Paddling the Headwaters of the Green River
The Green River is one of Kentucky's largest, longest, and most navigable rivers. Originating in southwestern Lincoln County, the Green River flows west creating Green River Lake and draining twelve counties before emptying into the Ohio River across from Evansville, Indiana. Together, the Green and the numerous waterways the flow into it create one of the most fabulous areas for paddling in the region.
While most of the Green River is canoeable all year, certain sections are far more inviting than others. For this reason, we've divided the river into sections.
Map of the Green River and its Tributaries.
Liberty to Green River Lake
This upper section of the Green is not often paddled but is very pleasant. Running through farmland and along some steep, wooded hills, the river is treelined and flows swiftly. Banks are of mud and vary in steepness. At low water, sandbars and brush islands are common. Although farms line the floodplain, the river itself is fairly secluded and signs of human habitation are surprisingly few. Some modest but interesting exposed rock formations combine with rippling, playful class-I+ water to keep the paddling interesting. Access is good in most places and navigational hazards are limited to deadfalls and occasional logjams. This section is runnable from November through mid-June. Private property limits canoe camping possibilities on the river, but campers will find several options available by continuing on to Green River Lake.
Green River Lake Dam to Munfordville
This is a popular canoeing section and several trip combinations are available. Flow in this section depends on releases from the Green River Lake Dam (for the past three years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has provided adequate water during warm weather months for canoeing). More exposed rock is visible in this section, surrounding terrain is a bit more rugged, and the river is more secluded than in the previous section. Averaging 60 feet in width below the dam, the river widens perceptibly to 100 to 110 feet by the time it reaches Munfordville. Riffles and small rapids enliven the paddling but do not exceed Class I+. Access is good. Deadfalls and an occasional brush jam are the only navigational hazards at normal water levels. A canoe rental and shuttle service is available at the American Legion Park in Greensburg where paddlers can camp.
Munfordville to Houchins Ferry
This section of the Green River is also extremely popular, running in large part through the Mammoth Cave National Park. Scenery remains essentially the same as for the river section described above, except that beautiful forests supplant the cornfields once the Green River enters the park, and less exposed rock is evident. Wildlife is abundant in this area with great variety visible to the careful observer. Channelled by the steep surrounding hills, the river averages 70 to 100 feet wide until it reaches Mammoth Ferry where it broadens to 130 feet as it encounters the backwater pool of the Brownsville Dam. This point also marks the end of any current or riffles for this section. Needless to say, the Green River here runs through cave country, and at least two caves can be scouted at water's edge. A small cave located a half mile downstream of Dennison's Ferry on the left bank can actually be paddled into for approximately 40 feet. Further downstream, about a mile beyond Mammoth Ferry and 200 feet off the river to the left, is a small cave with a beautiful clear pool of icy water. Canoe camping is allowed throughout the park, but a backcountry fire and camping permit must be obtained from the park rangers (at no charge). Access to the river is good but some adjoining roads are potholed and torturous and winding. Deadfalls are the only navigational hazards. This section is runnable all year, when the dam is releasing.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication