually go on the Cumberland Trail, as in our book, with any swimming as an afterthought.
With the Yvonne and me this time, the Cumberland Trail was an afterthought. We didn’t reach any of its more impressive scenery, but rather walked to a tiny rockhouse, kissed, contemplated our surroundings, looked at what appeared to be a whole community of centipedes under the same rock overhang and then headed back, not even getting as far as the first stream crossing the CTC website lists before jumping back in the water. Streams just call to Yvonne and me.
We have the paper company Bowater, founded by the Englishman Bowater to thank for the Pocket Wildernesses, now part of the state park system. His company created privately owned parks out of forests he did not want to use. Bowater area trails and features usually have a flair for the dramatic: tall bridges and long and steep flights of stairs.The Twin Rocks, with its steep stairs protected by a cage was one such feature, although it’s closed now and the trail to the rocks is poorly maintained.
Imagine a clear stream. Tall boulders to sun on and sit on like a mermaid. Fish nibbling at your legs. Larger fish swim by, with dull colored bodies but flashes of color on their fins. Pools deep enough to tread water and other, shallower spots to just sit and soak.
The Lilly Bluff area is most famous as a destination for rock climbers. But for me and my family, no summer would be complete without a swim there, hanging out on a slanting boulder, then splitting up with Dad doing his plant survey along the banks and the rest of us exploring the river by swimming it. There are plenty of trails to get warmed up with and as stated above the rock climbing will get you nice and hot to enjoy some natural Tennessee water.
The area is pretty well known, indeed it even has restrooms. But if you feel like it’s hard finding a spot to yourself, keep moving along the bank and you’ll find your own boulder.
White birch trees, like palm trees in a beach scene, frame and accent its blue water and distant green tree-covered mountains which surround it. Sailboats, speed boats, skiers kayaks and ducks go by but the clear water still feels relaxing. It’s what Yvonne calls “the temperature you like your beer” but if you swim for long enough if feels fine and its perfect after a hot hike at any of the nearby trails.
Stinson Lake looks and feels good and relaxing whether on a cloudy day, by evening light, underneath the thousands of visible stars from the dock or on a sunny day from the water watching dragonflies and damselflies flying above its surface.
What it lacks is public access. Private rentals and vacation homes crowd its surface. But at least I’m lucky my family owns one of them soon to be able to rent. And I’m happy to return year after year.
Happy summer! It’s time to enjoy wading, floating, swimming and splashing around! Here are a few spots on or near Cumberland Trail State Park to do it, not in any particular order. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a start. More to come, possibly!
For more on that trail, I recommend getting my book Wildly Strolling Along: Father-Son Nature Adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail. More a collection of memoirs of day hikes with my father than a guide, it’ll nonetheless give you an in depth look at flowers, wildlife, waterfalls, rockhouses and plenty more. I’d like to thank the Cumberland Trail Conference for providing me with much of my information for that book. All photos here are by me. None of the videos are.
Obed Wild and Scenic River
Looking down from Nemo Bridge in the protected area known as the Obed Wild and Scenic River, you may see many people floating about. If you like being with others and not far from the road, this place “Wartburg Beach” as locals call it is the spot for you. More hidden swimming spots await elsewhere in the Obed Wild and Scenic River and Catoosa Wildlife Management Area parts of the CT. I even swam naked at one of them. Just make sure you’re far away from Wartburg Beach proper before you try that.
A fairly deep pool depending on rain sits right below Imodium Falls on the Possum Creek section. If you can get past the name, it may just be perfect for you.
I’m not usually much of one for jumping from rocks. But apparently some people are.
The Piney River section in Piney River pocket wilderness area is among the best. Deep pools for swimming shallow spots for wading and, if you hike far enough, a good ways from the crowds. Ideally, experience this area as part of a backpacking trip so you can get plenty of time here like my father and I did.
The pocket Wilderness areas were created by the Bowater paper company. Piney is not to be confused with another pocket wilderness that’s even more famous and often just called “Pocket” by the locals. It’ s below.
Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness “Pocket”
Known to locals as just “Pocket” this area is near Dayton, Tennessee.
I’ve written about it in a piece for The News Sentinel and can safely say spending time there with my girlfriend Yvonne apart from my main hike was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. While on my main trek, the swimming holes were just one of the many things I explored about the place. Yet on return, I had to pry Yvonne, my girlfriend and hiking companion away from the swimming hole we found to look at other parts of the trail there.
I’m not the only one to discover it. Here’s a video from some other visitors enjoying a day there, shot with far better technology than I currently have to film it.
Here’s my recent Clark Center Park article for the News Sentinel. It’s amazing how little is on the web about Clark Center Park considering how popular it is in the region and how many fun things to do it has nearby. The article also has some reassuring info about snakes.