Kentucky is a kayakers paradise. It is filled with lakes and rivers of every class level. Both beginner and advanced paddlers will find water trails to their liking.
Before launching, make sure you are familiar with dam release schedules and the current conditions, as recent rainfall and droughts can affect the water.
Here are the best places to go kayaking in Kentucky.
The Harrods Creek stretches miles and miles, presenting thrill-seekers with a pool with several access points, huge forests, marinas, rapids, a small stream, and a waterfall.
It’s one of the best kayaking spots in Kentucky if you want to enjoy views of beautiful landscape and diverse wildlife while paddling down flat waters near Louisville.
You can access Harrods Creek from Captain’s Quarters, Harrods Creek Park, Cox Park, Party Cove, or 265 Overpass where it crosses the creek.
The pool stretches several miles. When you reach the end of the pool, there’s a slight rapid. You can carry your kayak here, at the Great Blue Heron rookery. There’s plenty of wildlife to see here, including herons.
On the right, just below the rapid, a steep stream leads to a waterfall. Unfortunately, the waterfall is private property, so no trespassing.
Red River Gorge
The Red River Gorge offers something very unique to adventure seeking kayakers: underground cave kayaking!
You can also take an underground cave boat if you prefer, or rent SUPs.
The cave itself is a flooded limestone quarry, which is unique memorable.
Elkhorn Creek is a great environment to unwind in the backdrop of a beautiful landscape while floating down whitewater. Indeed, the place gets its name from its shape, which is like that of Elkhorns.
This place mainly attracts beginners who want to horn their paddling skills. But it’s a favorite among seasonal kayakers, too, because it provides opportunities for fishing, swimming, and snorkeling. The common fish here is the smallmouth bass.
There are several good launch spots, like the one at Elkhorn Bridge, east of Frankfort. Put your kayak in and paddle downstream for a tussle with whitewater rapids.
And if you want even more aggressive waters, head down the Palisades for an 8-mile stretch of Class III to Class IV waters.
Expect an adrenaline rush as the river twists and turns for 17 miles.
The Kentucky river meanders through mountains, lush forests, and bluegrass landscapes as it flows northwest to the confluence with the Ohio River.
With its flat water, vast banks, and secluded feel, the Kentucky River allows paddlers to experience the state in a unique way. Indeed, it’s among the most historic rivers here.
The limestone cliffs that flank it on both sides are over a million years old!
Paddling the limestone cliffs is a dream and often considered the ideal blueway for thrill-seekers of all skill levels. The water trail presents paddlers with waterfalls, caves, and many side creeks to explore. You would have to come multiple times to cover it all.
Some of the wildlife in this trail include herons, peregrine falcons, and kingfishers.
If you fancy history, head down to the Daniel Boone Fort at Fort Boonesborough State Park to learn about the American Pioneer Daniel Boone.
Paddling is good all year round but beware of flooding during spring. Most people prefer to take on the blueway during summer and fall when the waters are calm and low. You can bring your dog along, too.
Falls of the Ohio
Designated as National Wildlife Conservation Area, the Falls of the Ohio is a popular paddling spot on the Ohio River.
The most accessible launch point is at 1204 W. Harrison Avenue, in Clarksville, IN. You won’t be charged anything to launch here.
From this point, head over to the lower gates, standing directly in front of you. Paddle past the gates to Goose Island on the left, then get out and explore the beautiful sandy beach and the wooded area.
Further upstream, Goose Islands leads into a historic fossil bed.
Navigation along this stretch of the river can be a bit of a challenge. You’ll encounter rapids formed due to the river’s erosion activities. Occasionally, the conservancy provides guides to show you the way and share knowledge of the area’s history.
It’s also considered a top bird-watching destination for people who want to catch a glimpse of eagles, peregrine falcons, herons, egrets, and ospreys.
Also, come sunset, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
The Parklands of Floyds Fork
On a hot afternoon, put your kayak on the waters at Floyds Fork and follow it as it winds through highland meadows, bottomland forests, and farm fields before joining with the Salt River. Expect an exciting adventure in a soothing breeze with plenty to see and explore.
The park is beautiful:
- Majestic sycamores stand tall.
- The buildings boast a contemporary design.
