Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
By Charli Kerns
The Sinks is a swimming hole at the base of a 10-foot falls on Tennessee's Little River, on the road from Townsend to Gatlinburg. When I was a girl, my family spent many a summer day there swimming, drying on the sunbaked rocks and picnicking. My sister would jump over and over from a cliff into the water below. I, however, shied away. I hated even looking over.
I remember the first time I mustered the courage to curl my foot over the rough rock at the edge, my 10-year-old heart pounding in my chest—THUMP—my younger sister and parents yelling from below—JUMP! The sounds battled from the inside out—THUMP, JUMP!, THUMP, JUMP!—until after what felt like hours I finally lunged off the cliff, falling 18 feet into the cold, clear water.
A decade later, I faced the same heart-pounding feeling on the same Class III-IV creek, this time from the seat of my canoe. My friend Randy told me the line, then peeled into the current and dropped out of sight. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. All of my paddling up to this point had been on rivers like the Ocoee, where you can see around the next bend. Now I was alone for the first time. I just had to trust that I was ready. I remembered the cliff, peeled out of the eddy and entered the rapid.
Here's the thing about paddling in the Smokies. There's almost always a horizon line or a sharp bend in the flow; try as you might, you just can't see that far ahead. So you have to trust yourself and keep moving. You'll always be rewarded with some awesome rapid ahead and a deeper understanding of how far you can go.
Click the links below to read about paddling adventures in a few of our favorite parks around the country:
Paddle through a seascape of water and ice in southeast Alaska
Explore Lake Superior’s panoramic coastline in Michigan
A secret worth sharing in Missouri
Experience isolation 40 miles south of Santa Cruz, California
Experience America’s 2 billion-year-old river canyon in Arizona
Follow in the footsteps—paddle strokes—of great American explorers in Washington and Oregon
Float through an isolated wilderness on the edge of Texas and Mexico
A journey through time in South Dakota and Nebraska
The complete list of our favorite national parks for paddling