This lovely class I-II stream is a gem of central Ohio. The stream is mostly flat in the upper stretches, but with swift current. Be on the lookout for strainers. I am not very familiar with this upper stretch, as many boaters put on below at Barret's Mill Road or at Browning Road.
If paddling the upper stretches, there are two old mill dams that must be portaged. The first is just downstream of the Highway 753 bridge and the second is just downstream of Barretts Mill Road. Check them out first on the map and from the road!
A good put in is on river left, just below the bridge on Browning Road. The landowner (Highlands Nature Sanctuary) has been very kind and co-operative with paddlers, allowing them to park on his property on the downstream side of the bridge. It is critical that paddlers be considerate! Do not park on any cultivated land, don't block the driveway or any cars and do not litter. Be as low key as possible. Such kindly land owners are our best friends! Please leave as few vehicles here as possible as this area is frequently used for hikes for patrons of the sanctuary. Permission can usually be gained to park here at the office near the old 7 caves off cave road. Be aware that it's a privilege extended to us to use this site and not a right.
From Browning road, the stream continues to be fast moving with small ripples. Many places exist for the newer paddler to practice eddy turns and ferries, but again, be on the lookout for strainers. Shortly after the put in there is a small ledge which can provide beginners with surfing practice. After this ledge the gradient begins to pick up slightly and the scenery changes from low banks and pasture land to higher banks and eventually limestone cliffs. In the region of the 7 caves the cliffs are spectacular, rising sharply a hundred feet or more over the river. Most folks won't believe they are still in Ohio. Bring a camera.
There are a couple of minor rapids leading into and out of this section where the beginner paddler can practice surfing and other techniques, but the water through the most beautiful section is flat, allowing for maximum appreciation of the beauty.
After the 7 caves area, the cliff receed and the stream starts to return to pastoral scenery. Most new paddlers will take out on river right below the Rt 50 bridge. Again, be aware you are crossing private land! More experienced paddlers will continue on to the Confluence with Paint Creek a few hundred yards below, attempt the class II-III Paint Creek chutes and take out at the old primitive roadside rest area on Rt. 50. The rest area is now private property but permission has been attained to park on the creek side of the loop, do not park on the inside of the loop. For details about Paint Creek, see Paint Creek Information
Other Information Sources:Rocky Fork State ParkHighlands Nature Conservancy Seven Caves Hikers are allowed in the area but not within the caves. This is to allow restoration and prevent the spread of white nose disease in bats.
The old mill and dam is just upstream of the put in.
There appears to be a large turnout on river left, where boaters can park and access the river. The land may be private, though public land surrounding the reservoir extends very close to here.
As you pass under the bridge for Hwy 753, stay close to shore and prepare to portage a dam.
Be prepared to portage a dam just beyond Barrett Mill Road. This is also a common put in spot. Park on river left and launch below the dam.
Alternate acccess. Check with the Highlands Conservancy about parking here. Leave plenty of space for hiking groups to park.
Boaters can take out on river right under the bridge or just downstream. Carry up to parking next to the highway.
Several rapids start just downstream of the the Rapid Forge Road bridge..
The old rest area is now private property but the land owners continue to allow public access from the river. Be considerate and ask permission.
My family and I used two inflatable kayaks (Sea Eagle 330 and 370) to go from just below Barrett Mill dam on Rocky Fork to SR 41 on Paint Creek in Bainbridge. The flow on Rocky Fork was at 150 CFS during our entire run. At that flow I got stuck once in a 3-4 foot section and felt myself scrape over a rock about 5 other times. Paint Creek was at 390 CFS. Same as Rocky Fork, we got stuck a couple of times and hit a few rocks. I am sure my inflatable kayak and my 210 lbs has a deeper draft than most other kayaks. My wife’s boat rarely had any trouble. She and my youngest son did get stuck at the section labeled as “Chutes (Class III, Mile 2.5)” on the Paint Creek page. The flow on the left was fun with plenty of water but not enough water was flowing over the ledge and they missed the left. Luckily, they managed to wiggle over the ledge without getting dumped sideways. The ledge listed on the Paint Creek page as “Falls (Class III+, Mile 6.0)” was the most fun of the day and worth all the paddling in the couple of flat miles leading up to it. We used what was referred to as the “sneak line” on the right and it was clearly the biggest rapid of the day. We intended to use the Church parking as our take out location but they now have it gated. We instead took out on the South side and parked along the access road but very near SR 41 since there are a couple of houses at the end of the road. Once you approach the area one will notice a couple of spots along this section where fishermen have created trails down to the river. Taking out there would be a bit more trouble at higher water levels since the water is flowing fairly fast at the SR 41 bridge. Other than the fast flow near SR 41 the river only offers paddling after the 6 mile ledge for the next 1.5 miles.
