Gasper River - Whitewater Paddling

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About

Summary

Near the city of Bowling Green in the heart of southern Kentucky, Gasper River offers scenic views and class II rapids for whitewater enthusiasts.

Written by

Danny May

Distance

3.0 miles

The most popular section with locals is a 3-mile run from the walk down put-in at Hwy 626 bridge to the take out at Hwy 231 (Morgantown Rd) bridge at Hadley Hill. For a longer trip, continue another 9 miles to the confluence with Barren River.

Destination Distance From Downtown

137.2 miles

Difficulty

2 of 5 diamonds

You’ll find class II rapids here.

Time To Complete

4 hours

It usually takes about 3-5 hours to run the rapids on the Gasper.

Seasonality

Spring, Summer, and Fall

Because Gasper is spring fed, there is always water flowing. Summer is ideal, but spring and fall make beautiful trips as well.

Fees Permits

No

Review

Intro

Because of its beautiful class II rapids, the Gasper River is one of the most popular waterways for paddling in southcentral Kentucky. There are several walkdown put-ins, creating various options for length, allowing for paddlers to customize their trips for half days or full days. The section from Hwy 626 to Hwy 231 is especially popular with paddlers because it offers a series of rapids, wave trains, rippling flatwater, and pools concentrated in roughly a two-mile stretch. But be advised—if the river is low, canoes may require portage.

What Makes It Great

Shoot a rapid, drift a while—that’s the Gasper River in six words. Gasper is spring fed, which means even during a dry spell the water is always flowing. Expect a new adventure every time you kayak or canoe the Gasper. Rock formations cause different flow patterns depending on the water depth. Just after a rain, the rapids move quickly. But even at summer pool there is enough water for some action. The water is always cool and crisp, making Gasper a refreshing trip on even the hottest days.

In the section described in this experience (Hwy 626 to Hwy 231), there are enough turns and bends to keep things interested. You’ll see rock outcroppings, high bluffs, steep banks, and low areas with a canopy of trees overhead, all in this three-mile stretch. The first few miles downriver from 626 you can hear the next rapids approaching as soon as you finish the one you’re in. The second half of the trip offers several opportunities to leisurely float and take in the view. This three-mile trip is the perfect blend of playful work and concentration mixed with restful drifting and relaxation.

The first class II, known by locals as “Put-in Rapid”, comes directly after the put-in, giving paddlers a taste of excitement right from the start. It is immediately followed by “The Surfers” as the river bends to the right, featuring a series of small, standing, waves that are especially fun for kayakers.

After a stretch of gentle ripples and a pool deep enough to wade in, paddlers will experience a set of several rapids known as “Retreat Rapids” along the Gasper River Retreat Center property positioned on the left bank. After a dogleg to the left, the river continues its serpentine path to 231.

Who is Going to Love It

Canoes are plentiful, but kayakers LOVE Gasper for its shallow, rippling rapids. Because of its proximity to Western Kentucky University, it’s a popular spot for college students, especially after every a rain. Some outdoor classes even take their “final exam” on the Gasper. Experienced kayakers, weekend enthusiasts, and family groups all enjoy the beautiful views and rushing water. Barring heavy rainfall (in which case, only the very experienced should enter) the class II rapids are not too scary for youngsters. Experienced paddlers will have a blast discovering the nuances of each set of rapids by trying different lines.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The walk down put-in at the 626 bridge is surrounded by farmland and a sharp curve to the south. It is therefore unsafe to park on the south side of the bridge. The narrow right-of-way on the north side allows for 2-3 cars. Take caution not to park on the adjacent private property, which is marked by a metal stake.

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Location

Gasper River

37.022046, -86.606628

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