Paddling on the Red River

The Red River, located in the Red River Gorge, tumbles through huge boulders in a narrow, twisting and largely inaccessible hemlock gorge. Originating in Wolfe County, the Red River runs through Powell County and empties into the Kentucky River south of Winchester. It is located in the Cumberland District of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The 9.1-mile segment from the KY 746 bridge to the mouth of Swift Camp Creek is designated as a Kentucky Wild River and features some of the most spectacular canoeing water in the eastern United States. The 19.4-mile segment from KY 746 to the ford below Schoolhouse Branch was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1993.

For kayak rentals and pick up services, click on the rentals button below. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System also has some great additional information in their brochure.

Photos by Wilkinson Visual from Friends of Red River / KWA’s Red RiverFest / Canoe Race

Mill Creek Lake

Mill Creek Lake is located in Powell and Wolfe County. It’s a small, secluded lake surounded by cliffs and forest. the lake is great for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. You can bring your own or there is a rental service there. For more information on rentals, visit our attractions page.

The lake is great for fishing. There is black crappie, bluegill, rainbow trout, bass, green sunfish & more. You must have your Kentucky Fishing License to fish.

2135 Natural Bridge Road
Slade, KY 40376

Red River Section Details

Click on the sections below to find out more about kayaking various sections of the Red River including launch ramps. Each area is unique and conditions can vary greatly depending on weather and recent rainfall amounts in the Red River Gorge area.

Upper Red River

The upper Red River is a 10.8-mile (17.38 km) section that is considered one of the most challenging stretches of whitewater in the southeastern United States. Beginning at the Big Branch Canoe Launch near KY 746, the river twists through a series of Class III rapids. During high water, this section is very dangerous. Due to the remote location within the Clifty Wilderness, rescues and walk-outs are exceedingly difficult. The upper Red River should only be attempted by expert paddlers. The entire run takes about 6 hours.

The put-in point is at Big Branch; 1.7 miles downstream from the put-in point you cross under the KY 746 bridge, the former put-in point for this segment. The first 3 miles below the KY 746 bridge are scenic Class I water with a good current. Below the mouth of Stillwater Creek, the gradient increases with technical, Class III rapids. For a half-mile below Pecks Branch, the Red River twists through a series of three borderline Class III rapids – popularly known as the “Narrows of the Red”. Generally the run is a Class II, runnable from late December to late May in years of average rainfall.

Upper Put In: Big Branch Canoe Launch
Upper Take Out: KY 715
Rapids Class: Class II to III

Middle Red River

Most visitors prefer to float downstream from the Copperas Creek Canoe Launch, located near the Osborne Bend trailhead parking lot. This mostly class I section is great for beginners, but also provides enough sandbars, riffles, and small ledges to make paddling interesting for everyone. This 10.5 mile (16.89 km) section takes about 6 hours to complete and averages 55°F-60°F (12.7°C-15.5°C) water temperature in April. The Wild and Scenic River designation ends at the Schoolhouse Branch confluence.

The middle Red River is a 8.5-mile section that begins at KY 715 and twists and turns through the center of the Red River Gorge Geological Area and past Sky Bridge Arch, Tower Rock and Chimney Top Rock. The middle section is runnable from late fall to early summer most years. The take-out is on the right under the KY 77 bridge.

Upper Put In: KY 715 (Concrete Bridge)
Additional Put in: Copperas Creek Canoe Launch
Upper Take Out: KY 77 (Iron Bridge)
Rapids Class: Class I

Lower Red River

The lower Red River is an approximately 2-mile Class I section that remains very scenic as it winds along and then finally runs out of the Red River Gorge. The take-out is on the right, at an old ford below Schoolhouse Branch.

Upper Put In: KY 77 (Iron Bridge)
Upper Take Out: Schoolhouse Branch
Rapids Class: Class I

Clay City 4-mile Loop

Paddle the 4-mile loop in Clay City! No shuttle required, just a short .25 mile walk. Put in at Clay City Park and takeout at Carmen’s Landing (7th Street). Simply put in at Clay City Park, paddle the loop, and then takeout at Carmen’s Landing, walk down 7th Street, cross Main Street, and you will arrive back at the Park (.25 mile walk). This loop takes approximately 2 hours depending on water levels. Water levels vary throughout the year. Click HERE to view water level data.