The Red River

The Red River 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.

  • River levels can change drastically depending on rainfall, making passage and maneuverability more difficult. 
  • As with all water activities, always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device.
  • Consider skill levels of all members of your party when choosing a river to paddle.
  • Tell a friend or relative where you are going and when you expect to return.

View USGS stream flow information.

The 9.1-mile segment from the KY 746 bridge to the mouth of Swift Camp Creek has been designated 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.

Upper Red River
Big Branch to "Concrete Bridge" (KY 715)

This 10.8 mile section of the river is a Class II to III whitewater stream of unparalleled beauty. 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 a technical, Class III rapids.

For a half mile below Pecks Branch the Red River twists through a series of 3 borderline Class III rapids, popularly know 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. At low water the run can turn into a hike. At very high water the Red is extremely dangerous. The best time to run the Red is in the morning because of the afternoon sun that shines directly in your eyes after 2:00 p.m.

Upper Red River

  • Class: II-III
  • Miles:  10.8
  • Time:  6 hours
  • Season: Nov.-June
  • Skill Level:  Intermediate, Advanced

PUT IN: Big Branch TAKE OUT: KY 715 (Concrete bridge)

Middle Red River
KY 715 "Concrete Bridge" to KY 77 "Iron Bridge"

This 8.5 mile section begins at KY 715 and twists and turns through the center of the Red River Gorge Geological Area, past Sky Bridge Arch, Tower Rock and Chimney Top Rock. This section is Class I throughout, but numerous sandbars, riffles, and small ledges make the paddling interesting.

The middle section is runnable from late fall to early summer most years. The take out will be on the right under the KY 77 bridge.

Middle Red River

  • Class: I
  • Miles: 8.5
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Season: November through June
  • Skill Level: Families and Beginners

PUT IN: KY 715 (Concrete Bridge) TAKE OUT: KY 77 (Iron Bridge)

Lower Red River
KY 77 to Schoolhouse Branch

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

Lower Red River

  • Class: I
  • Miles: 2
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Season: Nov.-June
  • Skill Level:  Families and Beginners

PUT IN: KY 77 (Iron Bridge) TAKE OUT: Schoolhouse Branch