The Blue River forms in southern Pontotoc County southwest of Rolf, then flows generally southeasterly through Pontotoc, Johnston and Bryan counties to its confluence with the Red River in the middle nowhere a few miles east of Wade, Oklahoma over a distance of about 141 miles. Most of the river is basically a flat, slow stream of low volume. The Upper Blue River begins as a meandering stream , but the section between SH 7 about 10 miles west of Wapanucka and E. Cheadle Road about 8.9 miles northeast of Tishomingo in Johnston County is a gem of Oklahoma whitewater for about 9 miles that may well be the most exciting run in the "Native America" state. The river above SH 7 is basically a flatwater stream that drains a large portion (about 200 square miles) of central Oklahoma as it cuts through the Arbuckle Plains on a bed of limestone where springs and the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer keeps it flowing as a clear water stream, even though the river below this area is usually muddy. The whitewater reach is loaded with waterfalls and ledge drops where the river flows off a granite base that produces at least 15 significant ledges and several waterfall drops of 6-7 feet, or more, to keep things interesting.
In Johnston County the Blue River takes in the waters of Little Blue Creek just southeast of Connerville. The river begins to widen starting at E 1790 Road a few miles southeast of Connerville, then flows generally south into the Blue River Wildlife Management Area, a state-managed preserve with camping, hiking and river access between SH 7 and E 1890 Road just below Cheadle Falls. From there, the Blue River flows southward into Bryan County and its confluence with the Red River. The WMA includes nearly parallel river roads and access points, as well as campsites, that make the river accessible to paddlers, anglers and hunters who enjoy this gorgeous part of Oklahoma where tree-lined river banks and rock outcroppings are prominent.
Unfortunately, you need to be able to get to the Blue right before, during or right after it peaks following a major rainfall event in order to have adequate flow for enjoyable paddling. This is definitely NOT a low-water run, so be sure there is adequate flow before going. The river is one of only a few undammed streams in Oklahoma, so all of its flow comes from rain run-off or the outflow of springs and the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer. In low water conditions there are many fluted channels, boulder gardens and non-navigable ledges that will make you walk and carry or drag a boat, and finding the best channel is not always easy. At navigable levels this channel can be tricky and potentially dangerous with its Class II to III drops. You can, however, enjoy excellent fishing on the river almost any time of the year, and it is well known for its populations of smallmouth, spotted, and largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, long ear, redbreast, redear, and green sunfish, as well as trout, which are stocked in the river at the Blue River Fishing Area north of Tishomingo, making it a designated Oklahoma trout stream between November 1 and March 31. Its close proximity to Oklahoma City, Tulsa and the Dallas-Fort Worth area make the Blue River a prime destination for area paddlers when it rains in or near Johnston County. You will need strong intermediate or higher level whitewater skills, and owing to the remote nature of the surrounding area both swiftwater rescue and First Aid skills would be valuable assets.
The first 5.5 miles below the SH 7 bridge feature near non-stop fun, with over 50 ledges, at least a half dozen of at least 6 feet, two of which may be ten feet high or more. The river tends to channalize, forming islands that are covered with dense vegetation in the form of trees, shrubs and perennial grasses. There are plenty of places to get snagged by strainers, so vigilance is the word of the day when paddling here. Frequent scouting of drops and channels is strongly advised. While the river is generally wide it is beset with a slew of narrow, densely vegetated channels and picking the correct one can be challenging. And, when you finally make it down to the East Cheadle Road you will find a take-out that is more difficult than most of the drops. The best recommendation is below the bridge on river left, but it is steep, sandy, filled with deadfall tree debris and anything BUT a nice take-out. Further, you have limited places to park along the road and nowhere accessible to get a vehicle to load boats and gear - you have to carry everything about one tenth of a mile up the bank and across the bridge easement. But, for all the effort you will be rewarded with a spectacular whitewater run with ledge drops and waterfalls from beginning to end, one of the biggest being Cheadle Falls just above the take-out bridge.
Johnston County, near Connerville, Oklahoma, just northeast of Lake Texoma and northwest of Durant, west of Atoka, northeast of Tishomingo and Ardmore, and southeast of Davis and Sulphur. Dallas is about 150 miles to the south.
Oklahoma City 175 miles; Tulsa 150 miles; Dallas 131 miles; Austin 340 miles; San Antonio 420 miles; Houston 396 miles; Little Rock 280 miles; Kansas City 410 miles; Albuquerque 670 miles; Phoenix 1,136 miles; Denver 800 miles; Salt Lake City 1,325 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Good, but definitely not drinkable without purification. Natural minerals and agricultural run-off produce unwanted results if water is swallowed without treatment. The river is known to contain high sulphur levels, especially right after heavy rains that produce run-off carrying the mineral (this part of Oklahoma is known to be high in sulphur content.) The water is generally free of industrial, commercial and residential pollutants due to the remoteness of the surrounding area which borders the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge and runs through the Blue River WMA.
