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9 Best Places To Kayak In Kentucky (Finger Lickin’ Good!)

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in Kentucky can be a fantastic way to experience some of the beautiful and unusual scenery the state has to offer (including paddling through caves). There are many great rivers and lakes to be explored, with lots of options for beginners and experienced paddlers.

We’ve put together a selection of some of our favorites to give you an idea of what you might expect.

The Cumberland River in KentuckyPin

9 Best Places To Kayak Around Kentucky

1: Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest cave system and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Green River flows through the park and alongside some of the caves, some of which you can paddle into.

There are three kayak launch points in the park, which can make short day trips easy. The first put-in location in the park is at Dennison Ferry, where you can paddle past caves along the scenic Green River, surrounded by nature.

The take-out is at Green River Ferry, just over seven miles from the put-in. Or you can continue along to the take-out at Houchin Ferry, a further 12 miles from Green River Ferry.

You can rent kayaks just outside the National Park in nearby Cave City.

How to get there:

From Bowling Green, head northeast on Louisville Road then take the KY-422 north and follow Park Boundary Road into the National Park. From Louisville, head south on the I-65 to take you to Cave City.

2: Ohio River

A man with kayaks in Ohio riverPin
Courtesy: LouisvilleUSACE on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Ohio River flows right through Louisville and can be easy to access from downtown. There are several launches and take-outs along the river, making it ideal for short trips and extended ones. You can even paddle the 133 miles from Louisville to Cincinnati, Ohio.

One spot to launch is Carrie Gaulbert Cox Park, where there’s a boat ramp and parking. From here you can paddle across the river to Six Mile Island State Nature Preserve, where you can land on the beach or paddle around the 81-acre island.

The island features wildlife and can be accessed only by boat, so it can be a peaceful spot to stop.

You can also paddle southwest for views of the bridges and the Louisville skyline. Or you can head northeast and paddle up to Harrods Creek.

Kayak rentals are available near Waterfront Park in Louisville.

How to get there:

The Ohio River can be accessed directly from downtown Louisville.

3: Lake Barkley

Two men kayaking in Lake BarkleyPin
Courtesy: Land Between the Lakes KY/TN on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Barkley is a 58,000-acre lake on the Cumberland River that links with Kentucky Lake via the Barkley Canal at the northern end of both lakes. This can be a busy place with many motorized and recreational vessels but there are lots of coves and creeks to explore by kayak.

The water is generally flat, which can make it ideal for beginners, and there are enough water miles to keep experienced kayakers busy.

There are many boat ramps to launch your kayak, including at Mineral Mound State Park in Eddyville. You can rent kayaks from Eddy Creek Marina.

You can also explore the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, where there are water trails, landing beaches, and places to camp.

How to get there:

From Louisville take the I-65 south to Elizabethtown and then follow the Western Kentucky Parkway west to Eddyville.

4: Cumberland River

The Cumberland River is a major river that flows 688 miles through Kentucky and Tennessee. There are several access points for launching kayaks. One spot is at Cumberland Falls. Below the falls can be great for whitewater kayaking if you have some prior experience.

For a more relaxed pace, the stretch before you reach the falls lets you paddle through forests and hills with lots of wildlife.

The Redbird Boat Ramp near Williamsburg can be a good place to launch. You can take-out at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, around 17 miles downstream. Kayak rentals are available nearby at Sheltowee Trace Adventure Resort.

How to get there:

From Lexington, take the I-75 south to Williamsburg and follow Highway 204 to the Redbird Boat Ramp. For the falls, exit the I-75 at Cumberland Falls Highway, following KY-90 to the falls.

5: Kentucky River

The Kentucky River can offer nature and relaxation on calm flatwater. It can be ideal for all skill levels and can usually be easily paddled in either direction. The Kentucky River flows through the state capital, Frankfort, which can add some historic urban scenery to your trip.

There are several boat ramps along the river, making it easier to paddle both short and long distances.

You can rent kayaks in Frankfort or just north of Fort Boonesborough State Park, which is around 50 minutes southwest of Frankfort or around 30 minutes south of Lexington.

How to get there:

The Kentucky River can be accessed from downtown Frankfort. From Lexington, head south on the I-75 to the KY-627 to reach the boat ramp at Fort Boonesborough State Park.

