Tates Creek Whitewater Paddling

Tates Creek, in the heart of Madison County, empties straight into the Kentucky River. It’s surrounded by hilly, forested Kentucky scenery and its banks swell after a rainstorm, making a playground of whitewater for any moderate-level paddler. It’s easy to do a half-day trip from Lexington, or stay overnight in the area and visit Fort Boonesborough State Park to go fishing or learn about the history of pioneering on the Kentucky River.
What makes it great?
Tates Creek is a fun and wild ride of non-stop whitewater waves. The flow of the creek rises and falls quickly after a rainstorm, so head out after the rain clears and be prepared for continuous surfing waves. There are a couple of drops, but not a lot of flatwater. There are also a few holes, but you can avoid them by being attentive.
Definitely scout the river from Kentucky 169 (the creek follows it entirely) and note any sections that you may have to portage. Any big stream after a rainstorm could have multiple strainers, which are large items like trees that wash down and block the river. There are multiple put-in and take-out spots throughout the 5-mile stretch, so if you want a shorter paddle it will be no problem to find alternative stream access sites.
The best part is that the put-in site is less than an hour from Lexington, so it’s easy to make a half-day trip from the city after a rainstorm. If you’re coming from farther away or if you want to make a weekend of it, camp at the Fort Boonesborough State Park on the banks of the Kentucky River. Grab a fishing license before you go and try your luck at the river’s abundant stock of bluegill, catfish, and bass.
Who is going to love it?
Moderate paddlers that are able to think quickly, stay alert, and paddle a constant whitewater waves with small drops will be right at home on Tates Creek. It’s not a beginner river and would be best for paddlers with experience who like fast water and are seeking a fun ride with a bit of a challenge.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
From 1-75, head west onto US-25 and hang a left on S. Keeneland Drive. Head right (or west) on Tates Creek Road (169). After about five miles you’ll see a white church on the left, where Maple Grove Road intersects with Tates Creek Road. This is the put-in site.
Continue on 169 for several miles until the road crosses the river, and this is the take-out site. There are several other unlisted river access sites along this stretch of road.
Written by Jacqui Levy for Roots Rated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.

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