Best Places To Kayak In Kentucky For Beginners

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All kayaking enthusiasts should experience the thrills and excitement of kayaking in Kentucky. Kentucky is home to various waterways, lakes, and rivers, offering everything from Stillwater kayaking to the best whitewater kayaking across the state!

Kayaking in Kentucky is an exciting experience for all kayakers, no matter their skill level. From still water lakes to Class V rapids, Kentucky has it all! Explore the local caves and caverns by kayak or traverse the rivers as they meander through the breathtaking scenic countryside.

Before you head out to begin your adventure on the water, check your state’s local rules and regulations regarding the kayak, canoe, and paddleboard laws. Although the laws are similar in most states throughout the USA, some vary according to their unique circumstances.

Kayaking In Kentucky

No matter your kayaking skill level, there is a place for you to explore in Kentucky. If you have absolutely no experience kayaking and no idea how to get into a kayak, start with some introductory lessons from Canoe Kentucky in Frankfort or the YMCA in Louisville.

After a few basic lessons, begin your kayaking career with an 8-mile (12 km) kayaking adventure from Dennison Ferry to Green River Ferry. The rapids on this route are classified as either class A or I, which means that the water is quiet, has no waterfalls or rapids and is safe for a beginner to paddle alone.

As you become more skilled in kayaking, attempt the harder graded river kayaking routes. There are 7 different rapids grading classes – Caution: only attempt the courses you are sure you can maneuver with ease!

The International Rating system has standardized the classification of river rapids into the following categories:

  • Class A – Still. Lake water with no perceptible movement
  • Class I – Classified as easy. Smooth water with light ripples and gentle curves. Ideal for the beginner or day-tripper.
  • Class II – Classified as Moderate. Medium-quick water, some maneuvering required through rapids with small waves and between rocks and ledges. For the intermediate paddler.
  • Class III – Classified as moderately difficult with high waves, rocks, and eddies. For paddlers with expert skills.
  • Class IV – Classified as difficult. The paddler should be skilled in maneuvering long, powerful rapids, souse holes, and boiling eddies.
  • Class V – Classified as extremely difficult due to regular, violent rapids, obstructions in the river, and violent currents. For expert paddlers in specially equipped watercraft.
  • Class V1 – Classified as extraordinarily difficult! Extremely dangerous with the constant threat of death! Only for paddlers with Olympic ability.

What Are The Kayaking Laws In Kentucky?

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife implements and enforces the Kentucky kayaking laws, rules, and regulations.

 The Ohio river marks several state boundaries, so kayakers paddling along the Ohio river should check the boating laws of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the US Coast Guard.

 The below is a summary of the relevant rules and regulations when kayaking in Kentucky.

Should You Register Your Kayak In Kentucky?

All boats on public waterways are referred to as “vessels,” including kayaks. Kentucky law considers canoes and kayaks to be non-motorized vessels and, as such, are exempt from registration.

All motorized vessels, regardless of size, including kayaks with trolling motors, have to be registered in Kentucky and carry a Kentucky registration certificate on board.

  • Boats currently registered in other states can be used for 60 consecutive days in Kentucky without re-registration in Kentucky
  • The expiry date for a Certificate of Registration is April 30 each year

Do You Need A License To Kayak In Kentucky?

There is no age restriction or license required to operate a non-motorized kayak in Kentucky. Still, the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends all boaters complete a boating safety class.

In Kentucky, a license is not required to operate a motorized kayak. Still, the law states that a motorized kayak with 10 horsepower or greater can only be operated by a person 12 years or older.

Children operating a motorized kayak who are between the ages of 12 and 17 years old must complete a Boater Education Course. The certificate must be available to authorities at all times while the bearer is on the water.

Do You Need To Wear A Life Jacket When Kayaking In Kentucky?

While all states in the USA have similar requirements for wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) when kayaking or aboard any watercraft, some states have additional rules and regulations.

Always check what these rules are with the relevant state authorities while planning your trip.

In Kentucky, all vessels, including kayaks, are required to carry a United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved Type I, III, or III PFD for each person.

Each PFD should be the right size for each person on board, be in good condition, and should be readily accessible to the wearer at all times. Children under the age of 12 years old need to wear their PFDs while the vessel is underway.

Does My Kayak Need Lights In Kentucky?

When visibility is restricted, and between sunset and sunrise, all unpowered kayaks must carry a white light on board that must be displayed if another vessel approaches to avoid a collision.

Additionally, for extra visibility and if practical, green and red bow lights and a white stern light should be carried, with the light visible for a distance of up to one mile, or a white 360 degrees light, visible for up to 2 miles (3.2 km).

Sounding Device Laws For Kayaking In Kentucky

According to the law, vessels under 16 feet (4.8 meters) do not need a sounding device. It is, however, advisable for kayakers to carry a sounding device onboard or attached to their PFD. A whistle is the best sounding device for kayakers as the sound carries over water.

Motorized vessels between 16 and 26 feet (4.8 – 7.9 m) long must have a sound-producing device. This hand, mouth, or power-operated device should be audible for half a mile (800 m).

A visual distress signaling device (VDS) is not required on a kayak during the day, but a USCG VDS is necessary at night on all vessels on federally controlled waters.

Can You Get A BUI For Drunk Kayaking In Kentucky?

In Kentucky, “it is against the law to operate a boat while intoxicated or under the influence of any substance that impairs one’s driving ability.” Kentucky law prohibits drinking alcohol in public spaces, which includes waterways.

If your breath or blood alcohol level (BAL) is over 0.08%, you are considered over the legal limit and intoxicated.

