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Kentucky River in Kentucky

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Call me crazy, but I've been thinking of running the Kentucky River (all the way - 255 miles) for a couple months now. I just couldn't shake the idea, so I began today by exploring the South Fork. To eliminate some logistical concerns I'm going to do the river in circuitous fashion between the lock and dams (there are 14 on this river). This will essentially double the distance but will give me the flexibility to do this at my own pace and I'll be able to explore both shorelines. I've also decided to do the main river in sequence after exploring a little of each fork. I've tentatively decided on paddling Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Anyway, I submit this report for anyone interested.

At first I went down to Booneville thinking it would be nice to paddle between Booneville and Beattyville. With the water level so low though, I figured it might be a little difficult. The book, 'A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Kentucky' indicates that there is a put in point there, but I had a hard time finding it. I eventually did find a point, but it was pretty evergrown. Looked like it hadn't been used in quite a while. A glimpse of the river from this point didn't look very promising for a circuit-type route, so I went on to Beattyville.

Once I found the Beattyville boat ramp (the aforementioned book was a little off on directions) it was almost noon. When I got there I met a rather standoffish goose who appeared to want a piece of me. I thought we were gonna have to go a couple rounds, but we gave each other room and things worked out OK. I got all my gear into the boat and pushed off a little after noon.

To get to the South Fork from the ramp I used (you're on the already converged North and Middle Forks at this point), you paddle about 1/2 mile downstream. Once there, it was cool to see the forks converge. There are bridges going over both of them right before they meet, so it makes for in interesting picture. As you start upstream you cross over the KY 11 bridge and begin to get into some pleasant tree-lined hills and farmland. These alternated on either side almost all the way I went.

When I got to Long Branch I wasn't really surprised to see that it was extremely low. Incidentally, when I got into paddling in May I thought I'd be more of a whitewater paddler. Not so with the water level so low in Kentucky this year. I feel badly for the paddling outfitters who I know have had a rough year. One, in particular, (Red River Outdoors) never got a chance. Their business burned down on them before their season even began. I hope that the coming year will be better for them and for everyone.

After passing Long Branch the river does a bit of meandering between miles 1 and 2 before straightening out and going into a more stretched out S curve. At about the top of S, about mile 4.5, I ran into what I can only describe as a 'film' on the water. This (and some tires) was the only disappointing thing I ran into today. This situation continued intermittently for another mile or so. Maybe some testing can be done here.

I didn't expect to have any portages this soon on this stretch, but I ended up having 2. One each at the dried up intersections of the Pawpaw Creek just before mile 5 and the Lower Buffalo Creek at mile 5.5. Both made for good picture opportunities though. There was a really interesting old bridge too in this stretch which I took pictures of. I'd be interested to find out more about it cause it's not on the maps I have.

I went a little past mile 6, ran into a third portage, and decided to start paddling back instead. I just had no idea what the paddle to walk ratio would be like further up. I thought I'd go back to the main river and up to the lock and dam 14 if I had time.

By the time I did get back to the confluence though, I had only about 2 hours of daylight left. I had gotten a late start and didn't have enough time to hit the dam. I headed back to the ramp and the goose was still there, but kept a little more distance this time. Maybe I can win her over next time and we can be friends when I come back on Wednesday. I'm gonna try and do some of the Middle Fork and get the dam in too.






KY 11 to East Main Street in Beattyville. Go East on East Main to the second street on the right (Water St.) and turn right. The boat ramp is right there.


"A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to Kentucky" (for general info)

Kentucky River Authority Navigation Charts (for specifics)

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location