Paddling the Cedar Branch

Deep in the heart of Kentucky lies a little-known creek that most people wouldn’t pay attention to. Paddlers, however,  are an inquisitive, adventurous lot, and see the beauty and the potential of small, overlooked creeks. The Cedar Branch is proof that you just never know what you’ll find until you drop into the water. 


Kentucky is home to literally thousands of miles of rivers, creeks and streams that are navigable via boats of varying sizes. While the big ones like the Kentucky and Ohio rivers get all the press, there are plenty of smaller, and arguably more interesting and adventurous runs out there. Just 50 minutes south of Lexington, in the central part of the state, lies a just such a stream.


What the Cedar Branch run lacks in length, it makes up in excitement, beauty and most of all, fun. Steep, techy, fast and isolated, Cedar Branch packs in a lot of excitement in its 1.5 miles.


What Makes It Great


The first descent on this short section was only just done in 2002, so it’s a bit of a local secret. One could not be faulted for not noticing it driving by. Paddlers are bound to pretty much have it to themselves. And even though it’s close to a major city, more or less parallels railroad tracks, and dumps into the popular Kentucky river, paddlers enjoy a sense of solitude and quiet on Cedar Branch. The entire run is cloaked in the shade of cliffs and Kentucky’s famous deep hardwood forests.


The paddling pretty much all takes place in a steep, narrow gorge. The tight nature makes it pretty technical and some caution needs to be advised, there can be downed trees and log jams here and there. And most of the time, the water is pretty shallow, so there are numerous sliding drops that add to the fun and excitement. The average grade is 100 feet per mile, so it’s legitimately steep. Add to that the narrowness of the gorge, and the water gets moving pretty fast.
That narrowness means that the water level changes dramatically during and after a good rain, it’s a whole different run than when lower.


Who is Going to Love It


Intermediate to advanced paddlers with a sense of adventure will love this run. Its short mileage makes it easy to run laps on it, bring good walking shoes. Or if wanting to make a day of it, paddle down Cedar Branch to the Kentucky River and under the scenic High Bridge of Kentucky, with its cliff-lined sides.


Take a right onto the Dix rixer. This is a slow-moving river that one can easily paddle up. There are a few rapids that make for some fun playtime. When done playing, portage around them and head up the the dam. The Dix Dam road is right there, less than 2 miles from the put in for Cedar Branch and the car. Perfect.


Directions, Parking & Regulations


From Lexington, take US 68 west for about 24 miles to KY33 south. Left onto state highway 342/Dix Dam rd. for 2.4 miles, park along the road. If you cross railroad tracks, you’ve gone too far.




Difficulty: (Class III-IV)
The Cedar Branch is tight, shallow and technical, with often only one line to run.


Time to Complete: (30 minutes)


Distance: (1.5 miles)
This creek dumps into the Kentucky river, so one could keep going along the Kentucky, though it’ll be mostly flatwater, and Lock No. 7 is just a half mile downstream from the intersection. 


Seasonality: (Late spring to early fall)
May gets the most rain, so the water will be up, October is the driest month. 


Fees: None.


Dog Friendly: (No)


GPS Coordinates: (Put in: 37.7951, -84.7287)

Related Articles