Kayaking the Ohio River to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Kayaking 390 million years back in time

Trail: Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Park to the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Trailhead: Harrison Ave Boat Ramp, 1205 Harrison Ave, Clarksville, IN 47129

Stats: Boat launch to the fossil beds is 1.2 miles or 2.4 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy to dangerous. Varied based on water levels and speeds

Fees: No Fees to launch

Trail Notes/Waypoints: Check river conditions before launching. Check the McAlpine Upper and Lower water levels and future predictions to get an idea of current conditions. Here is a chart that gives an idea of water levels correlated to fossil bed exposure.

Summary: Jump here (TL:DR) for a quick breakdown.

Satellite view of the Ohio River at Falls of the Ohio River and McAlpine Locks
Satellite view of the Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio River State Park and the McAlpine Locks

The Girl and I went out this past week for a quick midweek kayaking trip to the Falls of the Ohio River State Park. I grew up fishing in the spillway and playing in the rocks and beaches at the Falls of the Ohio. During all of this time down at the Falls, we never actually got out onto the water. As an adult, it always seemed a little daunting to me to paddle the river.

My brothers and I as kids finishing the spillway with family friends

We normally like to hike and kayak by ourselves, but we thought this trip would be an opportunity to meet some new people and try kayaking with a group.  We joined up with a local kayak and canoe group to head up the Ohio River to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Boat launch in Clarksville, IN and the Ohio River Hydroelectric Power Plant
Boat launch in Clarksville, IN and the Ohio River Hydroelectric Power Plant

The boat launch is in Clarksville, IN at the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Park. It is easiest to drive your boat down the boat launch, unload, and drive back up to park. Parking is somewhat limited.

The launch from the boat ramp is straight forward with the only exception coming from across the river in the form of the Ohio River Hydroelectric Power Plant. When the powerplant has its gaits open, it can create a bit of a current perpendicular across the river. The whitewater in the map above is water flow out from the powerplant. The current isn’t something that would keep you from launching but is worth noting before heading out.

Ohio River with the Louisville skyline in the distance
Ohio River with the Louisville skyline in the distance

Leaving the boat ramp, you will want to stay closer to the Indiana banks to head up the river. During a low summer pool, the river current is usually relatively slow. The slow current makes for a relaxed paddle. While this makes for a more accessible paddle, it means the water is shallow in places.

Approximately 3/4th of a mile upstream, you may hit the first shallow section of river. You will want to stay closer to the Indiana bank. Here you will make a series of S turns that covers 0.5 miles navigating around the shallow sections of the river.  At this point, the Falls of the Ohio River Museum and Visitor Center will be on your left, and you are in the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Find an area to pull your boat up on the rock to explore the fossil beds.

Falls of the Ohio River State Park
Falls of the Ohio River State Park

Depending on the time of year and the area of fossil beds you explore, the fossils may be covered in a layer of mud. Going out after a rainfall at the end of the summer and the beginning of the fall usually offers the best opportunity to view the fossils. If you enjoy fishing this is a great way to get to new areas of the river to make your big catch. Once you finish exploring the fossil beds, head back down the river via the same route you came up.

Falls of the Ohio River State Park
Falls of the Ohio River State Park

We had a great time out on the river this evening, and paddling with a group of people was a nice change of pace. We will definitely get back out with the group at some point. If you are unsure of paddling a new body of water, then I would highly recommend finding someone that can guide you along on your first trip. You will most likely find this more enjoyable, and you can relax more knowing that someone with you knows how to navigate the waterway safely.

Sun setting over the Ohio River
Sun setting over the Ohio River

Summary: A quick drive from downtown Louisville, KY. A relatively short paddle to a unique state park where you can see 400-million-year-old fossils of an ancient oceanic coral reef. You will also have good views of downtown Louisville, KY, and the McAlpine Locks and Dam. Conditions can be easy to deadly, so be sure to check river conditions before heading out.

As always, have fun, take care of yourself, and please be courteous to others out on the trails.

Published by Natural Wanderer

NaturalWanderer.com

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