Kayaking in Kentucky | Kayak Horizons

Two kayakers approach waterfalls at the Cumberland Falls in Kentucky

Kayaking in Kentucky | Kayak Horizons

Kentucky is a cozy southeastern state where you can find plenty of rivers and whitewater bodies, making it a fantastic place to enjoy your day out kayaking. 

There are plenty of activities you can enjoy, and in this article, I’ll tell you all about kayaking in Kentucky.

Best Kayaking Spots in Kentucky

In this section, I’ll list some of the best kayaking spots in Kentucky so you can decide between the top recommendations because even with so many rivers and creeks, there are some areas that are better than others.

1. Elkhorn Creek

Elkhorn Creek Kayak

Looking at Elkhorn from a bird’s eye view, you’ll notice that it comes with two forks in the waterway, which makes the creek look like an elk’s horn. The two forks come together right at the east of Frankfort, which is why it’s so accessible for kayakers or canoers in Bluegrass.

The best part about it is how versatile it is, with rapids that range from slow and easy ones and up to IV class ones. So, whether you’re a complete beginner, an expert, or somewhere in between, you’ll find something that suits you in the midst of mesmerizing views, very old trees hanging on either bank, as well as limestone bluffs.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable time kayaking in central Kentucky, then Elkhorn creek would be an excellent, accessible choice. It’s also a habitat for smallmouth bass, so you can bring on some gear and enjoy some fishing while you’re at it.

2. The Red River

The Red River Kayak

With a world-famous Gorge to its name, the Red River is divided into two sections. The upper one is challenging and takes some skills for navigation, while the lower one is easier to manage, so it suits kayakers of all levels. 

3. The Kentucky River

The Kentucky River Kayak

Named after the state itself, the Kentucky River is right in the center of the state. You can take in plenty of the state’s views paddling from Lexington’s southeast and through Frankfort to Fayette county.

This includes bridges, ferry crossings, distilleries, some historical sites, as well as some ancient Palisades of the Kentucky River. The limestone bluffs carved by the river’s flow tower over it to give you a fantastic experience while kayaking through it.

4. Stoner Creek

Stoner Creek Kayak

Northeast of Lexington, you’ll find a hidden gem called Stoner Creek. It’s quite a deep one, flowing through forests and horse farms, which enrich the experience of kayaking with the views.

It suits kayakers, canoers, and paddlers of all levels. Not only those, but it’s also a good option for anyone that wants to go fishing with the family.

5. Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls Kayak

Below the falls of Cumberland, you’ll find a 10.5-mile stretch of class II and class III whitewater, with some areas surpassing that. However, if you’re a white water enthusiast, you probably won’t enjoy the mandatory lake paddle at the end. Still, it’s a reasonable trade-off for the mesmerizing sites of the fall.

6. Benson Creek

Benson Creek Kayak

This one is a bit of an adventure, with its muddy waters thanks to the rain in the area and the wide play waves with the vertical ledge drops. Yes, the water is seldom clear, but the fun you get while paddling through this creek is beyond comparison.

There’s one hole that is a bit of a hazard, but the rest are easily avoidable. Also, some surf waves are enjoyable if you park at the bottom along Benson Valley Road.

7. Green Riverfront

Green Riverfront Kayak

If you’re looking for an urban adventure, you can enjoy the man-made dam known as “The Rocks,” which creates some holes, eddylines, and waves for some playful freestyling. You can also enjoy the whitewater park for a full experience.

8. Russell Fork River

Russell Fork River Kayak

If you drive upstream of Elkhorn, you’ll find Russel Fork at the border of Kentucky and Virginia. As you come closer to the put-in, you’ll notice the river beginning to rise from the upstream release of the dam.

If you’re well-versed with kayaking, you’ll love kayaking in Russell Fork River in October with the class V drops, including “El Horrendo” and the challenging “Fist,” which keep everyone alert and excited.

It’s also still suitable for the less experienced paddles, as the upstream of the gorge offers class II and III stretches.

9. Grassy Creek

Grassy Creek Kayak

For the experienced kayakers looking for some thrill, the Gassy Creek would be an excellent choice as it usually runs high with the virtue of the rain, which makes its flow of class IV and V. 

At some spots, the creek is as narrow as four feet in width, so make sure you scout for wood. The final part would be a super fast 80-foot long slide, sending you to the Russell Fork take-out.

According to Classes of Water

Stagnant Water (Class A)

Stillwater doesn’t require any navigation skills as there isn’t any apparent movement on the surface anyway. 

You can enjoy these on a kayak at spots like the Grotto at Grayson Lake, Rough River Lake, or an all-day trip through the Upper Cumberland River, which is 11 miles wide and extends between Redbird Boat Ramp and Williamsburg.

Absolute Beginner (Class I)

This is the easiest type of water to navigate, which you can find at Parklands at Floyds Fork in Fisherville. 

Also, at Mammoth Cave National Park, you can find the Green River right at the heart of Cave City, which is one of the bodies that offer you very smooth and calm paddling along some deep gorges carved into limestone and hillsides. The current’s speed is 5 mph, with a river width of 25 feet and a 10-foot depth. 

You can also enjoy the 8-mile Dennison Ferry to Green River Ferry, the 9-mile to Houchins Ferry from Nolin River Dam, and the 12-mile to Houchins Ferry from Green River Ferry for some calm kayaking.

For Those with Some Basics (Class II)

Some great class II bodies include the Big South Fork River, which measures 12.2 miles and runs between Alum Ford and Blue Heron.

Benson Creek that I’ve mentioned above is also a well-known class II body in Franklin and Anderson counties. 

For Those Familiar with Kayaking (Class III)

Starting class III, you’ll need somewhat honed skills to navigate your way as they have irregular waves and are a bit difficult. 

Bear Creek to Blue Heron With Blue Heron at the end and Bear Creek at the beginning, the course starts with class II rapids and accelerates to class III at -as the name would imply- the Devil’s Jump.

The aforementioned Elkhorn Creek close to Frankfort is a good choice if you want something at the heart of Kentucky.

For the Well-versed (Class IV)

Class IV rapids are difficult and require plenty of skills to navigate. You can find those toward the lower Rockcastle River and the abovementioned Cumberland River, Silver Creek, and White Oak Creek.

Professionals (Class V)

With years of experience and skills under your belt, you can opt for class V rapids, which you can find around Russell Fork and Roaring Paunch Creek.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you can now decide which water body you want to explore with your kayak, depending on the location or the classes of rapids you want to tackle. In the end, make sure you’re navigating streams you’re able to work through and feel safe on.

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