6: Floyds Fork

Floyds Fork is a mostly flatwater creek to the east of Louisville where you can paddle roughly 20 miles through the Parklands of Floyds Fork. This is a protected area so it can be a great place to spot wildlife and experience nature. It can also be a great area for beginners.

There are many access points in the Parklands, so you can paddle for a couple of hours or all day. A good spot to put-in is at North Beckley Paddling Access Ramp, where there’s parking. You can paddle along to Creekside in around an hour or you can continue to Fisherville and beyond.

There are kayak rentals available in the Pope Lick area of the Parklands.

How to get there:

Head east out of downtown Louisville on the US-60 until you reach the Parklands, just off Blue Heron Road.

7: Red River Gorge

Kayaking through the Red River Gorge can give you a chance to experience some incredible scenery and natural rock formations, such as sandstone arches and spectacular caves. Located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, there is also an impressive amount of wildlife to be seen.

There are various put-ins and take-outs, depending on how far you want to paddle. There are also some rapids to consider. The whitewater is mostly Class I with some sections of Class II and III. The lower section is Class I.

Launching at Copperas Creek can be a good place for beginners, with mostly Class I rapids.

The Red River is a Wild and Scenic River with a section designated as a Kentucky Wild River. Tours are available from several outfitters in the National Forest.

How to get there:

From Winchester, head south on Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway and exit at Slade. Head north on Campton Road and follow Nada Tunnel Road to the KY-715 and Copperas Creek Canoe Launch.

8: Drakes Creek

Drakes Creek can be easily reached from Bowling Green. This slow-moving creek can be ideal for beginners as it’s mostly flatwater. It can also be a great place to fish, particularly if you’re looking to catch smallmouth bass.

There are several access points where you can launch or take-out. A good spot to launch can be at Romanza Johnson Park at Trammel Fork Creek. It can be an easy six-mile paddle from here to the next take-out at Phil Moore Park.

There are kayak rentals and shuttles available in Phil Moore Park by reservation only.

How to get there:

From Bowling Green, take the US-231 south to Phil Moore Park.

9: Yatesville Lake

Yatesville Lake is around 2,300 acres and is an impoundment of Blaine Creek. It has a serpentine shape, which can make it an interesting place to paddle with lots of creek arms to explore. The lake is surrounded by forests and hills, making it ideal if you’re looking for wilderness. It can also be ideal for kayak fishing.

Kayak fishing tips

The various inlets can be great spots to view wildlife, particularly birds, as these areas tend to be quieter and away from motorized vessels.

Yatesville Lake State Park can be an ideal place to launch and camp overnight. There are two boat ramps and there are even 16 boat-in campsites available.

Our kayak camping checklist

How to get there:

From Lexington, head east on the I-64 then follow the US-23 south to the KY-32 until you reach the KY-3215 – this takes you to Yatesville Lake.

What Are There Kayak Laws In KY?

US Coast GuardPin

Remember to follow Kentucky kayak laws and any other local laws that may apply to your particular paddling location.

  • Registration is not required for kayaks or canoes unless you’ve added a motor.
  • PFDs are required for each person on board a kayak. The PFD must be US Coast Guard approved, be the correct size, and be in a serviceable condition.
  • Children under 12 must wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD at all times on any vessel.
  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is against the law and can be punishable by a fine and jail time. This can happen if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or above.
  • Lights are required while paddling between the hours of sunset and sunrise. This can be a flashlight that you can display quickly enough to prevent a collision or an all-around white light fixed to your vessel.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Kentucky

Over To You…

Kentucky is home to beautiful forests and countrysides and lots of rivers and creeks, which can make it an excellent place for a paddling trip.

Whether you’re after whitewater or flatwater, you should be able to find it in the Bluegrass State.

Remember your PFD and, if you need it, your Kentucky fishing license. If you know a place that you think we should check out, let us know. And if you want to encourage others to use these awesome Kentucky waterways, share this guide.

1 thought on “9 Best Places To Kayak In Kentucky (Finger Lickin’ Good!)”

  1. #5 – directions to Fort Boonesborough don’t make sense
    “50 minutes southwest of Frankfort or around 30 minutes south of Lexington” You probably mean “50 minutes southEAST…”


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