Paddling Elkhorn Creek

Elkhorn Creek
Elkhorn Creek is a great place to paddle. Photo courtesy of SUP Kentucky.

Deriving its name from its shape—the horns of an elk—one of the state’s best-known blueways for paddling in central Kentucky is Elkhorn Creek, comprised of two forks that join east of Frankfort. From the Forks at Elkhorn in Frankfort to the Kentucky River, you can enjoy 17 miles of river with a variety of challenges and several access points. Or if you want the most bang for your buck, an 8-mile course known as the Palisades will give you the best whitewater section with class III and IV rapids.  

What Makes It Great

Don’t let the term “creek” fool you. Perhaps a bit of a misnomer, Elkhorn Creek is just a bit shy in length to become labeled and designated as an actual river. What it lacks in length, it makes up for in flow. Some call it a hidden gem, but avid paddlers know that Elkhorn Creek is a must-do while in Kentucky. What makes Elkhorn Creek great is the amount of class II, III, and IV rapids (depending on water levels and flow) among some of the most beautiful, intriguing scenery in the Bluegrass state—so intriguing, in fact, that the famous American writer Walt Whitman himself thought to mention it in his iconic poem, Song of Myself.

This is no lazy day at the river. The blueway of Elkhorn Creek requires skill, attention, and a good sense of adventure. Some of the rapids and bends can surprise even advanced paddlers, so secure your belongings and be prepared to get wet. Wildlife is another draw. Be prepared to see snakes, hawks, deer, and a myriad of other species. Some of the blueway trails you can plan are the Forks of Elkhorn to Knight’s Bridge (7 miles), Knight’s Bridge to T.N. Sullivan WMA (1.5 miles), T.N. Sullivan WMA to Peak’s Mill Bridge (6 miles), and Peak’s Mill Bridge to Still Waters Campground (less than a mile). Paddlers should certainly study a map first in order to locate put-ins and take-outs.

Who is Going to Love It

Warning: this is not for beginners or for the timid. Intermediate to advanced paddlers, however, will absolutely adore their adventure on the Elkhorn Creek, and it’s a must-do for avid paddlers to check off their Kentucky bucket list.

Directions, Parking & Regulations

Directions: The put-in is located at the Forks of the Elkhorn bridge, located at U.S. 460 and North Scruggs Lane in Franklin County. Note: there is a low-head dam in the beginning where you have to portage on the left-hand side of the river, river left.

Elkhorn Creek
Photo courtesy of SUP Kentucky.

Tips

Difficulty: In the rapids section, difficulty is about 3.
Time to Complete: 2 hours
Distance: 17 miles from the Forks of Elkhorn to the Kentucky River, with many different sections. A popular section that has the best rapids is 8 miles, known as the Palisades, which we focus on here. 
Seasonality: Late spring, summer, and fall are best. This is a rain-dependent creek, so keep this in mind especially if it’s been a drought year. 
Fees: If you park at the forks, you have to pay $2 or $3
Dog Friendly: Yes
GPS Coordinates: Starts at the Forks at the Elkhorn in Frankfort off of Highway 460; there’s a kayaking put in.

Also visit Canoe Kentucky for rentals.