Cave Kayaking in Kentucky

Cave Kayaking is gaining popularity in the United States, especially Kentucky. And it has something to do with all those rivers and streams that crisscross the land.

Surrounded by so much water, one can guess that it forms a nice river system to explore via kayaks. It does not matter what your adventure tastes are (relaxing or white-knuckle thrill), there is an option for you to enjoy cave kayaking in Kentucky. Some of them are cavernous outdoor facilities where both rookies and professional can experience this fun sport, whereas others are small backyard operations catering only to groups of friends or relatives.

This article will delve deeper into cave kayaking and highlight some of the best sites for cave kayaking in Kentucky.

What is Cave Kayaking?

Cave kayaking, or simply kayaking in caves, is just what it means. A kayak-rider paddles his way inside a cave through the narrow passages of underwater waterways. It is an adventure activity, which can be tackled by novices as well as pro kayakers. The only thing to keep in mind here is that you need to have experience in breathing using scuba equipment or using artificial gills (yes, they are available.) for exploring underwater areas.

The other factor that should kept in mind is that this hobby involves some risk (nothing to be paranoid about). One has to explore caves with tight passage ways and debris-laden waters after all.

Best time to go Cave Kayaking in Kentucky

As far as Kentucky’s weather goes, one can go kayaking anytime during the year. However, it is advised that you avoid submerging yourself into the icy cold waters of winter and escape into your kayaks only when spring begins to spread its warm touch along the land.

Can you cave-Kayak at night? The answer is yes. The limestone caves are well known to absorb sunlight during the day, which leaves them warm even after sundown. Therefore, it is possible to kayak at night in many of Kentucky’s rivers.

You can also enjoy cave kayaking in winter too, provided you have an artificial breathing equipment or any special gear for diving under water. It would help keep you warm inside the cold waters while enjoying your adventure activity.

Safety Concerns about Cave Kayaking

There are some risks involved in cave kayaking if the proper safety equipment is not used. For example, one might be stuck during his/her trip inside a dead-end passage where it is hard to turn back due to low space. This could be extremely dangerous. So listen to your guide before embarking on any adventure activity.

Some safety tips to note include:

  • Wear a good protective gear, which includes a thick long-sleeve shirt and pants that can protect you from rocks and gravel along the way, helmet for head protection, scuba tanks, or artificial gills for breathing purposes, waterproof boots, and gloves.
  • Kentucky’s waters are full of mud and silt so it is advised that you avoid them at all costs by paddling your kayak through non-muddy surfaces only.
  • People with heart conditions should avoid such activities as it puts a lot of stress on your body.
  • One needs to be well aware of their surroundings in order to avoid bumping into rocks or gravel while kayaking through Kentucky’s cave waters. It is advised that you take an experienced person with you so that they can help you navigate through the water passageways properly.
  • Darkness is another factor, which you need to consider while doing cave kayaking. In most caves, there is no source of light so one has to carry their own as well as a flashlight along with them. This can be very exhausting so make sure that you don’t forget it. However, on the bright side, darkness makes the environment more mysterious and adventurous…who knows what things you might discover down there? It may be a fossil or even a cave dwelling animal.
  • Be prepared for various other worst-case scenarios like the possibility of getting lost. One might not get out of there without help, which can be very problematic. Therefore, before venturing into nature like this, make sure that you are well aware of your surroundings and all the possible things that can go wrong …because no matter how experienced you are; mistakes do happen.
  • More importantly, know the location of where you might end up going cave kayaking. This information should be readily available and provided to you by your guide in case a mishap happens. This will be useful when communicating with the outside world for assistance.
  • Ask your cave kayaking destination if there is any prior experience required before being allowed to go kayaking in the caverns
  • Remember that this activity can get wet and very dirty. Be ready for it beforehand so that you feel less constricted during the tour since that may hinder your complete enjoyment of this popular sport

Equipment Need for Cave Kayaking

Before diving into the activity of Cave Kayaking, you will need the necessary equipment, which includes:

