Laurel - Laurel Lake Dam to Lake Cumberland (2 miles)

Laurel, Kentucky, US


Laurel Lake Dam to Lake Cumberland (2 miles)

Usual Difficulty III-IV(V) (for normal flows)
Length 2 Miles

The Bronx

The Bronx
Photo of Jason Foley by Tyler Faulkner taken 7/2003 @ release

River Description

Spectacular scenery, great rapids but tough to catch in its entirety at runnable levels characterizes this 2 mile section of the Laurel River. Releases can provide about 2 miles of fun rapids in very cold water. Even at the height of the summer, paddlers will want to take along their cold weather boating gear since the release water flows from the bottom of Laurel Lake and is "ice cream headache" cold. Unfortunately, due to typical "summer pool" levels for Lake Cumberland, a summertime run on the Laurel could mean that the final (and only class IV) rapid China hole/Whorehouse will be covered under the lake's water.

Putin: just below the Laurel Lake Dam, off KY1193.
Takeout: confluence with the Cumberland River and Lake Cumberland.
Shuttle: Follow KY1193 south across the Laurel River Dam and then go right on KY1277 and follow till it dead ends at the confluence of Laurel River and Lake Cumberland.

In 2007-2013 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed an emergency drawdown of Lake Cumberland, which the Laurel is a tributary/headwater of.  The project to repair the dam, the reason for the drawdown, was successfully completed after 6 years and over $300 million in repair cost to prevent seepage of the earthen portion of Wolf Creek Dam.  All Cumberland River Tributaries that headwater into Lake Cumberland are now back to their normal levels sadly removing many good whitewater rapids.  The best time to see these rapids are during the late summer when the lake is drawn down.  Starting November 1 of each year the lake begins to fill back up.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-07-13 20:07:08


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Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put InPutin Photo
0.1Warm upsII+Photo
0.8Spillway aka Laurel FallsIV+Waterfall
0.8The BronxIVPhoto
1.1The OtherIII+
1.5Cumberland ShoalsII
2.0China HoleIVHazard
2.1Whore HouseV

Rapid Descriptions

Put In

Laurel Dam Releasing

Laurel Dam Releasing
Photo of Laurel Dam releasing 2500 CFS by Jason Foley taken 04/15/07 @ 2500

Put on and get down river most releases are under 2 hours long. Enjoy the beautiful Laurel Gorge.

Warm ups (Class II+, Mile 0.1)

Atypical summer day on the Laurel

Atypical summer day on the Laurel
Photo of Southern KY boys by Tyler Faulkner taken 7/2003 @ release

Nice 3/4 mile warm up leading into the real rapids

Spillway aka Laurel Falls (Class IV+, Mile 0.8)
This is a rapid formed from the spillway at Laurel Lake and is actually not on the Laurel itself but is a feeder.

The Bronx (Class IV, Mile 0.8)

The Bronx

The Bronx
Photo of Jason Foley by Tyler Faulkner taken 7/2003 @ release

Fast, cold, and long. This is the best preperation for the Gauley one could ask for.

This (Class III+, Mile 0.9)
The next rapid directly below The Bronx. Its hard to scout or boat scout but follow the tounge in the middle right into and over the next set of huge wave holes

That (Class III+, Mile 1.0)
Another tough rapid to read but once again follow the main flow over the horizion line. After the first drop your options to go left or right are there because of a huge pillowed rock in the middle. Watch for the undercuts all over this rapid

The Other (Class III+, Mile 1.1)
Last of the big rapids all squeezed together. Straight down the middle keeps you safe. Be on the lookout for the numerous catch on the fly waves from her to China Hole.

Cumberland Shoals (Class II, Mile 1.5)
The long set of shoals with the big boulder on the right indicate the nastiest rapid on the river is near.

China Hole (Class IV, Mile 2.0)

Lead in and hole immediately above Whorehouse Rapid.  One of the nastiest holes anywhere at the 3 ft release ~3500-4000 CFS. Avoid punching this whole at all costs because it will have you for lunch and dinner. The hero route is next to the hole on either shoulder. Some go right some go left. Scout it before you run it. During the regular summer pool this rapid is covered by the upper reaches of Lake Cumberland.  It appears around 705-710 Ft at Lake Cumberland elevation.

Whore House (Class V, Mile 2.1)

Nasty Class V at the 2 & 3 feet (2500-400 CFS) releases.  Very difficult canyon and boulder portage can be had.  Some say the portage is better on the left.  This rapid is very rare to be seen due to the elevation of Lake Cumberland covering it up most of the time.  When Lake Cumberland elevation is below 705 ft look for it whether its there or not.  More often than not its a pushed in hole by the lake and a nasty one at that.  When the lake is down for maintainence and during September/October the rapid could be formidable.  

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
February 28 2011 (2794 days ago)
Brent AustinDetails
With the Lake levels down, Whore House is completely exposed and a Class V rapid. The ratings
should be changed to reflect this serious rapid at the end of the run. The portage is not easy
either. At 3800 cfs, this rapid has the kick and power of Iron Ring on the Upper Gauley. Brent
Austin Summer 2010
January 9 2011 (2844 days ago)
Brent AustinDetails
We paddled this stretch in the summer of 2010 and with the lake down, Whore House is completely
exposed and should be rated a class V - because of the push, the length and the moves to avoid some
substantial and large holes. We had near 4000 cfs and it was a very substantial rapid. The rating
scale is off - should be clear that there is a class V on this. Brent Austin 1-9-11

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