This photo needs editing.
Difficulty II(III)
Length 7.6 Miles
Gauge ELKHORN CREEK NEAR FRANKFORT, KY
Flow Range 250 - 6500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 43 minutes ago 812 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 06/20/2013 9:23 pm

River Description


"Church Wave"

Located about a 45 minute drive from Lexington, KY, the "Gorge" section begins at the confluence of the Creek's north and south tributaries at the Forks of the Elkhorn bridge on US 460 just east of Frankfort,KY. This stream has proven to be an excellent ww classroom and play place for paddlers from across Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Full of mostly class II rapids, with the occasional class III hydraulic, the Elkhorn is a stream with plenty to satisfy the novice or experienced whitewater paddler.

 

The view looking upstream at "LunchStop"

Lots of dynamic play spots and wide enough to generally stay free of strainers, the Elkhorn has a large watershed allowing it typically to keep its flow longer after a rain and is the place to paddle when others in Central Kentucky have become too low.
Watch out for the dangerous, drowning machine dam about 3/4 mile into the run at the bourbon distillery and portage only on river left. Note that this dam can be a very dicey portage at gauge levels above 3000 cfs (3+ feet on US460 bridge) The picture below was taken at a level of about 1000 cfs (1 foot).

 

Jim Beam Distillery dam downstream view - note boaters portaging and putting in below dam on river left.

AW Acres, just down stream of Knight's bridge is the land purchased for use as a takeout by individual paddlers and donated to American Whitewater as access of the Elkhorn for all private paddlers.


AW Acres takeout (looking from the creek). A gravel parking area has been added since this picture was taken.

To read more about the creek, how the takeout land was obtained, and history of the paddler/land-owner interactions, check out the online American Whitewater Journal article "AW Acres: The Elkhorn Saga" that appeared in the March/April 2000 issue.

Shuttle Directions:

Putin: Forks of the Elkhorn Bridge on US 460 about 3 miles east of Frankfort,KY. Parking next to the bridge costs $3 - pay at the Elkhorn Creek Campground office just upstream on the South Fork of the Elkhorn.

Takeout: From the Forks Bridge take US 460 west towards Frankfort and take a right at the stoplight onto KY 2822. Go about 1 mile on KY 2822 to the stop sign. Go right onto Steadmantown LN (actually a continuation of KY 2822) for about 2.5 miles to the stop sign at the intersection with Peaks Mill Rd (Ky 1900). Go about 4 miles and look for AW Acres takeout on the left just before Knight's Bridge over the Elkhorn.

Other Information Sources:  
Blue Grass Wildwater Association
BWA Elkhorn Creek page

National Paddling Film Festival
Video of C-1 caught in dam recirculation
Video about Removing or changing the distillery dam
Video of Dam Rapid
Video of IKs at 3000 cfs

Rapid Descriptions

US 460 Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 0

There is a small fee to park and put in at this bridge.  Pay at the campground office. 

Church Wave

Class - I Mile - 0.15

Within sight of the put in, are several small rapids.   The middle one has the remains of a low dam arching across the river.  This low structure forms Church Wave.  It can develop decent hydraulics, creating a good beginner's play spot at higher levels. 

Distillery Bridges

Class - N/A Mile - 0.68
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The river curves gradually right around the Jim Beam Distillery.   As you pass underneath these bridges, head towards river left and prepare to portage the low head dam. 

Distillery Dam

Class - N/A Mile - 0.88

A river wide horizon line is formed by a low head dam.  It is near the end of a long gradual right hand curve around the Jim Beam Distillery.   A dangerous reversal forms at the base of the dam and gets worse as flows increase.   Portage the dam on river left.   The take out here is small and difficult to see.  At higher flows there is room only  for one boat at a time to get out.  A series of rock ledges provide a portage path.    Make sure you put back in well downstream of the dam recirculation.   People have been sucked back into the dam when they put in too close. 

Dam Rapid

Class - II Mile - 0.89
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

After portaging the dam on river left, boaters must paddle out towards the center of the river to run a significant rapid.   This can involve ferrying across the current to get into position.

S Turn Rapid

Class - II+ Mile - 1.45

The S-turn rapid is the first big rapid after the dam rapid. S-turn has an impressive diagonal wave, which seems to be at maximum height around 1500-2000 cfs.

 

Lunch Stop

Class - II Mile - 2.02

Island split

Class - N/A Mile - 3.61
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The river splits around a long island.

Angioplasty

Class - II Mile - 3.73

This hole can pack a punch.  Possibly class 3 at higher flows.

Surf City

Class - I Mile - 3.75

Elkhorn Acres - take out

Class - N/A Mile - 7.6

Pass under the Peaks Mill Road bridge (KY 1900), then pull out on river left.  The take out  very close to the bridge is for Canoe Kentucky customers.   The public take out is about 100 yards below the bridge.   

There is a large parking area in a field.   The photo shows the field flooded during very high water.

Comments

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Barry Grimes
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6 months ago

Dilution was the solution and so the water in the Elkhorn should be fine.

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Ryan Burdette
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6 months ago

Any updates on water quality after the sewage spill?

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n/a
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7 years ago

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Mary B
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8 years ago

No trouble with debris on 10/22/11

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Chris Stoops
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8 years ago

7/25/11 600 CFS Trip Report. The night before Elkhorn was running at 1000 CFS and so my brother and I made plans to run Elkhorn the next day. We thought the level would be around 700 CFS by the time we put in. I have run it at 700 CFS and Surf City was pretty good at that level. We ran it a few days later at 800 CFS and Surf City was great at that level. I once ran Elkhorn at 500 CFS in a Coleman raft and swore I would never run it at that level again. Much later I ran it at 350 CFS and had a blast, which made me think 500 CFS might be a good level as long as you're in a kayak. We decided to use Canoe Kentucky for a shuttle. They charged us $25 for two kayaks and at 1p.m. they have you follow them to the AW takeout and then haul you and your stuff to the put-in. We figured the campground charges $4 for parking, and so subtract that from the $25 and you are left with $21, which is about what we would have spent on gas bringing another vehicle anyhow(it's 100 miles of driving including the shuttle). Church Wave was a total bust, but we found a couple rope swings before the dam and had a good time with that. It had rained earlier and I said I bet Elkhorn will be at 1000 CFS tomorrow, and it turned out I was right. Before the dam there is a cool cascade on river left and we decided to hike up it. The cold water on our feet felt great and eventually we got to a spring. I washed my face in the water and it smelled like gasoline, my brother thought so also. The surf wave on river right after the dam was at it's prime in a way. It gets bigger at higher levels, but at 600 CFS, not only was it big, but it also had eddy service. It required a very strong brace to keep you from turning and flushing out of it. There was a cool waterfall that was about 10 feet wide and 30 feet tall. It only took us 30 seconds to hike up the hill to check it out, and it was so cold that I'm sure it's spring fed. S-turn was pretty weak, but at least the lateral wave was in, which I surfed all along as it flushed me out. Lunch Stop was also a bust, and so was Surf City. We hung out at Surf City anyhow just to lay in the creek and cool off. There was a tiny surf wave on river right, but it wasn't much at all. The Angioplasty side had more water, but Angioplasty was not in at all. The wave directly after the large boulder on river right(this rapid needs a name and it needs to be added to AW) was in. The level was low enough that I could finally see what causes this wave; a large drop forces a ton of flow directly at a V shaped 2 foot ledge. This wave gets huge at higher levels, but at 600 CFS it was almost more of a hole than a wave. I tried surfing the wave and water from both sides of the V filled me up and it took a lot of effort just to get out of it. The 2 mile section through the woods moved along great for the first half, but the second half is so slow. As slow as it was, we were still able to just lay around in our boats and let the current do all the work. By the end of the trip we were pretty exhausted due to a climbing and caving trip we did the day before. All in all it was a great trip, escaping the summer heat, and at least we got to surf it up at the Dam Rapid. During the flat water stretches we took lots of swims and we would float down the creek letting our PFDs do all the work while we put our feet on top of our boats, our bodies in a hammock like position.

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Chris Stoops
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10 years ago

My brother made an awesome compilation of our 3000 CFS trip. The first rapid you see in the video, where we are surfing, is Surfcity. I decided to skirt around Angioplasty, and those big standing waves, and the lateral wave is of course S-turn. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM1ATnrvXpA

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n/a
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10 years ago

In frankfort you silly willy

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n/a
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10 years ago

ACE Whitewater

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n/a
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10 years ago

any good places to rent kayaks?

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n/a
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10 years ago

you heard me

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n/a
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10 years ago

huh?

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n/a
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10 years ago

Andy Barber – Funfest on water!!!! Best Whitewater in Frankfort!!! Put your skirt on and boogie down the creek~~~~~~yeehaw!!!!

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n/a
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10 years ago

why, cause it's so cold?

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n/a
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10 years ago

they should rename it to turtle creek

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10 years ago

Grant Stephens - I stand behind everything in my previous post as absolutely accurate based upon my personal observations and conversations with the father, the young lady and the young man with her.

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Chris Stoops
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12 years ago

At 2000 CFS it is allot more pushy; filled with lots more and bigger rapids, and 2 things I didn't normally see were waves throughout almost the whole trip (even in the woods sometimes), and big whirlpools behind the bridge pillars. At 2000 CFS I thought portaging the dam was simple, and I watched two guys in a canoe do it quite simply, but I also watched the canoe sink after S-turn's insane rapids. I saw plenty of canoes make it past S-turn just fine, but they all had extra flotation in their canoes. I think the minimum posted CFS of 500 is the perfect minimum, because I live in Louisville 50 miles away, and I am not driving out there unless it's at least 500 CFS and I’m really bored that day. At 500 CFS there were 4 hydraulics total (none capable of holding a raft), the surf section wasn't really in at all and it was almost a scrape in are rafts. We were able to portage on the island and walk up to the other rapid on the other side, which is this big drop. We re-ran it over and over, and my brother even ran it sitting on a giant log. When we ran this creek at 900 CFS it was completely different; instead of a kiddy park it is actually scary sometimes. WARNING: S-Turn can be dangerous: At 900 CFS the top of S-turn on the left; there was a 15 foot long sideways wave(it wasn't from left to right, take a normal rapid and turn it 90 degrees so that it runs from the top of the slope 15 feet all the way to the bottom of the slope) that goes in to a giant 3 foot tall mound, and my brother would disappear behind it for a couple of seconds the drop was so big(about 4-5 feet). Then there was another 2 foot tall mound right after it, and every time I ran the second one it threw me in to the island where the creek forked. One kayaker I saw got tipped over because of the sideways wave, and that section washed up on a very shallow area in both directions, but he climbed out just in the nick of time. I realized how dangerous the creek can be and still headed no warning. I go to jump in my raft and miss, even with a life jacket on I was swept to the very bottom of the creek and held there for many seconds, heading for the huge mound. I thought maybe a huge boulder was there and it was going to smash my head, and so I punched the creek with both my fists, skin scraping off my knuckles, I flew to the surface and my raft was right in front of me. I jumped in it with the quickness right before the 15 foot long sideways little curler wave. There are no mounds at all at 500 CFS. There is no 15 foot long sideways wave at 700 CFS, but the 2 large mounds are there. I think that they are only formed as a wavetrain, and I don't think a huge boulder is there anymore, because of what I have seen at 500 CFS: nothing. At 2000 CFS S-Turn is allot more dangerous because of how much water is flowing over the island where the creek forks. I saw a kayaker get hurt and he even carried out. He got pinned on the island, then went left, and then fell and got all banged up. S-turn is very shallow, rocky, and pushy if you go left. Also where it forks it washes up on an island very hard at 2000 CFS, and pretty hard still at 900 CFS. At 2000 CFS I recommend running the right side where I found 4 back to back large hydraulics, and you won't have to worry about that island. The 15 foot long sideways wave was much larger and more powerfull at this level and it almost tipped my brother's raft. The two large mounds also greatly grew in size and even had big whitecaps on top of them. The whole entire S-turn rapid is re-runnable at 2200 CFS, and there is two different eddies you can catch on the left to do this. There is an awesome limestone ledge that we walk along, and we have spent hours and hours re-running this rapid, because it's so fun and convenient to re-run (in a raft). I have seen kayakers re-run it also. I love this creek because of it's watershed: South fork: 179 square miles North fork: 276 square miles Elkhorn: 38 square miles (only about 10 would apply to the gorge section). So that's a total of 465 square miles of watershed that contributes to the gorge section of Elkhorn. Another reason I love this creek is because it has a good lag time; after it rains all night it's ready to run the next day even in the late afternoon.

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Christopher Schardl
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12 years ago

I am amused at recent comments about the Elkhorn, most of which appear to be jokes or from folks who don't know the basics. The S-turn (a.k.a. Railroad) rapid is the first significant rapid after the dam rapid. S-turn does indeed have an impressive diagonal wave, which seems to be at maximum height around 1500-2000 cfs. If you know how to do an eddy turn, you can easily avoid it by eddying right. If you have good balance and rudimentary ferrying skills, you can eddy left, then cut behind that wave. You'll be parallel to some large waves below it (hence need for balance), and you'll need to keep a vigorous paddle going, in order to avoid being washed into the island. I was once, but no harm done. But, if you are that skilled (a solid class II paddler), you might find it more enjoyable to crash through the diagonal wave with a right angle perpendicular to the diagonal wave. That eddy left of the diagonal wave is good for surfers. River info on this site is an excellent guide to running levels. It is possible to portage the dam above 2500 cfs. I have at 3500 cfs, but it is disconcerting because you cannot see where to exit at the dam (left side) until you are almost right there. The more important considerations are that at that level there is room there for only one kayak at a time, and that you want to be sure to put back in well below the dam to avoid being pulled into the dam hydraulic. Basically, if you are a novice, you will need basic boat handling skills, and know how to catch eddies. And, you should go with someone who knows the river. Avoiding hazards is not difficult (hence the class II rating). A couple rapids (particularly Double Stump, below S-turn) can pick up strainers. Boat scouting is straightforward, and if strainers are present, portages are easy. So, a good responsible guide should make for a fun trip. No guarantee you won't swimm, but rescues aren't particularly hard. Again, this is a class II river, and a great one to learn on. The surf waves make it fun even for class IV-V paddlers, so it isn't difficult to get someone to guide you through. When there is water, just show up around 11 a.m., and the old hands will magically appear soon after. This is a good rule summer or winter, just make sure to “dress for the swimm” when it’s cold.

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AJ Woodworth
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13 years ago

I have actually ran the creek as low as 75 cfs, and believe it or not, no dry creekbed was exposed. At that level, the creek simply turns into a Class I+ deadwater and riffle run that is a perfect classroom for technicality 101. At that level, the S-Turn is more of the less a small ledge. However, that level is GREAT for fishing, since the creek is very clear and the fish are easily sighted.
I have canoed the stream up to 2000 cfs (about 1 1/2 ft.), and at that level, the dam scared the living hell out of me, I really dont see how the stream is paddeled at levels above that....

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tim allen
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15 years ago

Wow, what a run! major fun, but AVOID CanoeKentucky. Our first experience with them was great (i.e. decent prices, polite employees, great water level). The shuttle was only 10 bucks each then, and the place was staffed by a couple of guys who knew the water and could tell us the hairy spots. This time, however, was a little different. Suddenly the shuttle is 20 bucks each, the manager gets short with us when we try to talk to her about it ( she offered to let us put in upstream, float down, then give one of us a ride to the truck for $20), and it's pretty obvious that she doesn't care as much about our measly $40 bucks as much as she cared about getting the group of 20 customers paid and out the door. We left, and we won't be back. What she didn't know is that I was also shopping for a cheap skirt for my rascal ( oops, definitely a lost sale there!) and since we have wimpy little recreational boats, I planned on shopping there when I bought the boat I wanted. I WOULD have preferred to give my little bit of money to a small, local business rather than a huge department store like Dick's, but I'll be dipped in sheep butter & deep-fried before I spend another dime at a company that that treats paddlers that way, and I kinda like the way I sit in my new QT sport ($422.94 total at Dicks). Thank god we can take 2 vehicles, and ignore them. I guess they ARE in business to make money, but the shuttle shouldn't be 3/4 of a rental, and it definitely shouldn't be more than it costs to take another vehicle.

