Kayaking in Red River Gorge Kentucky

17 Best Places to Go Kayaking in Louisville, Kentucky (& Nearby)

There is something so special about our Kentucky nature, the lush forests, the limestone hills that make our bourbon delicious, and the rolling streams that are the perfect place for a summer escape. And of course, the best way to combine all three is to paddle down the river and enjoy that Kentucky ambiance! Lucky for you we have rounded up the best places to go kayaking in Louisville (and nearby).

Whether you want to paddle on a placid lake, glide down a rolling stream, or even do a bourbon-tasting float, we’ve got you covered.

Check out a few of these other posts:

See also
The 17 Best Bourbon Bars in Louisville, Kentucky

Kayaking in Louisville with Kayak Rentals

Here are the best places to rent kayaks in or near Louisville and Southern Indiana, from very relaxed low-key operations to organized event paddle tours! Just remember to always check with kayak rental businesses for water conditions and cancellation policies before you book. 

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nachand kayak and canoe in louisville ky
Photo Credit: Nachand Kayak and Canoe

nachand canoe & kayak rentals

Located ten miles from downtown Louisville, Nachand Canoe & Kayak Rentals sits on 14 miles of beautiful still waters of Harrods Creek. The 105 acre park surrounding the creek is teeming with life, white tailed deer, wild turkey, blue heron and surrounded by trees and Kentucky cane. You almost forget that minutes ago you were driving through the east end’s posh Prospect and not out in the wilds. 

Nachand Canoe and Kayak offers four or eight hour (half day or full day) rentals that include a vessel, life jacket and paddle. They do not offer drop off and pick up, so on your four or eight hour journey you will be paddling away on the clear still water and eventually paddling back. For the full-day, you can paddle up to places like Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille, Cunningham’s Creekside, or Harrods Creek Tavern for a midday meal or drink. Just don’t paddle onto the Ohio!

And when you see me on the creek make sure to wave at my chihuahua, Junebug, because pets are welcome (just make sure you bring a life jacket for your pet). Still waters that are at least 5 feet deep make for a relaxing day on the water in the midst of nature, and hopefully with the one you love. Still talking about the chihuahua.

Open daily with full day launches at 10am, and half day launches between 10am-2pm.

kayak on a river near louisville ky
Photo Credit: Kayak on a River

Kayak on a river

I know I am putting the horse before the kayak, but Kayak on a River rentals come with a water squirter! In addition to the highest rated Pungo kayak, vest and paddle, drybox, fruit snack and eco-friendly towel, they have included a water squirter. Forget calm paddling with my friends in nature, I am out to soak those suckers. 

Kayak on a River offers different kayaking experiences based on whether you want to kayak on a weekday or a weekend. During the weekdays, kayaking is available on Long Run Park lake, and during the weekend, kayaking is available on Salt River where it feeds into Taylorsville Lake. They’re more like “kayaks on the go” than just a standard kayaking rental location! 

Long Run Park, which is located 23 miles from downtown Louisville, has a 28.8 acre lake which is a calm spot great for learning the ropes of kayaking. Without being on a moving river, you can get your kayaking bearings all while enjoying the gorgeous Long Run Park, complete with beaches, picnic areas and fishing. 

The Salt River is about 50 miles from downtown Louisville. This part of the river where it feeds into Taylorsville Lake is a low wake, low risk relaxing environment (until I squirt you) and home to many species of bird and fish (which I will also try to squirt). While this location is a bit farther from Louisville, you’ll be surrounded by even more nature and over 3,000 acres to explore!

Small kids ride free with adults, life jackets included BUT are not automatically exempt from getting soaked by my water squirter just because they are a kid. Adventures are 3 hours or until sunset.

kayaking at cave country canoes near louisville ky milltown indiana

Cave Country Canoes

Located 31 miles west of Louisville, Blue River, Indiana’s first designated scenic river in Milltown, Indiana, is the home of Cave Country Canoes in the heart of Indiana’s Cave Country. The Blue River receives a large portion of its water from subterranean sources and the clear water gives off a bluish tint thus the name. 

Cave Country Canoes offers half day (2-4 hours, 7 miles) and full day (5-7 hours, 14 miles) trips. They also have a two day/overnight (21 miles) trip, which requires you to book a campground if you’re more of an experienced, bada** kind of kayaker. They will take you and your kayak up river and you’ll paddle back down to where you rented your kayak!

On whatever trip you book you’ll see densely wooded and undeveloped banks hugging the river, passing under bridges and rolling fields of farmland, and past limestone bluffs. You may even spot great blue herons, turtles, deer, otters, ducks, crayfish, and more! Along the way there are plenty of sandbars to stop for your lunch you brought or a dip in the water.

