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Difficulty IV-V+
Length 3 Miles
Flow Range 1000 - 4000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 20 minutes ago 766 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 06/19/2007 8:16 am

River Description

Roaring Paunch is Kentucky steep creeking hair. Go here only if you are a good boater with the skills to manage serious whitewater. The gradient is steep, there are undercuts, and sometimes trees. This isn't the Green Narrows or Grassy Creek but it is significant whitewater. If you read to trip report below, realize that this group was on it a low water and might not be up to the difficult rapids.

We drove down to Blue Heron on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland, dropped a bike, and decided to put-in at Barthell. At the old mining camp in Barthell, we drove through an iron gate and across the creek to find muddy water flowing at a medium level and some parent type locals. A brief encounter revealed: (1) we were on private property; (2) the gate would be locked soon; and (3) the creek was very tight in places and had many huge boulders blocking the stream. We of course decided to find another suitable parking place outside the gate and put on the creek.

The first 0.20 mile was rather flat and had a little moving current. We then came to a class II/III with a couple medium sized spinning waves and things were beginning to look promising. A riffle or two, some short pools, bigger boulders, and a couple of class III rapids continued for another 0.30 mile or so. Then the boulders got really big and we came to a horizon line.

We got out and scouted a class IV/V drop from the bank and discovered: (1) there was a good line; (2) the creek was suddenly really steep; and (3) wood. We decided to walk down the convenient railroad tracks and check out the next few drops. There were a couple of decent drops, several sieves, and a beautiful 10-15ft "Box" type drop.
Because of the wood and the character of the bank, we decided to bushwack off the tracks to below this section and continue downstream.

We pushed off, ran a couple of class III/IV drops and found ourselves above a horizon line with gigantic boulders blocking the stream. It was a 4-5ft. ledge into a decent hole, backed up by a HUGE boulder blocking 90% of the creek, a right hand jumble sieve, and a left hand crack that might have been a runnable cave. Hiking around the boulders on the right bank, we found what appeared to be a long mess of unrunnable sieves and a gnarly 8-10ft drop on the left bank that would have been the runout to the cave. It was now starting to get late in the day and we were faced with a possibly runnable class V into a complex, marginally runnable boulder field, or a huge portage. We decided it would be prudent to take the available railroad track back to the truck and save this one for another day.
So I ask again, does anybody know anything about Roaring Paunch Creek that comes into the Big South Fork at Blue Heron? Specifically, is the drop I am describing typically a portage, are there additional mandatories downstream, does the creek take ALOT of water, and should the AW database rating really be class IV(V)?

Rapid Descriptions


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Kenton ryan
4 years ago

Be very careful if you paddle the upper section from mine 18 to barthell, start with 1,2 and maybe a 3 but when you get about halfway thru they are several fun drops but one drop is about 4 foot and goes into a 3 foot impassable cave, we wedged a kayak here and almost lost it, had to camp overnight,I would recommend only for very experience paddlers that are sound in technical situations, make sure you have a throw bag.

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Charles Walbridge
10 years ago

Ed Gertler tried this in the early 70's - had a bad day!!

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Gregg Shepherd
14 years ago

Usually run at levels on the BSF around 2000(low) and up. This was first run by two river guides from Sheltowee Trace Outfitters paddling high performance IK's in the early 1990's. Back could put in at Barthell, because there was nothing there. it is suggested that you put in at the entrance to Barthell off of the Blue Heron rd, and bushwack to the creek.
This is an undercut heaven if there ever was one. Scout this baby at low water, and nearly every boulder is undecut and there are multiple sieves, and a cave looking formation. It is not a stretch to say that this is the most difficult run in south-central Kentucky.
The upper stretch from Mine 18 rd. to Barthell looks like a beautiful stretch, but it is very remote and awaiting a first descent. I'm planning on running it sometime this winter..

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17 years ago

info on paunch creek ky. New
Forum: BoaterTalk
Re: Info on Roaring Paunch Creek, KY? by parknsurf Jul 09 2003, 1:50 GMT New
Date: Jul 09 2003, 4:18 GMT
From: yeaboy

hi live in ky. paunch creek is boulder choked with alot of hazards it pours in just downstream of blue herring there is a bridge that the railroad goes across thats the paunch creek follow the tracks upstream youll be able to see most of the rapids from the tracks we went and checked it out at low water it is jamed packed with undercuts and rocks setting on top of each other making caves some of the rapids are runnable but the others are not in my book it is definately worth going and checking it out pack a lunch and liquids its a beautiful creek worth hanging out at every time we go and look at it we see no other people if u live in another state plan a day where the big south fork is running 1000 cfs or more up stream on the tenn. side there are class 3-4 rapids that r fun good play too

Gage Descriptions

Look for the BSF to be 1000 cfs of more.

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




Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1193807 06/19/07 n/a n/a