- The grasslands always attract diverse flocks of birds.
Bring your kids along to explore the meadows and forests in your kayak. Apart from Class I rapids and a few obstacles, it’s mostly a hustle-free ride.
You will see turtles on the rocks, fish in the river, and hear frogs sing.
If you have your fishing gear with you, try your luck at some rainbow trout. But only catch and release to preserve the water’s biodiversity.
Grayson Lake is a 1500-acre human-made reservoir sitting in the Elliot and carter Counties. Its flat waters attract families for kayaking, picnicking, fishing, swimming, and hiking the surrounding forest trails and the state park.
Expect a gentle, scenic, and spacious feel. If you have a day to spend, paddle along the expansive shoreline lined with sandstone cliffs and explore the cove and caves.
You won’t want to miss the Grotto at Grayson Lake. It’s a seductive natural sanctuary hidden in the mossy sandstone cliffs on Far Cliffy Creek.
On your way, you’ll see the walls of sandstone that flank the lake on both sides. You’ll then pass through a cave-like area and some spectacular rock formations and outcroppings before reaching the Grotto.
It’s a challenging trip, but worth it, seat and relish the surroundings. Views from there are amazing, plus the rushing waterfall is very relaxing.
Rated a Class IV+ whitewater route, the narrow little run that is Grassy Creek is not for amateurs. Advanced kayakers will have a fun time taking on the challenging waters, but beginners should stay away.
The creek feeds into the Russel Fork. Launch your kayak at Gateway Motel and paddle the steep trail to Russel Fork; it’s a 0.94-mile trail that is challenging and fun.
Activities in the lake include wildlife viewing, fishing, and photography. Some of the fish in the water include bluegill and smallmouth bass.
Bring out your fishing gear and put your skills to work.
For campers, there are many campground spots. The beautiful Pike County and the gracefully flowing waters make it worthwhile.
The Green River
The Green River is a 380-mile-long tributary of the Mighty Ohio River. It was named after an American war of independence general of the same name, and coincidentally, the river’s water is the color green as well.
The Green River holds great cultural and historical significance to the people of Kentucky.
It also boasts a rich ecosystem of fish, shrimps, mussels, and wildlife such as deer, fox, otters, and bobcats. Birds such as hawks, bald eagles, and turkey are also present.
One attractive feature on the river is the Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s the longest underwater cave in the world and just over 10 million years old. You can find new sections along this geological phenomenon to explore on your kayak. Expect wide, gently flowing waters with occasional Class I rapids.
Another great spot is the 300 Springs Waterfall. Springs burst from limestone crags and flow down the cliffs in a spectacular manner.
McNeely Lake Park
A holiday at McNeely Lake Park is going to be an unforgettable experience. The lake park is situated in the backdrop of gorgeous natural features, including a vast fishing lake and a hiking trail.
Some of the fish in the lake include bluegill, crappie, and red ear sunfish. Activities to do at McNeely Lake Park include fishing, bird watching, and hiking. The waters will take you through a spectacular landscape teeming with beautiful wildlife and birds. Make sure to snap a lot of the photos to memorialize your stay.
Bring your family, including pets, so that you can enjoy the outdoors together. There’s a dog park nearby for the dog owners.
The Rockcastle River flows 55 miles down from Jackson County to its confluence at the Cumberland River. It holds 7 class II to IV rapids and many walleyes that attract thrill-seekers and anglers alike.
The best kayaking section on the river is the Beech Creek Narrows section. Get ready for aggressive Class IV rapids as the river narrows and meanders through giant boulders and drops with a keeper hydraulic. Watch out because it’s easy to get trapped here.
You can also find aggressive waters at the Lower Narrows. Here the river turns and twists many times, then drops greatly. This trail is not for the faint-hearted. You’ll need paddling skills.
After the Lower Narrows, the river flows peacefully, with occasional Class II to III rapids before meeting with the lake. Beginners are welcome to paddle these 7-miles of flat water and try out their luck at catching some of the smallmouth bass.
As you can see on our list of the best places to kayak in KY, there are lots of exciting waters to explore. If you know of any other amazing paddling spots in the state, please let me know in a comment below.
Also, if you are an outfitter of kayaks or canoes at any of these locations and would like to be featured on the page, let me know.