The Blue River is local rainfall dependent, and river running can only occur during or immediately after a major rainfall event occurs within the drainage basin. Optimum conditions ussually occur between November and May, but may develop after any significant rain storm or thunderstorm.
The Blue River is frought with hazards, not the least of which include deadfall logjams, broken tree stumps, islands with standing trees and shrubs, boulders and other things that can injure a paddler or destroy boats and gear. There are about 50 ledge drops, some as high as 6-12 feet, and most of them are in areas where deadfall debris presents a considerable risk of injury if not run properly. Every drop should be carefully scouted before running, and hitting your chosen line is mandatory.
SH 7 Bridge (N 34° 21' 41.02" / W 096° 35' 23.33") between US Highway 377 and Wapanucka on river left at 0.0 miles; Access road from SH 7 (N 34° 21' 36.87" / W 096° 35' 27.67") on river left at about 0.1 miles; Access from dirt road south from SH 7 (N 34° 21' 06.88" / W 096° 36' 10.25") on river right at about 1.1 miles; Access road (N 34° 20' 59.65" / W 096° 35' 57.39") along the river connecting to D 1854 Road on river right at about 1.4 miles; D 1854 Road Access (N 34° 19' 18.18" / W 096° 35' 45.53") on either side at about 3.7 miles; D 1854 Road Access (N 34° 19' 07.43" / W 096° 35' 30.16") on river left at about 4.25 miles; E. Harbert Road low water crossing (N 34° 18' 51.98" / W 096° 34' 44.69") on either side at about 5.1 miles; Bold Springs Road (N 34° 18' 40.36" / W 096° 34' 15.98") west from SH 7d on river left at about 5.7 miles; E. Blue Haven Road (N 34° 18' 07.54" / W 096° 34' 26.18") on river right at about 6.6 miles; E. Cheadle Road (N 34° 16' 26.98" / W 096° 33' 54.64") on river left at about 9.0 miles. There are possible access roads running along and near the river all through this area, but some are on private property, so be sure to obtain permission before attempting to access the river if you are uncertain as to whether or not it is a public access.
NOTE ABOUT ACCESS POINTS: Access at SH 7 Bridge and E. Cheadle Road Bridge are steep and difficult with VERY limited parking. There is excellent parking on either side of the river in the WMA designated parking areas, but it requires carrying boats and gear down to the river across rough terrain. Access the river above the SH 7 bridge from the parking area on the west side (river right) and below the SH 7 Bridge on the east side (river left) rather than at the bridge itself. As to E. Cheadle Road, you are on your own and there is no easy, or even less difficult, access. You do have the option of taking out at one of the WMA access points, but doing so will miss the two biggest drops on the river - Big Falls and Cheadle Falls.
Camping, without charge, is permitted year-round in the Blue River WMA, where plenty of designated campsites and river access can be found, though you may have to contend with anglers for them - the Blue River is VERY popular with fishermen! There are no commercial campgrounds located near this reach of the Blue River. Conventional accommodations can be found in nearly Tishomingo and a little further away (about a half hour or so) in Durant.
There are no known outfitter, livery or shuttle services available on or near the Blue River. Be sure to take boats and gear, then run your own shuttles between SH 7 and any of the access points below there. Finding access points, other than at SH 7, is not easy though Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has done a stellar job with signage around the Blue River WMA. Be sure to take a good, recently published roadmap and a GPS to find most access points.
Depending upon water levels most of the Blue River can be paddled in canoes or kayaks, though most of it is flat and slow. The reach of about 9 miles between SH 7 west of Wapanucka and E. Cheadle Road is uncharacteristic in that it cuts through part of the Arbuckle Plains where limestone and granite boulders create ledge drops and waterfalls that add excitement to trips here. There are an estimated 50 ledges, though most are small and relatively insignificant, but about 15 of them demand attention and careful planning when running them. Several drops are more than 6 feet high, and a couple are closer to 10 feet high, though they are gradient, rather than sheer vertical, drops. This reach of the Blue River may be Oklahoma's finest whitewater run, but it is hardly limited to just paddlesports excitement. Fishing here is awesome in a remote, undeveloped area of the Arbuckles where many species of bass, sunfish and trout can be found. The area is also open to hunting, and it is a photographer's paradise. Currently, there are no camping fees charged, but the area is available on a first come basis. There are plenty of campsites, so finding one should not be a problem most of the time, though you might have to contend with fishermen - this is a VERY popular fishing river!
If you live in North Texas, anywhere in Oklahoma or western Arkansas, then the Blue River deserves consideration if you enjoy whitewater wilderness runs. Other reaches of the Blue River are suitable for wilderness flatwater trips if there is adequate flow. The Blue River is undammed, so all flow will be produced by recent local rainfall and the outflow from springs and the aquifer. Be sure to bring a camera! This reach between SH 7 and E. Cheadle Road is not an easy trip by any measure, but when teh water is right it is a fun and challenging run. just be sure to scout your runs before making the drops because some of those ledges are very difficult if you pick the wrong channel, and trees are everywhere!