Blue Hole Ocoee
Ocoee Whitewater Center, Cherokee National Forest
A great place to go swimming, snorkeling, free-diving and suntanning!
(But sadly, not on weekends)
Last revised April 4, 2018 -- Summer '18 schedule now available
Wanna connect? Here's a direct link to my FaceBook profile
This page can now finally be reached using a simpler URL: www.BlueHoleOcoee.com (capital letters are optional)
For the SwimmingHoles.info entry on this site, click here.
(They call me the "guru" of Blue Hole Ocoee, which is cool but doesn't seem to include any extra money or a company car. :) )
2018 itinerary through June now posted: click here
List of all photos and videos moved here
List of all my yearly diaries and recaps is now here
Blue Hole, looking downriver. The Centennial Olympic footbridge
is in the background; the best-known underwater tunnels are just to the
left out of frame; the Ocoee Whitewater Center is out of frame to
Ever since 1994 or so, I've been roadtripping a lot up to Cleveland
Tennessee, where my longtime friends Dirk, Randall and Gabrial lived, to visit them
and go swimming in the Ocoee River Gorge. There's a place called Blue Hole,
part of the Upper Ocoee River, where there are underwater tunnels shallow
and deep, wide and narrow; nice wide swimming holes 10-12 ft. deep; places
where you can jump in or go free-diving and look at the rocky bottom, in clear
mountain water. There are easy tunnels for the whole family to swim through,
and some that only kids (and skinny adults) can attempt, and some that no-one
I know of has succeeded in swimming through. It's a lot of fun! :) Great
weather, great swimming, great company, underwater tunnels....what more
could one ask for?
First, some important things to know:
- For my friends in the Atlanta area, it's about an hour and 50 min. from downtown Atlanta to the Ocoee
Whitewater Center and Blue Hole using the
quicker route, and a bit longer
via the "scenic route", assuming you travel near the
posted speed limit in most areas. It's only about 80-90 minutes from
Atlanta's northwestern suburbs (Cobb, Bartow, Cherokee counties), since
they're closer. From my house in Auburn, Georgia, it's about two hours and
forty-five minutes. :(
- For everyone, the official address for the Ocoee Whitewater Center -- which
is just a bit downriver from Blue Hole Ocoee -- is
4400 US-64, Copperhill, TN 37317.
This should work in all GPS navigational apps, and on websites like Google Maps.
- See the "Things To Bring" section below
for a list of things to bring with you. $3 cash, a mask or a pair of goggles,
water shoes and something to swim in is a good start. :)
- A $3 fee applies to vehicles parking in the day-use Ocoee Whitewater
Center lot. This is a US Forest Service "Fee Area" and for a
whole day of fun, it's a bargain for a carload of people at twice the price.
A Cherokee National Forest annual pass is only $20 after May 1st, though, and
includes all of the Forest's 'fee areas' including the beaches on Parksville Lake
and up at Chilhowee. I get one now every year.
- The water level in the Upper Ocoee riverbed at Blue Hole is
controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) at Ocoee #3 dam.
Before embarking on any trip to Blue Hole, it's always wise to
call the Ocoee Whitewater Center at 423-496-5197, 9am-5pm, to ask the nice
volunteers there if the water is low and therefore safe to go swimming:
"We'd like to go swimming in Blue Hole today. Is the water too high? Is
there a dam release scheduled for today?"
Here are some reasons why TVA might be running high water through
the Ocoee at Blue Hole:
- White-water "paid for" by the rafting companies. Since TVA would
normally divert the water through the mountain tunnel to Ocoee #3
powerhouse and generate power from it, the water has to be "paid for."
The summer rafting/kayaking schedule is located
water is normally run high in the Upper Ocoee river-course on Saturdays and Sundays for rafting.
- After extremely heavy rainfall in the Ocoee Basin, or throughout the region
- problems or routine maintenance can force TVA's Ocoee #3 powerhouse
or the water diversion tunnel to be shut down, and the extra flow would have to go through the riverbed.
Summer schedule for the Upper Ocoee:
Click here for TVA's scheduled releases.
High water is not normally scheduled for weekdays at all, only Saturdays and Sundays through
Labor Day, but as we've seen several times, conditions can change, due to heavy rains
in the Ocoee basin or maintenance on the dam, tunnel or powerhouse turbines comprising Ocoee #3 power plant.
TVA has now installed a lights-and-siren warning system along the
riverbed in front of the Ocoee Whitewater Center, which is audible
upriver at Blue Hole and at least as far as "Little" Blue Hole, ten additional minutes' walk up the path.
