Some rivers are perfect for the inexperienced canoeist - gentle stretches that give you time to enjoy beautiful scenery. Others can provide whitewater challenges for even the most experienced. Whether you are an experienced casual floater, please exercise caution. Use the following information and charts to help you find the sections of stream that match your expectations and ability. Each district office can provide you with maps and other information.

  • 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.

Campsites must be at least 200 feet from the water and at least 300 feet from any developed road or trail. Parts of rivers run through private land. You should make sure you are on national forest land before setting up camp. Many of the put in/take out points are on private or state property, not on national forest land.

Red River, Cumberland Ranger District

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.

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.

The Red River is located within the Cumberland Ranger District.

Learn more about recreation opportunties on the Red River.

Rockcastle River

The Rockcastle River got its name from the majestic cliffs that tower above the river. The Upper Rockcastle is normally suitable for the less experienced paddler. The Lower Rockcastle should be attempted only by those who are experienced and well-equipped. The hazardous "Narrows" is a precipitous gorge bounded by 100-foot cliffs.

The Rockcastle River flows through portions of Jackson, Rockcastle, Laurel and Pulaski counties. The 15.9-mile segment from the KY 1956 (old Highway 80) bridge to the backwaters of Lake Cumberland is designated a Kentucky Wild River.

The Rockcastle River is located on the London Ranger District.

Learn more about recreation opportunties on the Rockcastle River.

Cumberland River

The Cumberland River flows through the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest and offers great canoeing and rafting opportunities. It is also known for the Cumberland Falls, which divides the river into two distinct segments. The 16.1-mile section from Summer Shoals to the backwaters of Lake Cumberland is designated a Kentucky Wild River.

Learn more about recreation opportunties on the London and Stearns portions of Cumberland River.

Big South Fork

Known for long stretches of cliffs visible from the river, a 10.2-mile segment from the Kentucky-Tennessee border to Blue Heron is designated a Kentucky Wild River. Managed by the National Park Service, this river is located in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.