They are open daily May-August, weekends only April, September and October, and even have discount days and special events: Earth Day River Clean Up, Paddle Festival, Women’s Weekend, Full Moon Float, Twilight Canoe and Dinner and Youth Weekend. Think of the possibilities – a twilight float and dinner and you have just won date night my friend. You’re welcome.

After you have thoroughly worked up an appetite, stop by the Overlook restaurant for delicious home cooking, a glass of wine and twenty miles of river viewed from the bluff.

  • Insider tip: Try not to go on days when the water is low as you may find yourself dragging your kayak in certain spots, and the river will be slow. Which is great if you need to work on your arm muscles, not so great if you want to relax a bit!
See also
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Old Mill Canoe Rental kayking louisville ky-
Photo Credit: Old Mill Canoe Rental

Old Mill Canoe Rental

Another beautiful Blue River kayak experience can be found at Old Mill Canoe Rental, which is about 30 miles west of Louisville at a more northern point along the Blue River. I grew up spending my summers on Blue River. My dad would throw 6 kids in the back of a pickup truck with some inner tubes, drop us off and pick us up 5 hours later downstream. It was the 70s, and we all survived. 

The world is very different now, but the Blue River hasn’t changed all that much. Surrounded by trees on both sides, the water lazy and slow in some places with little rapids in others, the river takes me back to being a carefree kid waiting to see my dad fishing around the bend. 

The main offering is a full day trip which is a 12-mile journey that should take you 4.5-6 hours, with launch times between 9 and 1pm, where they’ll drop you and your kayak up river. The double day trip is a two day, twenty four mile trip with overnight camping at the two acre primitive campsite right on Blue River. Picnic table and portable toilet available but no running water, so it’s some real roughing it!

Old Mill Canoe Rentals is open 7 days a week from 9am-1pm and you’ll want to make a reservation for kayaking and to check the water levels in advance! They also allow you to launch your own vessel for a fee.

Blue Moon Canoe and Kayak of Kentucky 

Located 45 minutes out of Louisville on the Salt River in Taylorsville, Blue Moon Canoe and Kayak of Kentucky offer half (1-4 hours) and full day trips (4-8 hours.) Kayak solo or torment a loved one in a tandem kayak. You can argue about who is in the front and who gets the back the entire 5 mile trek downriver to where the shuttle awaits to bring you back. 

The Salt River winds and turns and gently flows in places, wide in areas with places of narrow chutes, surrounded by trees and all forms of aquatic river life, like turtles sunning themselves on logs. You may also meet Blue Moon’s official mascot Rory, the beautiful chocolate lab who thinks he’s in charge. 

Blue Moon offers shuttle service for a fee if you bring your own watercraft and are open 9-4 on the weekdays by appointment and 9-4 on Saturday and Sunday. Now quit arguing and get out there and paddle, and be sure to check the water conditions!

deam lake sandy beach in indiana

Deam Lake

Deam Lake is a 194-acre man made lake located in Borden, Indiana, located 30 minutes north of Louisville. Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Memorial day to Labor day, kayak rentals are first come first serve where you can get out on the water and enjoy the natural beauty, surrounded on one side by a sandy beach and roped off swimming area and trees and glorious nature the rest of the way round.

You will be asked to leave your ID with the concession stand for kayak, oars and life jacket, which guarantees that I won’t drop it at some point in the water. There is a small fee to enter this state park, which is open from 10am-6pm. You can also bring your own kayak to the lake.

Taylorsville Lake

Taylorsville Lake is a massive 3050-acre lake which twists and turns and offers spectacular wooded views all around. No online reservations are taken, just call with the date you want and you can pay in person. 

Rentals are either for a half day from 8am-1pm or 1pm to 5pm or a full day from 8am to 5pm. Taylorsville Lake is 45 miles from Louisville and in the midst of horse country. There are two nesting sights at Taylorsville Lake for Bald Eagles so keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse.

See also
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canoe kentucky near louisville ky photo credit john bramel
Photo Credit: John Bramel

Canoe Kentucky

Are you looking for a peaceful float and paddle with your homies, or a bit more adventure with some rapids? Some beginner lessons or a hair raising adventure? Maybe you just want a chill cruise with a distillery tour and catered lunch. Canoe Kentucky is an hour away in Frankfort, Ky and checks all the boxes

Chill out on the tame Kentucky River for the Kentucky River Downtown Paddle or get your adrenaline pumped on Elkhorn Creek for the Whitewater Hairraiser, offered March through June. This 7-mile trip along Elkhorn Creek is in an area known as the Palisades, which includes scenic gorges and limestone outcroppings. This trek will take you down Class II whitewater rapids in self-bailing, 14-foot-rafts and comes with guides to keep everyone moving along safely. These trips are water level dependent so be sure to check out the water situation while booking. 

