As the weather heats up and summer appears just over the horizon, it is the perfect time to take a look at some of the top water attractions in North Carolina.

Man-made attractions

Across the state there are a host of options to satisfy the thirst of those who seek some fun in the water and a little bit of splish-splash in less rustic or natural environments.

Carolina Harbor
at Carowinds amusement park
14523 Carowinds Blvd.
Charlotte, N.C.
Carowinds’ water park has expanded to include four new attractions and has undergone a name change. Carolina Harbor, as it is now known, can say it is home to a new multi-slide complex, an interactive children’s area, a multi-level play structure and a new 27,000-foot wave pool.
Carolina Harbor is included with the price of admission to Carowinds.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center offers a fun and challenging experience. Photo Credit: U.S. National Whitewater Center
The U.S. National Whitewater Center
offers a fun and
challenging experience.
Photo Credit:
U.S. National Whitewater Center

U.S. National Whitewater Center
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy.
Charlotte, N.C.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center enters its 10th year of operation. The outdoor training facility offers canoeing, kayaking and white water rafting for amateurs and professionals alike. It is used as an Olympic training center and periodic races are held for all skill levels. Rock climbing, zip-lines, mountain biking and hiking trails and more are also available.

Ray’s Splash Planet
215 N. Sycamore St.
Charlotte, N.C.
One of the largest indoor water parks in the Carolinas, Ray’s Splash Planet is over 29,000 square feet and features water slides, a lazy river, a current pool, lap lanes for swimming and water basketball and volleyball, and a kiddie play area. It is operated by the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department and is ideal for families with young children. On the second floor is a fitness center with a dance studio, as well as an indoor gymnasium.

Great Wolf Lodge
10175 Weddington Rd. Ext.
Concord, N.C.
Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water park resort with 11 water slides, four pools and a tree house featuring a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket. Water park passes are included with room accommodations. It might spoil you for all other hotels, with their five-foot-deep-in-the-deep-end pools.

Wet ‘n Wild Emerald Pointe
3910 S. Holden Rd.
Greensboro, N.C.
Greensboro’s Wet ‘n Wild is the largest water park in the Carolinas and the 12th largest in the country. Water slides, including freefall body slides, pools, children’s areas, a wave pool and a lazy river are some of the attractions at the park, which sees around 500,000 visitors each year.

Natural attractions: swimming holes, waterfalls, lakes

Swimming holes, waterfalls and lakes are abundant in North Carolina. They are a nice alternative if you are looking to avoid the crowds of water parks, although some of the more popular spots can draw a lot of people on hot days.

Just remember that lifeguards are not on duty in most of these spots and you swim at your own risk. Obey signage and do not swim alone or while intoxicated. Do not enter water above falls, as the force may pull you down.

Here are some of the places you should put on your “to see” list this spring and summer.

Sliding Rock near Brevard, N.C., is a favorite for outdoor adventure with ‘sliders’ braving the mountain stream chill. Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service
Sliding Rock near Brevard, N.C., is a favorite for outdoor adventure with ‘sliders’ braving the mountain stream chill.
Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Sliding Rock
along U.S. 276
Brevard, N.C.
Located in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, this 60-foot natural water slide is so smooth you go down it without a raft, landing in eight-foot-deep, 50-60 degree water. It is so popular that on weekends and during the summer it is not unusual to have to wait through a significant crowd to have your turn, but it is worth the wait. Lifeguards are on duty late May through late August and intermittently on weekends through the middle of October.

Looking Glass Falls
along U.S. 276
Brevard, N.C.
While you are in the area, check out Looking Glass Falls, just two miles from Sliding Rock. The 60-foot waterfall has a shallow wading pool at the bottom.

Skinny Dip Falls
Blue Ridge Pkwy.
Canton, N.C.
In the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville sits Skinny Dip Falls, a waterfall and swimming hole with a small jumping-off rock into water about six feet deep. Unlike at Sliding Rock, there is no lifeguard on duty here. And don’t be fooled by the name, Skinny Dip Falls is not clothing optional.

Nantahala River Beach, Jump Off Rock
13077 W. Hwy. 19
Bryson City, N.C.
Rafters along the Nantahala River can stop off at Jump Off Rock, just a few miles away from a beach with the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where they can sun themselves and relax before heading back out. Parking is available along U.S. Highway 74.

Silver Run Falls
N.C. County Road 1007
Cashiers, N.C.
Silver Run Falls is a 25 foot waterfall just outside Cashiers, with a small, shallow wading pool and a beach spot at the bottom. There is a small parking area on N.C. County Road 1007, off U.S. Highway 64. Expect it to be crowded on hot weekend days but otherwise it is less popular than some of the other swimming holes.

Cashiers Sliding Rock
N.C. County Road 1007
Cashiers, N.C.
Along the Chattooga River. Not as big or exciting as Sliding Rock, but without the lines. There is also a bigger swimming area at the bottom. This is a nice option for families.

Shacktown Falls
Styers Mill Rd.
Yadkinville, N.C.
In Shore-Styers Mill Park in Yadkinville lies the lesser known Shacktown Falls. The falls are small but pretty nonetheless and have plenty of room underneath them to sit, wade and swim.

Lake Norman
I-77 North near Charlotte, N.C.
The largest man-made fresh water lake in North Carolina, it is home to Duke Power State Park as well as other outdoor options. Boating, swimming and more are just a short drive from Charlotte, N.C., as is nestled among Cornelius, Lake Norman, Davidson, Mooresville and Huntersville, as well as other smaller communities. Ramsey Creek Park at Lake Norman, in Cornelius, is open this summer for the first time. It is open 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m., with lifeguards on duty. The beach is 15,000 square feet and the water is five to six feet deep.

Lake Wylie
N.C./S.C. State Line
York County, S.C.
Gaston and Mecklenburg Counties, N.C.
This two-state man-made lake offers boating and other recreational options. Nearby are campgrounds, and the lake offers boat ramps for those who do not have permanent access.

Mountain Island Lake
Highway 16 in North Charlotte
This little treasure is situated so close to Charlotte, N.C., that it only take a short drive to get there. It supplies drinking water for Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties and is a fun spot for fishing, camping and boating.

Lake James
2785 N.C.-126
Nebo, N.C.
At the base of Linville Gorge, Lake James offers swimming, a beach with over 150 feet of shoreline and a pavilion with changing rooms. Boating, fishing, hiking and mountain biking are all available as well.

Lake Lure
2948 Memorial Hwy.
Lake Lure, N.C.
Near Chimney Rock, Lake Lure allows for a relaxing day at the beach with a view of the mountains. Boats, canoes and kayaks are available for rent at the marina.

Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet...