Difficulty III
Length 2.5 Miles
Gauge Russell Fork Gorge
Flow Range 200 - 5000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 59 minutes ago 149.5 [CFS]
Next Release
Reach Info Last Updated 03/05/2020 8:01 pm

River Description

This section contains two Class III rapids Meatgrinder and Pinball and is Class II otherwise. . Intermediate paddlers may wish to run this two mile section in combination with other sections of river to gain more river miles. This river is runnable in winter/spring and begins to lose volume in late spring and early summer perhaps not worth making a trip.  During the first 4 weekends of October this river gets a special release to draw down a lake upstream and has guaranteed flows then.

Rapid Descriptions


Class - N/A Mile - 0
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There are multiple takeouts for this section making it 2.5, 3.5 or 6 mile runs.  The first is at Carson Island and the Pine Mountain Trail State Park eastern terminus.  

There are ample spots to take out in Elkhorn City along the river left bank starting above the second abandoned steel girder bridge that you encounter on the run and extending down behind the businesses on Russell Street.  RFG Society is the best spot in town and is owned and operated by paddlers.  Coffee and food are always homemade, fresh and delicious.

Another takeout is at the railroad bridge adjacent to the Gas station on the edge of Elkhorn on Highway 80. (3.5 mile takeout)

Takeouts below Elkhorn City: 
Downstream side of the concrete bridge crossing at Beaver Bottom. ( 4 mile takeout)
Downstream of both bridges at Pond Creek Road (6 mile takeout)

Fuzzy box

Class - II+ Mile - 0.5
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Small rapid split by an island immediately below the Railroad Trestle. The left is the most commonly ran side of this rapid and is a fairly good warm up rapid with Meatgrinder looming below.   Right side of the island is only accessible at flows of 900 and above.  


Class - III+ Mile - 1
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A formidable rapid for any skill level, Meatgrinder changes at varying water levels.  Its a 3 tier drop that has the most vertical descent of any rapid on the Lower Russell Fork.  Most run it starting in the left center at the top following the flow through the middle with pinning and broaching opportunities on both sides of both drops.  Stay in the center of the flow at the bottom to avoid the rocks that give Meatgrinder its name.

At low flows this is an excellent introduction to creeking rapid where you can walk back up on river right and run it as many times as you would like.  The fun low line is to boof into the left eddy on the first drop, ferry back and forth a couple times before running the middle drop in the center avoiding a pinning rock on the left making a hard right turn and finishing at the bottom in the center of it.  

At high flows you can test your skill by running down the middle and boof the center drop over a strong hydraulic.

Recovery is best done on river right at the beach.

Sneek runs at medium to release (800 CFS+) and high can be had on river right.
At the bottom drop on extreme river left is a serious pinning spot and should be avoided.


Class - III Mile - 1.5
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100 yard long rapid that is a successive series of class II drops with plenty of pinning, broaching and body pinning spots along its stretch.

Lots of lines out there its a tasters choice, pick your line and make it depending on the level.

Smallmouth shoals

Class - II Mile - 2
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Elkhorn City section

Class - II Mile - 2.5
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Series of small rapids starting at the highway bridge to the mouth of Elkhorn Creek.

Carson Island rapid/Raft Dog shoals

Class - II Mile - 2.5
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Nomad shoals

Class - II Mile - 3.5
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Nice class II rapid after the horseshoe bend in the river in the town of Elkhorn City.


Release Schedule

More Information

We have had releases on this reach but don't show any currently. This information is gathered by the public. If you know about releases then contact us about them. If you would volunteer to enter the releases, then reach out to us.

Gage Descriptions

The gauge listed for this reach is using the virtual combination gauge that combines the natural flow reported at the "Russell Fork at Haysi, VA" and any releases from the "Pound River below Flannagan Dam near Haysi, VA" USGS gauges.

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



article main photo

Russell Fork Release Study Open For Comment (VA/KY)

Kevin Colburn

The Army Corps of Engineers has shared their Environmental Assessment that considered four potential changes to the fall whitewater release program aimed at enhancing whitewater paddling opportunities. The Corps is planning on providing two additional Friday releases this fall as a result of the analysis. The EA is refreshingly succinct, and we encourage paddlers to give it a read and submit a comment if you are inspired to do so. 

article main photo

Russell Fork Study Needs Congressional Support

Kevin Colburn

A group of regional stakeholders are advocating for a new study of the releases on the Russell Fork River, located on the Virginia-Kentucky border.  To support the studyand an improved flow regime, the group is advocating for a Congressional appropriation to fund the Army Corp of Engineers to conduct the study.  Paddlers' involvement could help bring a fresh look and better flows to the Russell Fork.




Steve Ruth


Jason Foley




Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190469 10/26/01 Steve Ruth n/a
1214482 03/03/20 Jason Foley updated name
1214483 03/03/20 Jason Foley updated description
1214485 03/03/20 Jason Foley updated description
1214484 03/03/20 Jason Foley updated name
1214495 03/05/20 Jason Foley updated description
1195023 05/22/09 Rob
1207779 06/26/17 Jason Foley
1212291 05/09/19 Jason Foley updated image position
1209712 05/24/18 Jason Foley