  1. Paddle – A solid paddle that is not too heavy is recommended. For beginners, paddles weighing under 3 pounds would work fine. It should fit well and feel comfortable in your hands as well as having a strap to keep it secure when not in use. The blade should also be made of fiberglass or another material that won’t hold water for better maneuverability through tight spaces.
  1. Personal Flotation Device – This does its job perfectly if you end up capsizing into the water unexpectedly. This can turn out very dangerous especially if deep enough where one might drown without some kind of assistance from the outside world.
  1. Helmet – For your safety, it is advisable to wear helmets. They are lightweight and come in many different styles; especially if you don’t know what to get yet.
  1. Water Shoes – If you plan to move through submerged cave passages, water shoes should be worn. The ideal kind would have a very rough sole so that you can grip onto sharp rocks or slippery surfaces easily. This will keep your feet safe from injuries as well as help prevent slips within the caves themselves where someone could break an ankle, for example. Having them securely attached with laces helps too since they won’t fall off while entering or exiting creeks or other areas that are submerged during high tide.
  1. Flashlight- Although the caverns tend to have their own illumination from sunlight filtering in from cracks and crevices, a flashlight will come in handy for exploring the many corners that are usually left unexplored. There is nothing more frustrating than realizing you need a light source when it has been forgotten back at home or worse, runs out of battery power. Having one with adjustable brightness settings works best too since you can dim the beams to not disturb other visitors present

Cave Kayaking Sites in Kentucky

Now that you know all there is to cave kayaking in Kentucky, let us look at some of the best facilities for this sport. Kentucky is not called “The Cave State” for nothing since it has more than 7000 documented caves with many remaining unexplored.

There are quite a few places in this state where kayaking through dark water passageways is the main attraction. Let us look at some of these places.

1. Inner Space Cavern

© Inner Space Cavern

Inner Space Cavern, located in Georgetown, is a private facility, which offers cave and open water kayaking. There is no age limitation and even children above 8 years of age can go ahead with it. Open water kayaking does not involve any equipment and one has to pay an additional fee for using the same. The company also provides training on how to use them.

2. Mammoth Onyx Cave

© Kentucky Down Under

Mammoth Onyx Cave is yet another such facility that caters more towards people who want the “real” cave experience rather than just cooling themselves off in rivers or lakes like most other facilities do.

They provide various means to explore caves including diving helmets and underwater scooters. This is a good option for those, who feel claustrophobic by nature and cave kayaking does not suit them. However, the company also provides training to its customers before starting.

3. Lost River Cave

© Lost River Cave

Lost River Cave offers both cave and open water kayaking as well as other adventure sports like camping out in tents, rappelling, etc. There are age restrictions on certain activities but most kids above 8 years of age can try their hand at it. The facility also provides training for beginners so you do not have to worry about being armed with kayaks for this one.

4. Caverns of Sonora

© Leah Jones

Caverns of Sonora is yet another such site that caters to amateurs as well as professional paddlers alike. They boast of some great kayaking equipment and the facility is known for its well-maintained kayaks. They also offer training sessions to their customers before they start paddling in Kentucky’s cave waters.

5. Buckstaff Bath House, Cave City

© Buckstaff Bathhouse

This is the only commercial cave that offers white water kayaking in Kentucky. It is also called “Kayak Kentucky” because of its exclusive 24-hour kayaking tour, which starts with an hour-long paddle through the scenic underground rivers.

You are given helmets and headlamps for this activity along with scuba tanks or artificial gills for breathing purposes (so you do not deplete all your oxygen while down there). They also offer night tours after which one can sip on hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire in their Buckstaff Great Hall.

6. Houchins Ferry Grotto, Mammoth Cave

© Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

This cave in Kentucky allows for kayaking only with an experienced guide. You are not allowed to go exploring on your own because of the huge risk factor involved so it is better to go with someone who knows his or her way around there.

They also provide headlamps and helmets along with life jackets before starting. One can choose between a leisurely 7-mile tour and a hair-raising 12-mile adventure through the caves. It depends on what your group desires or how much they trust their kayakers.