If you are caught operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, you will be charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI).

If you are caught while BUI, you can expect the following penalties:

  • For a first offense, you can be fined between $200 to $250 or 24 hours in jail
  • A second offense will cost you $350 to $500.00 or 48 hours in jail
  • A third offense will cost you a $600 to $1000 fine and/or 30 days in jail
  • A boating safety course is compulsory for all offenders

If you are planning on a celebratory drink after completing your route on the water, ensure that you drink responsibly and only after you have completed your days’ schedule.

Best Places For Beginners To Kayak In Kentucky

If you are a beginner learning how to kayak and are looking forward to some amazing adventures after having a few lessons, start by finding a place where you can get some decent practice.

There are some great Class I beginner routes available in Kentucky.

The Kentucky River is 260 miles (418 km) of calm waters in the center of the state. The river is flanked by towering limestone bluffs carved out by the river’s flow. Take in the sites along the river, which include ferry crossings, bridges, historical places, and even local distilleries!

Laurel River Lake, situated in the Daniel Boone National Forest, is an amazing place to kayak. Built by the Engineers of the US Army Corps in 1977 and administered by the U.S Forest Service, the lake covers an area of 5 600-acres with a 200-mile (321 km) shoreline.

The clear water offers the beginner kayaker a safe place to learn paddling skills.

Floyds Fork Creek offers a scenic route along a 60-mile (96.5 km) tributary of the Salt River.  This Class I – II route travels through four parks, providing you with the best scenery and enough adrenaline-pumping adventure!

Grayson Lake State Park offers an interesting day trip for the entire family. The scenery is spectacular, while the 1 500-acre man-made reservoir offers world-class paddling!

Surrounded by sandstone cliffs, caves, and waterfalls, with 74 miles (119 km) of shoreline to explore, all skill levels are catered for.

The flat water is a great way for beginners to learn paddling skills, while more advanced paddlers can explore the caves and coves and the many waterfalls in the area.

Best Kayaking Spots For Intermediate Kayakers In Kentucky

Now that you have been out on the water honing your kayaking skills a few times, you might decide that you are experienced enough for a more adventurous paddle down a more exciting river!

Red River Gorge may be the challenge that you are looking for to try out your kayaking skills.

You would need to plan your trip out well as some parts of the river are only meant for expert kayakers at Class IV, while other parts of the river are great for those who have some skill at Class III.

One thing is true about the whole river, though, the views are spectacular!

Benson Creek is an adrenaline-awakening Class II kayaking trip. The water is seldom clear and is often murky because of the rain, but the vertical ledge drops along the 5.1 miles (8.2 km) of the river make the route worthwhile!

These ledge drops occur frequently along the creek, allowing you to improve your paddling skills.

Elkhorn Creek, situated in the middle of Kentucky, is classified as a Class II-III  paddling route, although different ability levels are catered for along the 17-mile (27.3 km) stretch of water.

The Elkhorn Bridge is a great spot to launch your kayak from to head downstream towards whitewater rapids but watch out for the portage around the Jim Beam Distillery dam.

Further down the river is an 8-mile (12.8 km) stretch known as The Palisades. This section of the river has some exciting Class III and IV rapids!

Best Kayaking Spots For Experts In Kentucky

Adrenaline junkies thrive on the excitement of the paddling route, the nerve-wracking nail bite-inducing swirls, rapids, and holes! You should only attempt these kayaking spots if you have the skill to save your own life from imminent danger.

Grassy Creek. After heavy rainfall in the area, the level of difficulty for this river can increase to Class IV – V. The creek narrows at some point before flowing into an 80-foot (24.3 meters) long slide, sending you through to the Russel Fork take-out area.

Check the local weather conditions for rain before venturing out on this river.

Russel Fork has high water levels due to the dam upstream releasing water that flows through the river. Russel Fork River offers Class V rapids with names like “El Horrendo” and “Fist.”

These rapids are not suitable for beginners, but the gorge does offer Class II, and Class III stretches further upstream for the less adventurous.

Roaring Paunch Creek is a must for the expert kayaker. This route covers 3 miles (4.8 km) of Class IV-V rapids, meandering through the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Kayaking Clubs In Kentucky

If you are new to Kentucky or are new to the sport of kayaking, finding a local kayaking club or meet-up is a great way to find out more about kayaking opportunities in the state.

Experienced kayakers at these clubs will be able to give you invaluable guidelines on the best paddling spots in the neighborhood.

You can request to go along on their next kayaking excursion to paddle local waters with people familiar with navigating these waters.

If you would like to meet local kayak junkies who know the area well, the following clubs and tour operators will assist you.

The Explore Kentucky Initiative connects groups and hosts events. This group connects outdoor adventurers through different events and provides a platform for individuals to plan events and promote them to like-minded people.

The Waterman Series, formally known as the Kentucky Waterman Series, is a local effort of paddle sports enthusiasts, communities, organizers, and sponsors who promote paddle sport racing.

Canoe Kentucky in Frankfort provides guided kayaking trips along the Kentucky river, pointing out interesting historical sights and incredible views that you can only see while paddling along the river.

Canoe Kentucky also hosts adventure camps for kids during the summer holidays. The activities include kayaking and basic survival and outdoor skills.


Kentucky is home to some interesting kayaking areas, offering intense kayaking experiences for the adventure seekers or a peaceful day of paddling for beginners.

Kayaking in Kentucky is an amazing experience with a variety of options available for every skill level. Research your trip well and find out the local laws before heading off on your Kentucky kayaking adventure!