Explored by a man by the name of Thomas Walker circa 1750 who subsequently dubbed it Fredrick’s River, Licking River was originally named Nepernine by Native Americans. The waterway’s current name is thanks to the salt springs and salt licks along the length of the river, attracting animals as far back as prehistoric times. While you can paddle any part of the 303-mile river, a popular section for flatwater is in northern Kentucky, near the site of the Battle at Blue Licks, dating back to 1782. This section makes it easy to put-in and take-out, and bring along your fishing rod, too—the Licking is one of the state’s best native muskie streams.
What Makes It Great
If you’re looking for a peaceful float along a quiet waterway, the Licking River is it.
The majority of the Licking River is navigable, which means you could really put-in anywhere. However, the Upper and Lower Blue Licks are well-known sections among paddlers looking for a good float. Literally dripping with “frontier Kentucky history,” the Licking River makes “the paddler feel they are in the age of Boone” himself.
Upper Blue Licks is a 6.5-mile excursion that takes off in Nicholas County near the eastern edge of Clay Wildlife Management Area. While paddling down this section of the river, you’ll be traversing what was once a main thoroughfare for Native Americans en route to hunting the animals at the salt licks. Newer paddlers should opt for the Upper section since it’s a shorter and more relaxed option. The spot to put-in for this float is at the terminus of KY 57 where it meets the river.
Lower Blue Licks is a much longer (about 15 miles) endeavor that embarks from Blue Licks Battlefield State Park. You’ll still make your way to the Clay Wildlife Management Area, and locals suggest getting on the water by 9 am to finish it in a single day. You can also shorten this trek by about four miles if you put in at Cassidy Creek instead. Cassidy is seasonal and only offers limited parking, but it is an option.
Whichever way you go, expect to be surrounded by towering bluffs and deep blue pools of water as you paddle along. These deep pools are also the best places to cast a line for muskie, and look for bass around the few riffles and faster moving shoals.
Who is Going to Love It
Paddlers of all skill sets looking for a scenic float will enjoy the Licking River. A local favorite but largely a well-kept secret beyond Kentucky and Ohio, canoeists and kayakers can expect to encounter unencumbered nature rather than fellow floaters.
Fishermen and women will also enjoy these waters that are known for muskellunge, spotted bass, and smallmouth bass. Those who like to take in fall foliage when it strikes will also be pleased by this trip in autumn—the surrounding bluffs light up with red, orange, and yellow hues when temperatures start to dip.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The put-in for the Upper Blue Licks float is where KY 57 meets Licking Road (and the river).
The put-in for Cassidy Creek is at the bridge on Cassidy Creek Road, just after your turn off KY 32/Myers Road. Note that this put-in is seasonal and has limited parking.
The put-in for the Lower Blue Licks float is at 10299 Maysville Road in Carlisle.
If you follow either float to the end, you’ll take-out at the Clay Wildlife Management Area at 1449 Cassidy Creek Road in Carlisle.