Canoeing, Kayaking and Boating

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Canoes on Green River
Canoes on Green River

NPS Photo/ Tracie Irvin Young

 
 

Over 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers trace through the Mammoth Cave National Park and offer a wealth of recreational opportunities. Angle for muskellunge, bluegill, catfish, bass, perch, crappie, and other game fish. Canoe or kayak the rivers looking for wildlife, springs and river bluffs. Camp on islands, in the floodplain, or by the river at the Houchin Ferry Campground. These rivers offer something for everyone.

 

About the Rivers

The Green River is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country. It is home to more than 150 fish species, more than 70 species of mussel including many threatened or endangered species. The river spans 25 miles (40.2 km) through the park and is dotted with sandbars, islands, and subsurface springs. The river averages 200 feet ( 61 m) wide and 10 feet (3 m) deep, though its depth may be much greater in places.

While considered a flat-water river, the current can still be very swift and prior paddling experience is recommended. Regardless of water level, always be alert to hazards such as submerged trees and rocks, drifting debris, and the park's ferry.
7.5 miles (12 km) of the Nolin River span from the Tailwater Recreation Area, part of the US Army Corps of Engineers Nolin River Lake and Dam Area, to the confluence with the Green River in the park.

In 2016 there was a failure of Lock and Dam No. 6 on the Green River, downstream of the confluence with the Nolin River, and the dam was ultimately removed. The removal of the dam has resulted in lower water levels and swifter river currents. Water levels can change rapidly due to weather (i.e. rise 20-50 feet in the hours and days after a rain event) or due to water release schedules from the Nolin River Dam. Serious hazards such as fallen or submerged trees and rocks, drifting debris and swift currents can exist. Paddlers on the river should be familiar with operating paddle craft on moving water as part of a dynamic river system.
 

Planning Your River Trip

  1. Always wear a life jacket. Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs/life jacket) are required to be worn while on rivers inside of Mammoth Cave National Park at all times.  It is important that your PFD is properly fitted, and US Coast Guard approved.  
  2. Let someone know your plan. You should always leave a float plan with family/friends and inform them of your departure and return. Do not forget to inform them when you return so an unnecessary search is not started.
  3. Leave alcohol at home. Alcohol is prohibited on the rivers inside the park.
  4. Know the water level and weather forecast. River use is prohibited when river levels are at or exceed 20 feet on the park's water level gauges.
  5. More information on boating and watersports throughout the national park system is available for you to review, including safety and trip planning tips.
 

River Access Points

Within the park there are three river access points accessible by car: Dennison Ferry, Green River Ferry, and Houchin Ferry. All of these sites are located on the south side of the Green River.

  • Dennison Ferry consists of a wooden canoe and kayak ramp with a series of concrete stairs to the water.
  • Green River Ferry consists of a gravel canoe and kayak launch ramp and a auto ferry ramp that doubles as a launch site for motorboats.
  • Houchin Ferry consist of a temporary canoe and kayak launch ramp. This launch site is often very muddy, please use caution.
 

Trip Ideas

Trip Distance: 7.6 miles (12.2 km)

Approximate Travel Time: 2.5 to 4 hours

This popular river trip takes paddlers from the Dennison Ferry Day Use Area to the Green River Ferry, a short distance from the visitor center area. Paddlers are treated to scenic flat waters with gravel bars, islands, and back channels to explore while spending the day on the river. Riverside caves are accessible by paddle craft at lower water levels and wildlife is abundant in this section of river.

The Green River is a dynamic river system with gravel bars, islands, and river channels that change each year. Use caution while recreating on the rivers and steer clear of downed trees and logjams.
Trip Distance: 12.4 miles (19.9 km)

Approximate Travel Time: 4 to 6 hours

This longer section of the Green River is less traveled then the popular Dennison Ferry to Green River Ferry trip, but offers beautiful and scenic flat waters with gravel bars, islands, and back channels. Several riverside caves and springs are accessible. At lower water levels, numerous gravel bars and low riverbanks offer camping destinations for paddlers with a valid riverside camping permit.

The Green River is a dynamic river system with gravel bars, islands, and river channels that change each year. Use caution while recreating on the rivers and steer clear of downed trees and logjams.
Trip Distance: 11.1 miles (17.8 km)

Approximate Travel Time: 4 to 6 hours

This trip starts at the Tailwater Recreation Area below the Nolin River Dam north of the park. The trip will take paddlers below tall cliffs and steep river banks. Paddlers will continue down the Nolin River approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) to the confluence with the Green River. Once at the confluence with the Green River, turn left onto the Green River and paddle upstream 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to Houchin Ferry.

An alternate take out spot is the former site of Lock and Dam #6 or the boat ramp in the town on Brownsville, 3.2 miles (5.1 km) downstream from the confluence of the Nolin and Green Rivers.

The Nolin River is a dynamic river system with a narrow river channel that changes each year. Use caution while recreating on the rivers and steer clear of downed trees and logjams.
Trip Distance: 3.6 miles (5.7 km)

Approximate Travel Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

This short trip travels along the Green River from Houchin Ferry inside Mammoth Cave National Park to the former site of Lock and Dam #6 or the Brownsville boat ramp. The first half of the trip follows the river inside the park, once outside of the park boundary the river channel is surrounded by private land. Be mindful of private property boundaries when stopping along the river. Riverside camping permits are only valid inside the park boundary.

The Green River is a dynamic river system with gravel bars, islands, and river channels that change each year. Use caution while recreating on the rivers and steer clear of downed trees and logjams.

More Trip Ideas

Paddling in the area is not limited to the rivers in the park. Visit Cave Country Trails for more information on paddling options in the greater Mammoth Cave area.

 
Four canoe sitting on a gravel bar along the river.

River Safety and Regulations

Learn your responsibilities when recreating on the river.

A child paddles a kayak down the river.

Canoe and Kayak Outfitters

Rent a boat for a day on the river.

A young man fishing along a river

Fishing

Fishing regulations and more.

A backcountry campsite covered in fallen leaves.

Backcountry and Riverside Camping

Learn more about backcountry camping in the park.

A tent set up in a campground with a canoe sitting next to it.

Houchin Ferry Campground

Camp along the Green River in a campground.

 

Current Water Levels on the Green River

In cooperation with the US Geological Survey, the park maintains a water level monitoring station on the Green River inside the park boundary.

 

Swimming

Swimming in park waters is not recommended. At normal stage, the Green River flows at a relatively brisk 4.3 knots, about 5 miles per hour, which is too strong to swim against. There is no designated swimming area in the park and no lifeguards on duty.

Wading in shallow water can also pull you off of your feet. Stay far enough back from moving water so that an accidental trip or slip on wet rocks will not cause you to fall into the current and be swept away.

  • Swimming, wading, or bathing within 200 feet (61 m) of the Green River Ferry crossing is prohibited.
  • The use of tubes, inflatable pool toys, or pool rafts to float the rivers is prohibited.

Last updated: June 30, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 7
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007

Phone:

(270) 758-2180

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