The alarm will begin sounding when the sluice gate is opened at Ocoee
#3, and it sounds at 10-minute intervals thereafter for 90 minutes. The released water takes
60-90 minutes to get from Ocoee #3 dam to Blue Hole and the Ocoee Whitewater Center.
- Although the water is usually quite clear (except for about
one day after the river's been high), the underwater rocks can be
muddy. Don't wear something that can't be washed at home afterward.
- This is, after all, backwoods Tennessee. Since this isn't a
pool, swimming in shorts, cutoffs or whatever is okay. Thongs
might look a bit out of place. :) "Skinny-dipping" is not
impossible, but I'd suggest heading further upriver on the path away
from civilization and the Whitewater Center before trying it.
- There are bathrooms at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, open
9-5pm, same hours as the visitors' center upstairs and the
small gift-shop downstairs. There is also a 'waterless' restroom
facility toward the bottom of the parking lot but it's basically an
overgrown porta-potty. It's better than nothing but you might want to hold your breath
while inside. :)
A Coke vending machine and a PowerAde machine are located outside at the
OWC, plus there's a pay phone.
Directions To Blue Hole
With the prevalence of navigational apps and GPS systems, it's easiest now to simply
provide the address of the Ocoee Whitewater Center and let your technology handle the rest.
It is located at 4400 US-64, Copperhill, TN 37317. Your navigation system should route you
to US 64 through Ducktown TN (from the east) or through Cleveland, Ocoee or Benton TN from the west,
as there is no other way to get there. If it doesn't do that, check another source.
Since I'm from Atlanta, I have included directions from the Atlanta metro area via two routes.
- Click here for the shorter, less-scenic route
through Canton, Jasper, Ellijay and Blue Ridge.
- The more "scenic" route takes you up I-75 to Hwy 411 and then along Parksville Lake, TVA's big
Ocoee #1 dam and the Ocoee River Gorge itself. It is significantly longer and has more two-lane
roads as opposed to multi-lane highways. Click here for that route.
If you're approaching from the east (Ducktown), there will be a left-turning lane, and you'll see a parking
lot on the left in front of the building. Turn in there. If you're approaching from the west (along the river gorge), stay on US-64 until you have passed the day-use parking lot and turn right into the OWC parking lot.
Parking is now free for up to 30 minutes in this upper lot, so you can stop and visit the restroom and change. You
may be able to purchase a daily pass for $3 or a full-year Cherokee National Forest pass inside, but not always.
You'll have to move your car to the lower "day use" lot afterwards.
Continue past OWC in the parking lot and at the exit, you'll
see a sharp left marked with "Ocoee Whitewater Center parking."
Turn down here and park in the first non-reserved space you find.
If you haven't already paid for a day-pass at the office,
go to one of the Daily Use fee kiosks and drop the envelope in the slot, and put the stub on
your dashboard. You're all set! --Or, you can be like me and get an annual pass. :) A pass for the
entire Cherokee National Forest is $30 for the year, but it's only $20 after May 1st. That's a great
deal, since it also includes places like Mac Point Beach, Parksville Beach, the Chilhowee Recreation Area,
and all the other Daily Use Fee Areas in the Forest including boat ramps and shooting ranges. Note that it does
not include overnight camping in developed campgrounds, which runs typically $12-20 per night.
If you can't purchase an annual pass at the Whitewater Center, you can get one at the Ranger Station on US-64 by
|Taken from the parking lot facing downriver
||Facing upriver: OWC is the red building in the distance
OWC itself, taken from the short-term parking lot|
Things you'll see at Blue Hole
The riverbed right by the Center mostly consists of rocks, with
some deep pools and a small waterfall near the day-use parking lot.
I don't usually go swimming here because there are "neeter" areas and underwater tunnels
up the river, but this is a great area to take younger kids since it's not too far
from the parking area. The rocks are worn smooth from millions of
years of waterflow in the river basin and look neet; they are slippery,
so be careful. The intentionally rusty suspension bridge marks the upriver
limit of the riverbed modifications for the 1996 Olympic Games -- the parking
lot is where the temporary grandstands were built.
