Caney Fork River below Center Hill Dam

A self-supported trip created by Richard_Britnell

Trip Overview

For those interested in the canoeing / floating the length of the Caney Fork River below Center Hill dam here are details of my trip taken on 19 August 2017. My youngest son and I paddled the length of the Caney Fork below Center Hill Dam all the way to the Cumberland River. Our total trip time was 9 hours 18 minutes to travel 27 miles. We are experienced canoeists but neither of us had been in a canoe for over a year before this trip. Our combined ages (I am north of 55 and he is south of 35) at the time of the trip was 88 years. We used a 16.5 foot polyethylene Coleman canoe. Our combined weight including food, water and safety gear was about 525 pounds and the canoe weighed an additional 91 pounds. We started the trip just below Center Hill dam at 7:12AM and we were out of the Cumberland River just west of the state highway 25 bridge that crosses the Cumberland at 4:30PM. We used the boat ramp on the north side of the Cumberland as our exit point. We used the Buffalo Valley Recreation area boat ramp just downstream of the dam on the north side of the Caney Fork River as our entry point. The river miles from Center Hill dam to the Cumberland River is 26.6 miles. The total distance we travelled is estimated to be 27 miles. We stopped for lunch and 4 other short breaks totaling about 50 minutes of time that we were not paddling. We paddled steadily when in the canoe but not at a rapid pace. Our initial speed based on the timings below was 3.73 miles per hour. Our final speed also based on the timings below was 2.13 miles per hour. Our overall speed including breaks averaged 2.9 miles per hour. Overall speed excluding breaks averaged 3.19 miles per hour. The following are various points and the time we reached them along the trip. 7:12AM started at the Center Hill Dam, 8:49AM first I-40 bridge over the river, 9:22AM second I-40 bridge over the river, 9:37AM third I-40 bridge over the river, 10:11AM fourth I-40 bridge over the river, 10:36AM fifth I-40 bridge over the river, 12:03PM Stonewall Jackson railroad trestle, 1:35pm Smith County Agriculture boat ramp, 2:55PM US Highway 70N bridge over the river, 4:26PM Entered the Cumberland River. The map of the river we carried with us came from this web site . It shows the different public launching places along the river. About 10.7 miles below Center Hill Dam is where Smith Fork Creek empties into the Caney Fork River. The Caney Fork had very clear water until we reached that point and then it was murky the rest of the trip. We saw many fishermen wading and fishing from the shore. Those who had the best luck catching fish all were within about the first half mile below Center Hill Dam. The number of people fishing diminished greatly after we went under Interstate 40 the last time. We saw several blue herons, only 2 kingfishers, a few ducks but never close enough to identify them and several Canadian geese. Before the water became murky it was easy to spot minnows all the way to large (12”+) fish in the river. I chose recommended skill level of intermediate as you need to navigate around various downed trees and through some shoals. Beginner skill level would enjoy the trip but find it more challenging in parts of the river. Photos will not upload to this site so I have included this link where you will find 7 photos from the trip.

Safety Notes

No special safety gear. Be sure to take sunscreen unless traveling at night or on a very cloudy day as several parts of the river are in direct sun light.

Gear Notes

We took 2 gallons of water and drank all of it. Otherwise just normal gear (life jackets, cushions, towels, trail mix, fruit, 3 paddles, cooler). The camera we used was a FujiFilm FinePix XP70 and was waterproof (but never got wet). The still photos and video were all taken with this camera.


Our environmental conditions for the trip were as follows. The average hourly discharge from Center Hill Dam for each hour from 12:01AM on 18 August through 11:59PM on 19 August was 250 cubic feet per second (cfps) [obtained from ]. We had no generation or spill gate help with the flow of the Caney Fork for the day before our trip or during the day of our trip. We did have some dead water and negative flow (paddling against the current) at the lower end of the Caney Fork as it joins the Cumberland River due to generation at Cordell Hull dam which is up river from the point that the Caney Fork empties into the Cumberland. Cordell Hull dam [obtained from ] had no flow from 1:00AM on 19 August until 7:00AM but then started generation and had the following hourly flows for the remainder of the day (7:00AM – 7320 cfps, 8:00AM – 7360 cfps , 9:00AM ¬– 7380 cfps, 10:00AM – 7380 cfps,11:00AM – 7380 cfps,12:00PM – 7420 cfps, 1:00PM – 15,480 cfps, 2:00PM – 15,570 cfps, 3:00PM – 24,660 cfps, 4:00PM – 25,050 cfps, 5:00PM – 25,350 cfps). We noticed debris floating upstream on the Caney Fork for the last 1.5 to 2 miles of the Caney Fork and we had still water from about 2 – 3 miles upstream of the Cumberland. Weather conditions for our trip were hot (temperature when we started at the dam 67, noon – 85, 2:00PM -87, 3:00PM – 91, 4:00PM - 89) humid (dew point temperature ranged from a low of 66 to a high of 70) with very little wind (started at the dam – calm¸ noon – West at 7 mph, 2:00PM – South at 5 mph, 3:00PM – East at 8 mph, 4:00PM – East at 5 mph). We were able to stay mostly in the shade for the trip from mid morning until we finished with only about 1 continuous hour of direct sun with no shade. We only had about 6 times where we had to get out of the canoe and pull it through low water levels. We were out of the canoe for no more than 50 yards at each of these low water points. I chose flat/sheltered water for this trip but if Center Hill Dam was generating or spilling water then you could encounter some Class II water.

Trip Details

  • Trip Dates: 8/19/2017
  • Trip Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location