Big Branch Canoe Launch

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Canoe launching area near on the Red River in Red River Gorge.

19.4 miles (31.22 km) of the Red River is designated a federal Wild and Scenic River. It is the only Wild and Scenic River in Kentucky. The Red River provides a great paddling experience for both beginners and experts. 

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 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 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.

Avenza Digital Maps

A Red River Gorge digital map is available from the Avenza Maps online map store. For the best user experience, use our maps within a GPS-enabled mobile app such as Avenza Maps. To find a map, go to Avenza's Get Maps page and search to locate a map.

At a Glance

Current Conditions:  .
Fees No fee for river use.
Permit Info: A Special Use Permit is required for commercial activities (for example: fishing tournaments, boat rentals, trail rides, outfitter guides, races, etc). A permit is also required for all noncommercial group uses involving more than 75 people.
Open Season: Open all year
  • Food Storage Restrictions are in effect to reduce odors that attract bears. Dispersed campers must hang food and garbage at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from any tree or post used for suspension. (Order DB-02-15)
  • Alcohol use prohibited: Consumption of alcohol is prohibited on national forest land and Kentucky lakes and waterways. KRS 222.202; (Order DB-02-15)
  • No camping in rock shelters. Camping and campfires are prohibited within 100 feet from the base of any cliff or rock shelter. (Order DB-02-15)
  • Campfire must be DEAD OUT before leaving.
  • No camping within 300 feet of any developed road, trail or Tunnel Ridge Road and its associated parking lots; no camping within 600 feet of Grays Arch. (Order 12-02-15)
  • No climbing or rappelling within 300 feet of Sky Bridge, Grays Arch, Nada Tunnel, or Chimney Top Rock overlooks. (Order 12-03-15)
  • Prohibited: Possessing or operating a motor vehicle on roads, trails and areas not designated for that purpose on Motorized Vehicle Use Maps. 36 CFR 261.13.
  • Shortcutting a switchback on trails is prohibited. (Order DB-08-15)
  • Parking is restricted to paved pull-offs marked with large "P" signs, along KY 715 and KY 77. (Order DB-02-15)
Passes: No fee for river use.  All vehicles on KY 15 or in the Red River Gorge and Indian Creek area north of KY 15 must display a recreation permit for backcountry camping between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. $3/day; $5/3 days; $30/annual pass.
Operated By: U.S. Forest Service
Information Center:
Gladie Visitor Center
3451 Sky Bridge Road
Stanton, KY 40380

General Information



From the Mountain Parkway, take exit 43 and follow KY 15 south to KY 191. Follow 191 through Campton to reach KY 746. Turn right and follow 746 north past the bridge over the Red River to KY 3357 (Sandfield Road) on the right. Look for a signed right turn onto a gravel road for the Big Branch river access. Do not use the KY 746 bridge for river access, since this area is private property.


Parking is available at the canoe launch.

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Water Activities

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