Summer is the snorkeling season, but you don’t have to go to a pristine beach to enjoy the underwater views— a day trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains offers multiple sites.

Andrea Leslie, an aquatic biologist for North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, says snorkeling gives people a chance to learn about the fantastic world underneath the water’s surface in a safe way.

“There’re a whole mess of fishes and salamanders and turtles who live under there," she says. "It’s just a way I think for people to appreciate that and maybe think about how they can help, how they can be better stewards of streams and rivers.”

The East Prong of the Roaring River winds its way through the forest at the base of Stone Mountain State Park. The river is the easternmost stop on the North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail, which started last year as a way to showcase the state’s mountain biodiversity. 

Leslie says she likes this spot for its crystal clear water, which reveals a rock nest built by bluehead chubs. These small fish pick up pebbles in their mouths to make mounds that they and other species use to lay eggs.

Leslie snorkels as part of her job in habitat conservation, but for her it’s not just about science.

“To me putting my head under the water is just this really peaceful experience," she says. "I’m only there, I’m only in that moment. I just feel a lot of peace wash over me when I’m snorkeling.”

North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail includes ten publicly accessible sites across western North Carolina. Mountain rivers are cold, of course, so the snorkeling season is limited to the summer.

To make the most of your trip, Leslie suggests wearing a wetsuit. She also says the best way to spot the most animals in the water is not by looking straight down but by tilting your head to see what’s upriver.

  • Image shows the Roaring River

    The Roaring River site has both deep and shallow options for snorkelers. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

  • Image shows Andrea Leslie snorkeling

    Andrea Leslie prepares to search for wildlife in the Roaring River. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

  • Image shows a sign at the trail head

    Details of the sign at the trail head shows some of the fish that snorkelers in the Roaring River might see.  PAUL GARBER/WFDD

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