It may surprise some to discover that in a landlocked state like Kentucky, there is no shortage of recreational water opportunities. We might not have an ocean or a Gulf, but across the state, there are multiple lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds where one can go to dip a toe or a tube in the water.
Frankfort is fortunate to have the Kentucky River and Elkhorn Creek, both of which offer ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, boating, rafting, fishing, and stand-up paddle boarding.
Since 1981, Canoe Kentucky has been a family owned one-stop shop for touring, outfitting, sales and rentals to help get paddling enthusiasts out on the water.
The current owners Allison Depenbrock, daughter of the company’s founder, and her husband Nathan, also own and operate the Bourbon Boat and the Bourbon Belle, through their sister company, Kentucky River Tours.
From April 1 to October 31, residents and visitors alike launch their preferred mode of river/creek transport from several of Canoe Kentucky’s launch sites – Riverside Park in downtown Frankfort, Knight’s Bridge, a private put-in to which customers are shuttled, and a ramp at the main location on Peaks Mill Road.
Offering a variety of paddle adventures which are – according to your preference – adrenalin-boosting, leisurely navigation, or family friendly – there’s something for everyone at Canoe Kentucky.
“By far, our most popular tour is the Fun Float,” says Barb Cornett, an environmental educator, and Canoe Kentucky guide.
On this two-to-three-hour float (either in groups or individually, with or without a guide, and in a canoe or kayak), novice paddlers can experience one of the most scenic stretches of Elkhorn Creek.
“This is a very family-friendly paddle, especially when the creek is at the two to two-and-a-half-foot level,” says Cornett. “Beginner and intermediate paddlers love it.”
Elkhorn, however, is still in its natural state, says Cornett, which means that along its serpentine stretches, a paddler can expect lots of twists and turns, along with pools and ripples.
For those with a bit more stamina, the All-Day Adventure, lasting approximately five to six hours, covers the same route as the Fun Float during the first half of the tour.
After a Creekside stop at the Canoe Kentucky shop, paddlers are off on the second half of their journey which takes them to the U.S. 127 bridge.
“It’s a paddle of about 10 miles,” says Cornett, “and along the way you observe lots of wildlife – bald eagles, great blue herons, otters, beavers, and turtles.
“You feel like you’re paddling in a wilderness even though you’re just a short distance from downtown Frankfort,”
Cornett continues, adding that “in autumn, you also have the advantage of seeing fall colors, beautiful farmland and rugged cliffs.”
In addition to the Elkhorn Creek Fun Float and All-Day Adventure, and the Kentucky River Downtown Paddle (by reservation only), all of which are offered daily, Canoe Kentucky has curated tours geared to specialized audiences.
One is a tour that leaves from the forks of the Elkhorn (where the north and south creeks meet) to Knight’s Bridge.
Offered on Saturdays and Sundays, this is perfect, says Cornett “for those with more skill and experience paddling.”
Guides accompany paddlers – on five or 10 person rafts, solo or tandem kayaks or inflatable duckies to ensure they stay on course.
“Paddling through the palisades is more of an adrenaline rush as paddlers will encounter some white water,” says Cornett, “but there are also some nice relaxing spots for leisurely paddling.”
Paddlers, who range in age from toddlers (with parents, of course) to octogenarians, need not worry about encountering unexpected conditions. Safety is a priority for the staff at Canoe Kentucky.
“Life jackets are required during launching, and paddlers under 12 must keep them on for the duration of the trip,” says Cornett.
“Additionally,” she continues, “we pay careful attention to weather conditions and water levels of both creek and river – not just the day of your paddle, but what happened the week before and what is expected the week after.”
Safety is foremost at Canoe Kentucky, but providing a fun experience for their customers runs a close second.
One of their specialty tours – the Bourbon Paddle Tour – is guaranteed to provide a double dose of fun, with the twin pleasures of time on the river and a chance to experience a bourbon distillery.
Offered every Sunday from Memorial Day Weekend when the four locks on the Kentucky River are open, the guided tour has 16 spots (canoes or kayaks) and requires a reservation.
Canoe Kentucky is a full-service outfitter, whose additional options include Standup Paddle Boarding on the river where the water is calmer than on the creek; fishing expeditions by kayak to fish for bass (they even occasionally offer a course called Kayak Fishing 101 in collaboration with the state’s Fish & Wildlife staff), and an opportunity for glamping on the banks of Elkhorn Creek.
So, if your idea of fun involves a water destination – even if it doesn’t include a beach – Canoe Kentucky has just the adventure you’re looking for.