Taking a Dolly Dip in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Exploring the country swimming holes from Dolly Parton's childhood
Many of Dolly Parton's lyrics reflect her humble yet loving childhood growing up in a rustic, one-room cabin in Locust Ridge, at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. With 10 brothers and sisters, the home must have been cosy to say the least, although the cabin's setting on the edge of a creek was (and still is) idyllic. The children would play in the creek of the Little Pigeon River around Caton’s Chapel/Richardson Cove area of Sevier County. "Remember that old swimming hole, where we would swim so long ago," she asks in "Better Part Of Life."
I was making a joke about how there was so many of us and we were so dirty, we left a ring around the Little Pigeon River like a bathtub
In a 1978 Playboy interview, she gave even more information about the family's swimming habits and their unconventional bathing routine. "We made our own soap and in the summer time we’d go to the river. We’d just all pile in the truck or something. Of course we had a creek but the river was great. That was like a big bath. We could all go in swimming and we’d wash each other’s hair. Soap was just flowing down the river. That’s where we bathed in the summer time. I was making a joke about how there was so many of us and we were so dirty, we left a ring around the Little Pigeon River like a bathtub."
There's a great spot for a Dolly Dip close to the signpost for Locust Ridge Road/Parton Lane (SatNav will get you there) and nothing beats singing Islands in the Stream while lazily floating on your back in the rocky creek. One of Dolly's favourite childhood games was to pretend to be baptised in the river and indeed she was baptised in the Little Pigeon River, aged six. Her childhood cabin is really close, but the track says "private" and we were chased away by a dog when we attempted to get a peek, so it might be worth visiting the replica at Dollywood instead. Situated just a few miles down the road in Pigeon Falls, the Dollywood theme park attracts more than three million visitors a year and has some great roller coasters, river rides, a Dolly Parton museum and various other outlets and distractions inspired by the singer's childhood in the Tennessee.
Swimming there is idyllic and may even inspire you to write a bestselling country song of your own.
There is also a water park called Splash Country, themed around her swimming through the rivers of the Great Smoky Mountains. Whilst in the area you may also want to visit some other more natural swimming holes. Little Pigeon River Banks right next to Dollywood boasts seven swimming holes and is a perfect escape from some of the Vegas-esque over-development of the parkway in Pigeon Falls itself. Another great spot is The Sinks, where legend has it that a logging train once derailed and plummeted into the Little River below. No train has ever been recovered, but you sometime hear the ghostly whistle blow. It's a stunning spot with a waterfall and a reservoir to cool off in.
By far our favourite swim is Abrams Falls, which is located in the 11-mile historical Cades Cove loop drive. Along the way you will be able to visit preserved homesteads and enjoy stunning views of the mountains. It's a 2.5 mile hike to the falls, but along the way you may spot black bears, ground hogs, coyotes, skunks and raccoons. Swimming there is wonderful and may even inspire you to write a bestselling country song of your own.
All images © 2020 Matt Newbury & Aaron Kitts