7. Hidden River Cave

© National Geographic

Hidden River Cave is another place where you can go kayaking. It was discovered by accident when workers were drilling for oil; instead of hitting oil, they hit a huge river passage. After this discovery, kayaking was introduced as a tourist activity and is now one of the major attractions here.

There are 3 different tours available: the 2-mile Historic Tour, the 4.5-mile River Tour and the 5-mile Wild Cave Tour. The first two tours start with a 40 minute scenic paddle downstream while the last one goes upstream past limestone cliffs and amazing stalactites before turning back at an underground lake which you can kayak around for another hour.

8. Pine Mountain Settlement School Caverns

 © Lane Report

Located near Whitesburg, KY this site has 6 miles of navigable underground waterways with no open passages or vertical drops making it suitable for the recreational paddler who seeks comfortable flat-water trips through spectacular geological formations. The entrance to these caves is only 20 feet wide, but it stretches for 6 miles inside.

9. Mammoth Cave National Park

© zrfphoto

This site is special because you will be kayaking in the world’s largest cave system with more than 390 km of mapped passages. This option is only open to experienced paddlers, and one needs to secure a permit before embarking on his/her adventure trip. The main attractions here are Frozen Niagara (a waterfall), Fat Man’s Misery (a tight passage with enormous rock above), and Angel Wings, which is just 11 inches high.

10. Mississippi – Ohio Confluence

© Ken Steinhoff

If your experience level allows you, then consider yourself lucky because this site has some real white water rapids where even the beginner kayakers can enjoy their trip. The water of Green River is extremely cold through here, which helps you stay refreshed on the hot summer days.

11. C-3

© SUP Kentucky

This place is special because it offers kayakers an opportunity to explore the caves of the river with only one-day’s preparation. This site also has a large number of caverns and passages to let you discover interesting landforms inside the caves. The water is very cold so one needs to be careful while moving through the caves.

12. Wild River, Pennyrile State Forest

© Pennyrile Forest State Park

The Wild River section of Pennyrile State Forest has over 11 miles of designated white water that takes care of your excitement quotient. You can either rent a kayak or canoe from the forest office and go on your own or book a kayaking trip organized by any of the many outdoor outfitters in the area. Both options offer an excellent opportunity to enjoy nature at its best.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area – offers 17 miles of free-flowing whitewater with towering sandstone bluffs and deep hardwood hollows for paddlers to explore. You can also do it independently when you first receive a free permit from the office.

13. Kentucky Lake

© George Green, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

If you are on a kayaking trip to Kentucky, you should not miss this great site. The lake is open for recreational use only during summer and fall season. It has some of the best paddling waters in the state, but one needs to check their skill level before they go, as it can be dangerous if they are not experienced enough.

14. Cave City

© Kentucky Tourism

No matter what your skill level or expertise is, there is something here for everyone. Some of the popular activities that attract people year after year include boating, fishing, camping, hunting, biking, and hiking. This place also provides excellent opportunities for bird and nature photography

15. Cave Run Lake

© Louisville USACE

Paddling at Cave Run Lake is a great way to beat the summer heat while enjoying nature’s bounty. The lake has over 100 miles of shoreline, four large islands and six boat ramps. However, there are restrictions on boating here, so one should acquaint themselves with all rules before heading out on their kayaking trip.


Cave kayaking is a fun activity that anyone could enjoy. It does involve some preparation, but this shouldn’t be too hard to do if you just follow the basic rules listed above before getting started.

Generally, if you plan to go cave kayaking in Kentucky, note that Kayak rentals are available at all sites. You can bring your own gear too, but some sites have rules against that. Make sure you follow their guidelines for security reasons.

If there are high water levels then it makes sense to plan your adventure activity for another time or choose one of the safer sites.

There are many cave kayaking sites in Kentucky where people can go and try it out for themselves, if they wish to find out more about this sport.

Have fun cave kayaking.

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