You'll see a set of rock stairs leading down from the Center to the path
along the river;
Blue Hole is about a hundred
yards upriver from the bridge. You can see it easily from the
Here's a rough sketch of the area around the Ocoee Whitewater Center
(from Ducktown and McCaysville, you'd enter from the upper right-hand
corner on US 64; from Cleveland and Route 411 you'd enter from the
From OWC, take the stone steps down to the path near the river. Walking
upriver on the footpath that runs beneath the bridge, you'll cross a
small stream on some flat rocks. Beyond this to your right is Blue Hole itself, a wide
deep spot in the river with good places for jumping off rocks, etc.
Many people "establish their base" here, but I generally continue onward and
drop my stuff near the tunnels; later I snorkel back down the river to enjoy this
deeper part of Blue Hole.
The best-known underwater tunnels are located beyond the deep basin,
a bit further upriver. This is where I usually park my stuff and enter the
river, since you can walk across the rocks and hop into the tunnels right
from the shore. So, go about another 100 yards past Blue Hole on the
path; you'll see an expanse of solid rock that tilts down toward the river
on your right.
In the middle
of the riverbed at this point are a collection of small "holes" -- you've
found the tunnels!
If you step carefully across the rocks toward the holes,
"The Throne" is one of the first holes you come to from the path --
it's almost perfectly circular and about two-and-a-half
feet across. You can recognize it because if you look down into it, you
can see out the side into the next hole; you'll also see
that a handy rock "shelf" extends across the bottom. This is where
I usually enter the water since it's easy and not prone to slipping
or sliding. It's just big enough for one person and standing
here kinda makes you feel One With the River, like you're the lord of all
you survey, hence I call it "The Throne." :)
The Throne is that black hole to the left. Yes, there's water in it
just out of view!
If you duck your head under you can exit from The Throne into the
next hole, which is irregularly-shaped and wider. Here
the bottom shelves down to about 7 feet deep. Angling off to the right
is an underwater opening that leads you to a multiway underwater
chamber. You can veer right and come out the "Main Entrance,"
you can go upward through an opening, or you
can veer left and go thru a smaller tunnel into a circular basin about
big enough for four people. From this hole you
can continue out through one of two exits into open water
(perhaps four ft. deep) on the opposite side of the riverbed from
None of these tunnels is more than 3 or 4 feet long, making them safe
for most kids and nearly all adults, as long as you can swim. They can be
done with or without diving masks or goggles, although masks or goggles
make it a lot more fun and much safer, especially for large groups.
This is the narrowest tunnel (recommended for skinny kids and adults
only) as seen from c. 5 ft. past the Throne
||From the same spot, this is the passageway to the left. A
kid in the foreground (left leg visible) has just poked his head up through the
narrow opening; in the background is someone snorkeling
in the "wide circular hole" mentioned above
|| From the "wide circular hole" here are the two exits out to open
water on the other side of the riverbed.
And facing back, here's the pebbly bottom of the wide circular
hole from one of the exit tunnels.
If you go back out to the path, further upriver about a 10-12-minute
walk you come to an area we call "Little Blue Hole." This area tends to be
a bit less crowded with casual tourists and whitewater-rafting
parties and can be a more pleasant place to suntan, etc. We've gone
"skinny-dipping" here before, when there was no-one else around (except a Forest Ranger
who walked up and saw us, but that's a different story...)
Here's a view from midriver a bit downstream from the tunnels looking back
at the "main entrance," from which the kid has just emerged.
From the same spot, here's a view looking downstream. In the
background is the suspension bridge. Past the kids just right of center is a tilted rock in
the distance -- there's an excellent tunnel running underneath it.
Just to the right of the large tilted rock (left foreground) and to
the left of the rocky "peninsula" (middle distance, center) you can see
all the way to the far side of Blue Hole itself. The wide swimming
hole seen here is actually the smaller, more distant swimming hole seen
this image from the bridge, facing upstream.
If you go up to Blue Hole this summer or any summer, be sure to
drop me a
note in email if you have any comments or suggestions. It's a great place to
go swimming or snorkeling!
Things You Should Bring
(Listed in approximate order of importance)
- $3 for the day-long parking fee. Or just get an
annual pass once and enjoy the whole summer. :)
For large vehicles, like buses and passenger vans, it's 50 cents per person.
- Mask, snorkel and fins. If nothing else, bring a mask,
or at least some goggles for your eyes. Blue Hole is ten times
as much fun when you can see where you're going, and there's a lot to
see on the bottom. Besides, then you won't have to borrow a mask
from me! :) Fins (or 'flippers') are not needed in the "Swiss cheese" tunnels,
but they're really helpful everywhere else in open water.