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Paddled the entire length of this creek. Note that there are TWO mandatory portage mill dams. I knew about the one at Barrett Mills, but was NOT expecting the one at OH 753. The portage at OH 753 was strenuous to say the least. I would recommend skipping the upper portion and putting in at Barretts Mills as suggested by others on this page, thereby avoiding both dams. The interesting scenery is all downstream of Barretts Mills anyway.
I would also suggest getting input from the folks at Rocky Fork State Park as to whether they are planning any water flow changes at the lake dam in the time frame you are planning to paddle the creek. I watched the USGS gauge, it was reading 600cfs when i left my house. In the hour that it took me to drive there, they had apparently restricted the outflow from the lake, because the flow was down to less than 125 cfs. This made for a rather slow bumpy trip.
Final note: right before you reach the arch, there was a brand new (leaves still green) strainer completely blocking the river left channel (only channel available at low flow). A short portage was required on river right over and under a jumble of logs. At higher flows, this jumble of logs would be blocking the river right channel, so the portage might be a bit more challenging.
There is a river wide strainer to the left of the last island (just prior to the last rapid) - its clearly visible from about 50 yards upstream allowing plenty of time for action to be taken. The river right channel has been blocked by debris for some time so this necessitates a portage at higher water. Word has it that at minimum you can limbo under the log but at 400 cfs it's touching the river surface or below the majority of the way across. There is a small eddy on the island just above it to make a short portage but the water can be moving swiftly here so be careful. The area under the log is mostly clear so it is possible to swim underneath it if you get blindsided by it.
I spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers about how to obtain a special release from Rocky Fork Lake. I had always heard that for $50, any group could get together and get a release scheduled. This is not true at all...or not any more at least. Here is the info that I got...
The Nature Conservency owns the majority of the land throughout Rocky Fork Gorge. Due to some form of mussles that are living in this stream, The Conservency does not want the lake releasing water into what was originally a natural flow only streambed. So the two groups have worked together to come to an agreement. There are three weekends per year that Rocky Fork will release water. If I recall correctly, these dates are in March, May and October and are specifically for recreational paddlers and beginner clinics through Outdoor Adventure Club in Dayton and a club out of Columbus. There is no longer any way to obtain a special release. The remainder of the year, Rocky Fork runs under natural flow only.
This is a beautiful stretch of class I-II stream and is certainly worth the time and effort to paddle it. Just dont expect much in the way of whitewater. The scenery is, at points, absolutely breathtaking and is extremely unique to Ohio. Its great for beginners and the nice pools offer up opportunities to work on obtaining a roll.
Be sure to bring a camera on this stretch of stream...you will want it! And once you are off the river, take the time to visit 7 caves and make a full day out of your trip into the farmlands of Ohio....there is very little else around there other then Rocky Fork lake and Paint Creek lake which are about 10 minutes apart.
The gauge is at the Browning road put in. A maximum level of 600 cfs is a conservative guess for the many novice boaters this stream attracts. Above 600 and the push of the water increases the danger of the frequent strainers found along the run. Below 250 and it begins to get very scrappy.
Flow can change very quickly as it depends on releases from Rocky Fork reservoir. Army Corp of Engineers controls the releases. The reservoir was completed in 1952.
USGS gauge 03232500 Check flows for past years here.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Side stream with potential
Nice Day for a Surf
The Arch again
Looking up from the eddy
Upstream Under the Arch
Rocky Fork, typical view 3
Rocky Fork, typical view 2
Rocky Fork typical view 1
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