For a more tame experience, Canoe Kentucky offers a Fun Float on Elkhorn Creek, which is a half day 5-mile stretch that usually takes 2-3 hours from launch to pick-up site, but the rental is for all day so you can take your time! For those needing more time on the water, the All Day Adventure is twice as long as the Fun Float and usually takes 4-5 hours

Their most popular tour is the Bourbon Paddle Tour, which, you, guessed it, marries kayaking and bourbon tasting! The trip will have you earning your bourbon paddling down the Kentucky River, passing through the lock and dam, a tour of Buffalo Trace Distillery, tasting Buffalo Trace products, lunch and shopping in the gift shop – all of my favorite things. 

Canoes available as well as overnight stays at one of their very own VRBO or creekside camping tents and they are open year-round with varying seasonal hours.

Three Trees

Located an hour and a half from Louisville, Three Trees Canoe and Kayak Rentals operates amid wildlife and below tall limestone cliffs known as the Palisades on the Kentucky River in Winchester, Kentucky. 

They operate a paddle in paddle out meaning no shuttle to pick you up. The waters are fairly calm so you won’t be paddling the wrong way against a heavy current. You go that way, you come back. Three Trees requires phone reservations to guarantee your rental.

Three Trees operates Friday from 10am to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6 pm. They are closed Monday through Thursday but will take reservations by noon. 

See also
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Kayaking in Louisville with Boat Launch Access

Are you a kayaker with your own water vessel looking for a place to drop in? I got your list covered – drop in, paddle out and get your kayak on. Kayakers with their own water vessel want to become tik tok famous riding down steep flights of stairs? Shoot me a message.


Harrods Creek

Just a 25 minute drive toward Prospect from downtown Louisville, Harrods Creek is one of the most popular kayaking spots in the state. Categorized as stillwater, Harrods Creek doesn’t have waves or moving water and is the perfect spot for a relaxing cruise surrounded by all sorts of nature in this 105 acre park.

Prospect is proud to be the only free public access to Harrods Creek, and you can easily find the kayak / canoe launch from the public parking lot at 6530 Montero Dr., Prospect, KY 40059.

Long Run Park

Located just 30 miles west of downtown Louisville, Long Run Park is a 28.8 acre stillwater lake perfect for beginner kayakers and families, or the kayaker looking for a peaceful paddle. 

The park is surrounded by trees and green fields and is adjacent to Long Run Golf Course. There are several drop in ramps located around the lake as well as picnic areas and hiking trails if you are planning on making a day of it.

paddleboarder on the ohio river in louisville butchertown ky

The Ohio River

The mighty Ohio is an amazing place to drop your kayak in for a more experienced paddler (and always wear a life vest!). The river itself on a normal day during the summer moves at a half a mile an hour, meaning it’s usually navigable by kayak (and equals my speed in the morning pre coffee). This means the river is more like a large lake; but that being said, keep an eye out on the water conditions before you enter, and always watch out for large debris like trees.

Some of the best places to launch in the Ohio are:

  • From the Louisville Community Boathouse (there’s a parking lot next to it), you can paddle down to the 2nd street bridge, across to Indiana and back upstream along Indiana, and then back across essentially making a large loop. From the Indiana side you’ll have amazing views of the city! Just upstream from the boathouse you can access Beargrass Creek from the Ohio River as well.
  • From the boat ramp at Cox Park, you can access the river for a tour of Six Mile Island, which is an 81-acre island State Nature Preserve on the Ohio. You’ll have to paddle upstream to reach the island, which is closer to the Indiana side. You can hop out of your kayak and check out the island and its array of waterbirds, or you can just paddle around it. The journey should take you around an hour depending on how long it takes you to reenact Tom Hanks’ Castaway monologue with Wilson (bring your own volleyball.) There is no camping on Six Mile Island as it is a nature preserve.
  • Kayaks can be launched at the George Rogers Clark boat ramp for gorgeous views of the Louisville skyline and visible fossils and coral in the water underneath you at the Falls of the Ohio. Depending on the time of year and water levels, the kayaker will be subject to some waves and rapids that become more extreme in the spring. As always, check the river conditions before you get in!

There are several areas to explore upriver from downtown just remember do not pass the Second Street bridge. You will likely encounter the Coast Guard, and I assume they won’t be very happy.

Check out Louisville area Canoe and Kayak for more Ohio River routes. Also Endless Summer Paddle is a great way to get on the Ohio River if SUPs are your thing. There is even a joint paddle + food tour with our sister company Louisville Food Tours!

See also
The 11 Best Distilleries in Louisville, Kentucky (With a Map!)
rose island at charlestown state park indiana

Charlestown State Park

Charlestown State Park in Indiana has Ohio River access and is a great starting point to explore Fourteen Mile Creek, Twelve Mile Island and Rose Island. We we are not really knocking it out of the park with creative names for places, but we make up for it in natural beauty! 

  • Fourteen Mile Creek can be found one and a half miles upstream of the boat ramp and has prohibited gas-powered watercraft so paddling here is a peaceful experience, devoid of man-made structures and chock full of nature. You’ll basically be paddling upstream of Charlestown State Park, so it’s a nice way to see it from another perspective!
  • Rose Island can be found on the upstream side of Fourteen Mile Creek and if you can find a spot to bank and explore the ruins do it! The bank can be steep in places but there are usually some spots that you can find, it is worth the effort. I should also mention Rose Island is not really any island – it’s a peninsula. This means while you can paddle over to explore it, you can’t really paddle around it!
  • Twelve Mile Island in the middle of the Ohio is a short paddle from the park and twice as big as Six Mile Island (or so I assume if my math is correct). Another opportunity to explore and live out your shipwreck castaway fantasies and still get home in time for dinner. There is a sandy beach and camping is allowed on Twelve Mile Island. 

There is a small entrance fee to Charlestown State Park, which is located 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, and also has some amazing hiking as well. The Charlestown Landing Boat Ramp in the park is the access point to the Ohio River.


Deam Lake

Deam Lake is a 194-acre man made lake located in Borden, Indiana, located 30 minutes north of Louisville. Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Memorial day to Labor day, kayak rentals are first come first serve where you can get out on the water and enjoy the natural beauty, surrounded on one side by a sandy beach and roped off swimming area and trees and glorious nature the rest of the way round.

You can drop in your kayak at any spot around the lake and enjoy paddling!

McNeely Park

Located fifteen miles south of Louisville, McNeely Park is one of the largest park systems in the state with more than 46 acres of lake. McNeely Lake only allows watercraft with no motors making for a peaceful and quiet paddle day. There are concrete access ramps into the lake. 

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The Parklands of Floyd’s Fork

As the home to over 60 miles of tributary in Southeast Louisville, the Parklands of Floyd’s Fork is one of my favorite spots to explore on foot or bike and especially by kayak. Floyd’s Fork is Class II with some flow and rapids at times and a great fit for intermediate to advanced kayakers. 

With multiple parks and multiple access points your best bet is to check the website for the type of kayak trip you want. The site offers a huge variety of trips; long, short, beginner, challenging, and gets you to the access point easily.

Access points for paddling in Beckley Creek Park, Pope Lick Park, off of The Strand, several off Broad Run Park and Turkey Run Park and vary in length between access points of two to four miles. This is definitely a place where you’ll want to check the water levels.

Lake Shelby 

Lake Shelby in Shelbyville Kentucky located 35 miles from Louisville lets you bring your own kayak, leave $2 in an envelope in the blue box and spend the day on over 20 acres of lake.

In addition to being a great deal, it’s nice to know people still trust you to put money in an envelope and only two dollars. With that being said, make sure to travel with two dollars. 

Rough River

Rough River offers something for all types of kayaker and is worth the 95 mile drive from Louisville. The river is an excellent intermediate and advanced-level kayaking site depending on the time of year. With a Class 4 designation, the river has some still and smooth areas as well as choppy rapid areas. 

Rough River Lake is an option for the less experienced kayaker with over 5000 acres lined with limestone beds. Finish your kayaking adventure off with a round or two on the disc golf or mini golf courses, basketball or volleyball, hiking, birding, beaching, and you can stay at one of the lodge rooms or cottages and do it all again tomorrow. 

See also
The 17 Best Hikes in Louisville, Kentucky (& Nearby)

About the Author: Southern Indiana native but Louisvillian since the 90s, JD Dotson left the glamorous world of secondary education to open and operate a fun, quirky local gift shop Regalo with his husband of 22 years, make art, raise a horde of chihuahuas and occasionally get out and explore the country. When he is not being attacked by furry little terrors, JD helps people realize their fitness goals at Breathe and Move 502 in Shelby Park.

What questions can we answer about kayaking in Louisville and nearby? Drop us a comment below!

Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:

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There is something so special about our Kentucky nature, the lush forests, the limestone hills that make our bourbon delicious, and the rolling streams that are the perfect place for a summer escape. And of course, the best way to combine all three is to paddle down the river and enjoy that Kentucky ambiance! Lucky for you we have found the best places to go kayaking in Louisville, Ky!
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