Mammoth Cave National Park - Flat Water Paddling

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About

Summary

Mammoth Cave National Park is best known for its extensive cave system, but that’s not all the park has to offer. The Green River runs directly through the park, affording visitors canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and camping opportunities galore.

Written by

Emma Walker

Distance

0.1 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

107.6 miles

Difficulty

2 of 5 diamonds

The wide, slow-running Green River is controlled by a dam and is all flatwater paddling, but shuttling and backcountry camping logistics require some preparation beforehand.

Time To Complete

0 hours

Seasonality

All Seasons

The park has occasionally closed the river to boaters due to exceptionally high water levels in the summer; winter conditions vary and weather can be quite cold.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Fees Permits

No

No entrance fee for the national park, but you’ll need a (free) backcountry permit from the Visitor Center to camp.

Review

Intro

With 405 miles of explored passageways, Mammoth Cave—the longest known cave system in the world—steals the show at its namesake national park. But there’s so much more at the park than meets the eye. Its underground River Styx isn’t the only river in town. The Green River runs 384 miles to its confluence with the Ohio. Visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park can paddle 25 miles of them on mellow flatwater, stopping to take in the view on scenic sandbar campsites along the way.

What Makes It Great

The wide, flat Green River is the perfect destination for a relaxing float trip through the heart of the Bluegrass State. In its course through Mammoth Cave National Park, the Green averages about 200 feet wide and 10 feet deep, and at something like five miles per hour, it’s an ideal speed for fishing the many species of fish that make their homes in the river. A few designated backcountry sites exist alongside the river, but the best spots are unmarked—floodplain camping is allowed for boaters only, so pick an established site (look for the telltale rock-encircled fire ring) and make camp on a sandbar that suits you.

A number of possible paddling trips exist within the park. Paddlers looking for a longer outing can put in at Munfordville, 19 miles upriver from the park boundary—you’ll need a valid Kentucky fishing license to cast outside the park. Trips range from about three miles to more than 25, so paddling in the park is choose-your-own-adventure style. Several outfitters have concessions to rent boats for trips in the park, and some offer shuttle services, as well.

Who is Going to Love It

With endless miles of mellow flatwater, a short trip down the Green River is ideal for families and new boaters looking to get a feel for backcountry camping along the river. More experienced paddlers and fishermen can add mileage for a more committing trip. Either way, it’ll take some advance planning to pull off a Green River Paddling trip—you’ll need to bring and shuttle your own boat and supplies, or arrange to rent from a local outfitter.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

You’ll need a free backcountry permit to camp within the park, and a Kentucky fishing license if you plan to do any fishing outside park boundaries. Boaters are strongly discouraged from paddling during periods of unusually high water flow, so be sure to check flow levels before heading out; call (270) 758-2417 to inquire about current water levels. Keep in mind, too, that flooding can occur rapidly after a rainstorm—plan your trip around the next few days’ forecast.

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Location

Mammoth Cave National Park

37.187032, -86.101193

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