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AJ Woodworth
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16 years ago

All I can say, is watch out for the drowing machine below the dam. If the level is below 250 cfs, then the dam doesnt prove to be much of a hazard. I've actually seen guys run it at this level, however, I'm not saying you should, I still say its not safe. As long as you exit on the left side, you'll be okay.

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Barry Grimes
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18 years ago

Info about all the various Elkhorn Gauges.


There are 3 "visual gauges" for the Whitewater section of the Elkhorn:

1) The US 460 Forks Bridge - this is the traditional paddlers gauge and is on the S. Fork of the Elkhorn tributary

2) The N. Fork bridge - this is a gauge that the local outfitter, CanoeKY has painted and roughly corresponds with the US 460 Forks Bridge.

3) The Knight's bridge gauge - this is at the 'AW Acres' takeout and was painted to read similar to the US 460 Forks gauge but it's typically a little higher.

Using the US 460 Forks bridge, anything around 6" - 10" usually means it's too low - at least for many wwpaddlers who don't like to scrape through rocky riffles (which is essentially all that remains of the "rapids" at this level) or have to slog through the copious number of flatwater pools between the drops.

The US 460 Forks gauge has been in standard use by wwpaddlers for years, but in reality does not give consistent flow readings. A 10" reading in the spring can be way different than a 10" in the summer. This is because the US 460 Forks gauge is mostly measuring the S.Fork tributary and will often "under report" the additional flow that the N. Fork is contributing.
In addition, there are two USGS gauges that have been used to determine flow on the Elkhorn Gorge:
1) N.Fork Elkhorn @ Georgetown - this one is way upstream on the N. Fork tributary and was the satellite gauge of choice before the arival of ...

2) Elkhorn Creek Near Frankfort - This is the new USGS real time flow gauge on the creek and (IMHO) the best to use because it accurately reflects both the N. and S. fork tributaries.

Based on the "Elkhorn near Frankfort" USGS gauge I have put 500cfs as minimum wwfun and around 2500cfs as maximum.

Gage Descriptions

Online gauging (and the min.and max.levels cited herein) use the Elkhorn Creek Near Frankfort USGS gauge.

Boaters may also use the visual gauge on the US460 bridge center piling.
Min = 10" (class I-II); Max = 3'; optimum = 1.5' to 2.5 feet

Directions Description


 

Putin: Forks of the Elkhorn Bridge on US 460 about 3 miles east of Frankfort,KY. Parking next to the bridge costs $3 - pay at the Elkhorn Creek Campground office just upstream on the South Fork of the Elkhorn.

Takeout: From the Forks Bridge take US 460 west towards Frankfort and take a right at the stoplight onto KY 2822. Go about 1 mile on KY 2822 to the stop sign. Go right onto Steadmantown LN (actually a continuation of KY 2822) for about 2.5 miles to the stop sign at the intersection with Peaks Mill Rd (Ky 1900). Go about 4 miles and look for AW Acres takeout on the left just before Knight's Bridge over the Elkhorn.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2009-04-23 Medium Near Miss/Rescue One Boat Trip Read More
1996-06-16 Medium Fatality Other Read More

Alerts

               

News

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Barry Grimes

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Paul Martzen

Revisions

Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190455 02/25/07 Barry Grimes n/a
1199214 03/01/11 Paul Martzen added rapids & Links
1202328 06/20/13 Barry Grimes direction text