I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
August 11, 2021
Hidden deep in the forests surrounding Chattanooga are blue holes — crystal clear blue pools of water fed by underground rivers. Want to see and even swim in one yourself? Read on!
We hiked a mile and a half through a forest just outside Chattanooga before arriving at one of Tennessee’s elusive blue holes, a nature-made swimming pool rimmed in limestone, with water a color I’d call ‘Disney Movie Blue.’ As we made our way down to the shore, two whooping boys jumped off one of the short cliffs into water that was deceptively deep. Both came up gasping for air with dismay on their faces and began swimming for land as if their lives depended on it. It was a hot day, but blue holes, we soon learned, stay shockingly cold year round.
Leave it to the men in our family to learn this lesson the hard way!
This particular blue hole is located in Big Soddy Creek Gulf Park; it’s one of several in the Chattanooga area and it’s a good one if you’re looking for a swimming hole low in beer-toting revelers, Instagrammers, or teenage thrill seekers. I’m not sure just how many blue holes there are in Tennessee because online information about them is scarce (the showier saltwater blue holes in the Caribbean get most of the Internet’s attention) — but if you find yourself in Chattanooga in the summertime, you owe it to yourself to seek one out.
Of course, to know me is to know I wouldn’t be satisfied until I found out what exactly causes these swimming holes to be blue. To get my answer, I wrote to the nice folks at the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky (You should definitely pay them a visit, by the way. You can ride on a boat through a cave system! So cool!), who have a blue hole on their property. Maegan Williams was kind enough to write back. ‘The blue holes are a window into our underground river system,’ she told me. ‘They are also referred to as karst windows. The blue holes appear blue from the sun reflecting off microscopic particles of limestone in the water.‘
Fascinating information, isn’t it? I love the thought of these waters springing up from unexplored cave systems below.
Are you going to be in the Chattanooga area and want to see a true Tennessee blue hole for yourself? Here are three favorites:
Perfect for families and anyone who wants to avoid crowds of people, this was where we ended up on our Blue Hole Quest. Located at 11721 Back Valley Road in Soddy-Daisy, you’ll find a large parking lot and an easy-to-spot trailhead. Walk for about a mile (don’t worry, it’s mostly flat and very scenic) and you’ll come to the beautiful blue hole where we took the plunge. You can’t miss it! There are several smaller blue holes along the way as well.
You’ll find the area’s most popular blue holes here — The clear favorite includes a rope swing and jumping rock that both make for great photos. But be aware: This place gets CROWDED. We actually started here in our search for blue holes and ended up leaving because there were hundreds of people there and parking was a literal nightmare. You’ll find the trailhead entrance at 418 Montlake Road in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. Look for the sign that says North Chickamauga Creek Gorge. There are several blue holes here, depending on how far you want to hike, but the trail entrance can be hard to find. You’ll want to park on the west side of the parking area. The trail is wide — It’s an old jeep road — and if you head upstream, you’ll start passing blue holes. After the trail crosses the creek (which, by the way, is uncrossable in high water, so be aware), you’ll come to the trail’s most popular blue hole — You’ll have to walk about a mile, total, to get there.
You’ll find these blue holes a little over an hour from Chattanooga, along the Ocoee River. Enter Blue Hole Ocoee in Google Maps to find this Turtletown parking area (parking costs $3, FYI) and head down to the Ocoee River to find multiple blue holes and other fun swimming areas. You’ll want to call the Ocoee Whitewater Center before you leave at 423-496-5197 to make sure the water level isn’t too high for swimming.
Paul Cashman has great detailed information on this particular blue hole, including all the best swimming areas and a few cool underwater tunnels you can actually swim through — You should DEFINITELY read his very thorough post before you go. It includes information on what to do if the Ocoee Whitewater Center is closed when you call. It’s very important to find out the river’s water level before you make plans to swim, because if the TVA has released water into the river for rafting (which it does every Saturday and Sunday in the summer, by the way) or for other reasons, it is unsafe for swimming.
Got questions or comments? Be sure and contact me — I’d love to hear from you.