Whitewater Paddling Clover Fork

On the outskirts of Harlan in Southeast Kentucky, the Clover Fork (which is a section of the Martin’s Fork of the Cumberland River) offers a wide, easy to paddle creek with an exciting twist: you’ll float through an underground tunnel for close to a quarter mile! Besides having a great time and enjoying this navigable tunnel, visiting this part of Kentucky is a must for any paddler looking to get off the beaten path. From Harlan and other surrounding areas, you could easily spend a week exploring the great class II to IV headwater creeks of the Cumberland.
What makes it great
Due in part to its remoteness, the headwaters of the Cumberland River are some of the greatest whitewater runs in the region, despite being close to more popular creeks and rivers in Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.
To start, you’ll need to put-in close to the Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Though there is an open space that serves as the de facto put-in, be respectful of the area as this is not a formal parking lot or ramp.
Your first rapid will be a long, wide shoal that offers a swift ride, but is not technical in any sense. After a few hundred yards, you’ll run down a rock slab slide called “Bounce The Baby.” This slide is wide and easy to tackle, though most prefer to hit it at river right.
After another quarter mile or so, you’ll be hitting the rapid that will lead you straight to the tunnel, aptly called “In”. This wave train will lead you into one of four tunnels, but your best bet is to paddle river right and ignore the three on the left. On your way to the put-in, scope the tunnel out from Highway 38 to make sure there are no wood or debris at the entrance. The tunnel isn’t completely dark, but it is very low light in the middle, so you may want to wear a headlamp.
Out on the other side, you’ll be greeted by “Out,” featuring a big hole, perfect to surf through or play around if you have a playboat.
Head river left to the take out, which is basically any part of the road that you can park before the bridge. The take-out is anywhere near the bridge that you’d like here: 36.855176, -83.316527.
Paddling history buffs will also enjoy visiting the area, where museums tell the story of the America’s coal industry through interesting exhibits.
Who is going to love it
Though a beginner should always have an experienced paddler to accompany them, this is a great run for new paddlers looking to bolster their confidence. However, experienced paddlers will also enjoy the diversity of the runs, the off-the-beaten-path feel of carrying your boat through brush to put-in, and floating through a dark tunnel before being greeted by a fun rapid.
Playboaters will enjoy the hole at the end of “Out.” Though the river is usually too shallow to throw a flip or other aerial, it’s still a great place to surf and fool around in before heading out.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
The Mt. Olive Baptist Church near the put-in is located at 14 Alta Lane in Harlan. Because paddlers have been courteous, you can park wherever you want along the road. As long as everyone does their part to pick up after themselves and do as little damage as possible, there shouldn’t be any problems.
As with any whitewater run, scout out the river as much as you can on the way up to the put-in. Most of the rapids are observable from the road, so stop over a few times to check for any strainers or debris.
For both the put-in and the take-out, be prepared to carry your boat.
Written by Charlie Morgan for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism. 

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