- Shoes, preferably water-shoes or old tennis shoes. On a sunny
summer day, the rocks in the riverbed and along the sides can get extremely hot, and shoes
become really important. The rocks are also slippery when wet
so choose something with decent wet-traction.
- A bathing suit. Note how this is listed below money,
masks and shoes? :) You can also go swimming in shorts or cutoffs,
and I've seen passersby, and locals on the way home from work,
take a quick dip wearing long pants...and sometimes underwear. The farther
up the river you walk, the less crowded the river tends to be, so
skinny-dipping isn't out of the question once you're away from the crowds.
- A hat. That Sun'll bake yer brain. :)
- An underwater camera. Not a necessity but they work pretty well and on a clear
day with sunshine you can get some awesome underwater shots, as you can see on these
pages. For disposable underwater cameras, Fuji's is the best I've seen, but
Kodak's is okay too. I've switched to a Pentax Optio W30 and a Fuji Finepix
digital underwater camera for underwater photos and video. Both are good; I think the Pentax
gets better audio results underwater.
- Tanning lotion, preferably the allegedly-waterproof kind.
If you can find it, bio-degradable sunblock would be even better since there is substantial underwater
life in the river.
- Towel and/or blanket. --Especially if you're suntanning.
- A wetsuit, or something warm to wear if the water's a bit
chilly. It can be chilly early in the season, or when the water is flowing
a bit higher than normal due to rainfall in the basin, or when the wind is
really blowin'. Wearing a surfers' rashguard, or a shirt over longer shorts, or bike-shorts under
cutoffs, etc., can help fight the chills.
- A cooler with drinks and stuff. If you picnic near Blue
Hole, please dispose your trash properly...and give others hell if they don't. :)
Please note that Forest Service rules prohibit the consumption of alcohol and Rangers will
occasionally patrol the area checking coolers, etc.
If you'd like to make it an overnight trip, the closest motels
are in Ducktown, TN; you passed them if you approached from the east but they're a little pricey.
There are also various lodges, campgrounds and cabin-rental
places in the Cherokee National Forest. Thunder Rock Campground,
across the river near TVA's Ocoee #3 powerhouse is only about 2 miles
from Blue Hole and costs $12/night for a spot. Apparently no permit is required for
"primitive" camping up in the mountains within the National Forest,
but there are bears and stuff.
For more information about primitive camping, go
In the event I can't stay with my friends in Cleveland, TN, I
generally get a room in town there. There are several inexpensive ($50-60)
If you'd like to picnic at Blue Hole, a bridge by the lower
"day" parking lot leads to a small picnic area across the river
from the parking lot. These tables are first-come first-served.
Summer Roadtrip Schedule/Diary
|May 15th and 16th, 2018
||Tuesday and Wednesday roadtrip planned
Hopefully it won't be too chilly. Let me know if you want to meet up.
|May 29th and 30th
||Tuesday and Wednesday roadtrip planned
Last year it was pretty warm by the last days of May....
|June 3rd and 4th
||Tentative post-RenFaire roadtrip planned for Monday and Tuesday
I'm taking Monday off work, as I usually do the day after Faire ends, so I could head up to Blue Hole if I'm feeling up to it. This could also become a one-day visit on Tuesday.
|June 12th and 13th
||Tuesday and Wednesday roadtrip planned
Let me know if you want to meet up.
|June 26th and 27th
||Tuesday and Wednesday roadtrip planned
Let me know if you want to meet up.
|Rest of Summer 2018
||I'll be posting confirmed dates soon
Probably continuing the pattern of biweekly Tuesday-and-Wednesday visits through the end of August.
Photos and Videos
- 2009 video playlist is now here!
- Pics from June 2009 are now here!
- Pics from July 1-3 are now here!
- Gallery of pics from August 2000 (mostly from below the Ocoee #1 dam)
- Pics from Summer 2000 featuring Brad G., Dirk S. and others are posted here. :)
1998 Roadtrip Diary |
1999 Roadtrip Diary |
2000 Roadtrip Diary |
2001 Roadtrip Diary |
2002 Roadtrip Diary |
2003 Roadtrip Diary |
2004 Roadtrip Diary |
2005 Roadtrip Diary |
2006 Roadtrip Diary |
2007 Roadtrip Diary |
2008 Roadtrip Diary |
2009 Roadtrip Diary |
2010 Roadtrip Diary |
2011 Roadtrip Diary |
2012 Roadtrip Diary |
2013 Roadtrip Diary |
2014 Roadtrip Diary |
2015 Roadtrip Diary |
Current Summer Roadtrip Info |
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