By TMoM Team Member Laura Simon
When I told my kids we were going to the Bullhole, their immediate response was, “Butthole?” And then they spent the forty-five minute drive cracking fart jokes. I’m telling you that because it might benefit you as a parent if you use the real name: River Park at Cooleemee Falls.
It’s also worth mentioning that after their first run down the rapids, no one used the butthole joke anymore. There’s this thing called respect.
If you haven’t heard of it before, the Bullhole is a local swimming hole created by a stone dam in the South Yadkin River. The result of the dam is a somewhat controlled flow of water into the riverbed below, making it an ideal place to fish, swim and tube.
Because of its close proximity to the Triad, it makes a fantastic outdoor day trip. It’s located on the border of Davie and Rowan County, just 15 minutes from downtown Mocksville, and it provides all the sliding fun of a waterpark without the cost. (There is a small fee of $5 per car or $1 per walk-ins to enter.)
First things first: this is a community park. There’s a covered picnic shelter next to the playground, along with relatively nice bathrooms.
When you get to the park, you won’t see any sign of a waterfall. In fact, as you’re driving into the park, you might be tempted to think you’ve made a wrong turn. Keep going. It’s there.
There’s a path just to the left of the bathrooms, and it takes you straight to the falls. It’s an easy walk, but there are just a few stairs. I would probably not choose to attempt this with a stroller or wagon, both because of the steps and the sand on the beach; it’s easier to find a way to carry everything.
Did I mention the beach? Because there’s a big one. Apparently the beach was deposited there by a storm, and the size of the sandy area will depend on the amount of rain in a given year. According to a local, this particular year is a good one for the beach, so you should make sure you get there to take advantage of it. The sand is messier than an ocean beach; dress your kids accordingly.
The falls themselves are man-made. You honestly won’t want to do much with them. I did notice fishermen taking advantage of the space at the base of the falls, but I’m not skilled in that area. If you are, bring a net or a rod.
The fun starts immediately below the falls, where the water rushes over the stone riverbed. In places the water is only a few inches deep, but it rushes quickly. The slope of the rocks creates a series of natural water slides, complete with super gentle rapids. Eventually, the water dumps most sliders and tubers back to the far end of the beach.
Some people just play in the water. You can walk on the shallow parts and play in the calm water near the bank. You can also opt to slide without a tube, although it seemed that some people were having more success than others. By far the most popular option was tubing, with good reason. With a tube, you can fly down the river. We brought our pool floats; they’re the cheap ones from Target, but they were more than up to the job. There’s also a local family that rents tubes for $5/hour, but they aren’t always there. If they are, I can recommend those $5 tubes, especially for adults. On the flip side, I’d say there’s a good chance of losing at least one tube down river. And it’s easier to feel good about that when you’re using the $4 tube from Target.
When you choose your attire, keep in mind that this is a river. It’s clean by river standards, but rivers destroy clothes. I’m going to save the swimsuits my kids wore, mainly so they don’t have to ruin something else when we go back (because we’ll definitely go back). Water shoes are also advisable. The rock is very smooth and slippery, and the surface is uneven. Your whole family will need shoes that stay on your feet in the water. Even an old pair of gym shoes is preferable to flip flops.
And parents, just assume that you’ll be in the water and choose your footwear accordingly. I had to go in to help several of my kids to shore, and I can attest that flip flops were a poor choice.
Otherwise, bring all the things you would bring for a day at the pool or beach. The area gets direct sun, so pack the sunscreen…and also, plenty of bug spray. You can absolutely pack a picnic; there are trash cans on site and even a few picnic tables in the shade. Cooloomee is a small town, and Mocksville is a good 15 minutes away, so it’s wise to bring plenty of drinks and snacks from home. If you pack well, you could easily stay all day.
Also, you should know that this is a real river with real currents…and no lifeguard. When they say you swim at your own risk, you really do. My kids would tell you it was probably the most fun they’ve ever had in their lives. I can also tell you that I probably had at least six heart attacks and most likely shaved five years off my life. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
At a minimum, you’ll want some sort of lifejacket on younger swimmers. My five-year-old has done two years of swim team and she’s a solid swimmer; I still put her in a puddle jumper. You’ll also want to have a conversation about what to do if they current takes them faster or further than they want to go. I’d recommend having that conversation before you’re wading into the river, telling your 8-year-old to forget about saving the $4 inner tube and just swim to shore.
Also, at the last minute another family decided to come with us. This turned out to be absolutely invaluable. Besides being fun, it was super helpful to have two sets of adult eyes. Our kids ranged in age from 3 to 10, and one parent was able to watch the big kids do big kid things while another watched the littles.
Keep in mind that the water and current will depend on the amount of rain we’ve had. In times of drought, there might not be enough water to slide. I would assume that heavy rain could make things much more overwhelming. When you go, take some time to watch other tubers and figure out which parts of the river run faster and further. In our experience, the side of the river closest to the public beach was much more controlled and manageable for kids. The far side of the river, while incredibly fun, is probably best left to bigger kids who are also strong swimmers. There are also some parts of the river where adults can’t touch. Anyone who can’t swim should be in a lifejacket just to be safe.
Finally, I’d suggest mornings and weekdays if you want to avoid a crowd. The Bullhole is a popular spot with locals, and it gets crowded, especially later in the day on weekends. There’s a reason it stays busy…its incredibly fun. If you’ve never been – or never even heard of the Bullhole – it’s time to grab a tube and plan a visit. Visit their website and Facebook page for updates.
See a short video of our trip below!
Note: When entering the park, everyone mainly drives to the left to find a parking space. If you were to continue driving straight there is a driveway that goes straight down the hill beside the woods, you can park there but parking space is quite limited, 15 – cars maybe. If there is a wagon or stroller, the land is flat there and you walk to the left on a cleared road which is adjacent to the river but not right beside it. It’s a scenic short walk to the dam.
*Please take CDC recommendations and any additional safety precautions when venturing out on this excursion. TMoM is not liable for any accidents or harm.