When temperatures skyrocket in the summer, many people head for the water to cool off. Known for its glistening lakes, serene streams, and roaring rivers, some say that the best Kentucky has to offer involves the water. From afternoons canoeing along undisturbed routes to weeklong vacations on a lakeshore houseboat, the Bluegrass State has a water adventure for every schedule. But you don’t have to be a rugged outdoorsman or serious paddler to experience these activities for yourself. Here are several ways to get the whole family involved this water season—no experience required.
1. Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Exactly what it sounds like, SUPing involves standing on a board and using a long paddle to glide through the water. SUP Kentucky can teach you the ropes with beginner lessons, and then you’ll be set to paddle at places like Cumberland Falls Resort State Park, Grayson Lake, or Elkhorn Creek. They even offer an Underground Glow SUP tour through a limestone mine. The boards only accommodate one person, so for families with older children, there’s no doubt: SUPing is an experience unlike any other.
2. Ride the Tides with Kentucky Whitewater
Located on the Russell Fork River in the eastern part of the state, Kentucky Whitewater leads guided whitewater rafting trips for the whole family, as long as everyone is seven years or older and weighs at least 70 pounds. The Lower Russell Fork run is their family-friendly tour, and the excursions usually last 2-3 hours. They also offer kayaking trips and rescue training.
3. Explore Mammoth Cave National Park
Both the Green and Nolin Rivers flow through Mammoth Cave National Park, ideal for boating, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The currents are slow and there is an abundance of natural rock formations, bluffs, and wildlife to see, so novices and experienced paddlers alike will enjoy this trip. There are no tours available, so set your own pace by deciding where to launch and take out your craft. A listing of local canoe and kayak outfitters are available on the website for those that don’t have their own.
4. Learn to Sail on Kentucky Lake
Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area is singlehandedly the best place to go sailing between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. With both Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley to choose from, you can do just about any water sport that you can think of here. Have you always wanted to take your family sailing but don’t know how yet? Lighthouse Landing Marina on Kentucky Lake offers sailing lessons in a fun, four-day course that will put the wind in your sails for a lifetime (plus, it’s eco-friendly).
5. "Fun Float" on Elkhorn Creek in a Canoe
Canoe Kentucky offers a variety of paddlesports to get you on Kentucky’s waterways. Their most popular trip is the "Fun Float" stretch along Elkhorn Creek. Consisting primarily of class I rapids, this trip is ideal for families and beginners. Canoes, kayaks, and rafts alike are all available to use on this trip, which takes about 2-3 hours, with opportunities to stop and swim. You can even bring along your dog!
6. Rent a Houseboat on Beautiful Lake Cumberland
This one is sure to create family vacation memories that will last a lifetime. Lake Cumberland offers a variety of water-based activities for everyone, regardless of activity level, from swimming to fishing, water skiing to sailing, and more. The houseboat provides a nice home base so family members who don’t want to get in the water can still join in on the fun. Jamestown Resort and Marina has houseboat and pontoon rentals in various sizes (beginning at a minimum of three days).
If staying on the lake isn’t your style, there are several lakeshore campgrounds to choose from, such as Conley Bottom. Even on a single day-long visit, you won’t leave disappointed. Lake Cumberland is ideal for families large and small.
7. Paddle the Red River in a Kayak
Located within the Red River Gorge, Red River Adventure is the best option for paddling through the gorge. Their kayak "Adventure Tour" is self-guided, and while the paddling itself can be leisurely and at your own pace, they only offer 1-person kayaks, so this trip is ideal for families with older children (canoes are also available should families want to ride together). They drive you from your car to your drop-off location and you float back amidst towering cliffsides and rock formations that will take your breath away.
8. Get up close and personal to Cumberland Falls on the Rainbow Mist Ride
Just five miles from Cumberland Falls State Park, Sheltowee Trace Adventure Resort offers an incredible chance to come face-to-face with the falls—from the bottom. The website promises you will "feel the power of the falls as it thunders above you." Better still, you won’t need to do much prep for this amazing experience. It’s a quick but unforgettable 30-45 minute trip, with a guide to do the paddling. There’s no age requirement for passengers, making this the perfect way to see the falls with young children.
9. Swim, fish, and more at the Land Between the Lakes
Nestled between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area boasts nearly 300 miles of shoreline perfect for camping, swimming, and fishing. The waters are a hotspot for crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and more. Additionally, Moss Creek Day Use Area is their most popular swimming location—grill-out and bring a picnic or a cooler to spend an unforgettable day with the entire family. What else is summer for?
Written by Samantha Edmonds for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.