The rivers beyond Mammoth Cave

Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 4

Tailwaters of the Green River Dam. There’s a paved boat launch just downstream on river right.

Tailwaters of the Green River Dam. There’s a paved boat launch just around the bend on river right.

I could easily spend a month or so on the Green River. Throw in its tributaries, and I could probably stretch it out to a year or more.

After canoeing 20 miles of the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park, I spent a few days scouting parts of the upper and lower river and Nolin River by car. I didn’t come away with any great knowledge these stretches, but I saw enough to get an idea of what they’re like and nurtured a desire to explore them further.

There are more than 100 miles of navigable river upstream of the park, 26 within park boundaries and 185 miles from Houchins Ferry, near the west end of the park, to the mouth of the Green River in Evansville, Ind. The Nolin River, which flows through the west end of the park, is more than 100 miles long. The last nine miles from Nolin River Dam, then upstream on the Green River to Houchins Ferry, would make for a good day float.

According to online and printed sources such as Bob Sehlinger’s book “A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Kentucky,” the river upstream of Green River Lake can be run between November and mid June. The rest can be paddled year-round. There also are several tributaries that looked promising. (When and whether any river can be run is subjective. It all depends on how much bushwhacking and dragging you’re willing to do. And how much stuff you feel that you need to pack.)

There are a number of canoe liveries along the Green River, including Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak, which provided the shuttle for my three-day trip trough the park.

Downstream on the Green River is a different story. According to Sehlinger, it’s not as scenic and far more civilized. From what little of it I saw, the lower Green River would be comparable to the Muskingum and Ohio River closer to home — plenty of motorized boat traffic, a few dams along the way and other signs of civilization.

In scouting the rivers by car, I went as far downstream as Lock 6, which is about two miles from the confluence of the Green and Nolin Rivers. Upstream, I went as far as the Green River Dam. I also checked out the Nolin River Dam. The Nolin and upper Green rivers looked inviting.

Lock 6 on the Green River. Park literature warns of the dangers and not without cause. The dam is not marked with buoys and can only be portaged on the right.

Lock 6 on the Green River. Park literature warns of the dangers and not without cause. The dam is not marked with buoys and can only be portaged on the right.

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Attention to detail. The depth gauge on Lock 6 is done in ceramic tiles. An angler there told me he is 51 years old, fished there since he was a boy and that the lock has not been operable in his lifetime.

Attention to detail. The depth gauge on Lock 6 is done in ceramic tiles. An angler there told me he is 51 years old, fished there since he was a boy and that the lock has not been operable in his lifetime.

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Nolin River Dam northwest of Mammoth Cave National Park

Nolin River Dam northwest of Mammoth Cave National Park

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The Nolin River, just below the dam. Looks pretty inviting.

The Nolin River, just below the dam. Looks pretty inviting.

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