Difficulty III-IV(V)
Length 2 Miles
Gauge N/A
Flow Range
Reach Info Last Updated 05/09/2019 7:12 pm

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.

Rapid Descriptions

Put In

Class - Mile - 0
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
Nice 3/4 mile warm up leading into the real rapids

Spillway aka Laurel Falls

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.75
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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
Fast, cold, and long. This is the best preperation for the Gauley one could ask for.


Class - III+ Mile - 0.9
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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


Class - III+ Mile - 1
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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
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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
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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
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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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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.  


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Brent Austin
9 years ago

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

No Gage

Gage Descriptions

Check the USACE Gauge for current release and lake level info.

Flow from the Laurel Lake Dam is controlled by East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester. Predictions of releases are very difficult even for EKP, as the dam is used to provide "peak power" electrical generation.

Here is their description of the releases: "Generating Schedule The generation schedule starting XX through XX at about X pm. However, as always this schedule is subject to change without notice. Generations are performed at times of peak electricity usage, causing difficulty pinpointing exactly when generations will be held."

While runnable year round, the best opportunity for catching the Laurel is probably during the months of August and September when hot summer temperatures increase the demand for electrical power generation.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports





Jason Foley


Bart Bledsoe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1193101 07/05/07 Jason Foley n/a
1199636 03/18/11 Bart Bledsoe rating adjusted due to lake level
1212290 05/09/19 Jason Foley updated image position
1205040 07/13/15 Jason Foley