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Canoeing on Elkhorn Creek
Canoeing on the Elkhorn
We arrived in Frankfort, Kentucky late in the evening with rain threatening… again. But we were not disappointed as we were there to canoe the Elkhorn River and had learned on the Internet that it was at level “green” and water was still coming down. In fact everything in Kentucky seemed very green and growing greener as we drove south on highway 421. Even the sky had a greenish cast with the coming storm. We went into the historic old town and saw few people but several interesting stores. Huge and impressive government buildings loomed at one side of the historic area and were also devoid of people. We drove around them several times seeing only an occasional car and no fast food chains. Where was the real town we wondered? But we soon found a restaurant that served fantastic pulled pork barbeque, and the friendly waitress, luckily knew where Canoe Kentucky Rental was located. I had forgotten my directions in my eagerness to be on the river.
We drove out into the verdant (green) Kentucky landscape on a country road bordered by old stone fences for mile after mile. I later learned that we were in the center of the blue grass region. New houses were juxtaposed next to old southern mansions with their wide lawns and white columns, and everywhere the corn was as high as a mastodon’s eye and the hay fields were glowing golden in the rose-colored evening light. (Mastodons and mammoths can be seen at Big Bone Lick State Park on the way back to Indiana by way of highway 127.) The clouds and sun and humidity had conspired to paint a landscape with a patina any artist would envy.
We finally arrived at the tiny village of Peak’s Mill and saw the old school that had been mentioned in my left-behind directions. Threw was a full moon so we could make out the Canoe Kentucky rental place at the side of the road. We had no idea where their primitive campground was, so we finally parked in the church parking lot, and went to inquire at one of the few houses with lights in the windows at 10:00 p.m.
We were given excellent directions and none too soon as someone was looking out of the window of the dark church at our car. Of course there was a graveyard right next to the church. Another twenty minutes, and we were in the campground. In the moonlight we parked next to some other R.V.s before I noticed that there were not any cars around. I thought it must be an R.V. graveyard and expected to see the ghost of an old camper. Finally finding the R.V. Park for the living, we popped up our camper and set our clock for 7:00 a.m. in order to get to Canoe Kentucky by 9:00 the following morning.
The Still Waters R.V. Park was very nice in the morning light. It was owned by the Strohmeiers, and Greta assured me that the ghost R.V.s were only R.V.s that were temporarily stored there. The road running next to the park was Strohmeier road, and the park was a well-established park with some permanent campers. The grounds were extensive and beautiful and of course very green. The camp is located on the Kentucky River at the mouth of the Elkhorn. A narrow old road leading down to the river guarded by a stone gate and gate house were private Greta said. When asked why she said that they had led to an old hotel where steamboats from Cincinnati had once stopped. The boats had traveled down the Ohio and up the Kentucky River to get to the hotel. Springs and beautiful rivers and creeks such as the Elkhorn with its 200 foot high limestone cliffs and white water were the draw then as now. But now, canoeing and kayaking are added attractions.
At nine o’clock sharp we were at Kentucky Canoe Rentals and watched the video on canoe safety with several other people. We were a little worried to learn that we were the only ones going on the whitewater section of the creek. We booked a thirteen mile trip which was part whitewater and part lazy river. The guys said some kayakers had experienced trouble at the dam by the Jack Daniels distillery and warned us repeatedly about getting to the side and portaging around it. Once on the river with both our dogs, a small white Kishu and large red Australian Cattle dog, we felt confident that we could maneuver the canoe in the fast-moving water. The dam was soon in view, and we got to the left side and successfully portaged around it, staying at the edge of the river rather than trying to run the rapids below the dam. A couple of distillery employees on their break were watching so we didn’t want to mess up.
We soon had thrills aplenty when we came to an S-curved section of rapids. There was not time to plan an attack and our boat bounced like a toy on the rocks, but the force of the current kept us going in the right direction in spite of turning sideways. We are experienced canoe enthusiasts and really enjoyed the challenge of the class II-III rapids. It was easy to see the “Vs” when coming up to whitewater, and the waves were great in many of the chutes. Even in the lazy river section there were some whitewater challenges. The water was clean and inviting and the sun was warm which made swimming enjoyable. The Royalex canoe was a worthy vessel. We made it through. We stayed to the right as directed at the bridge abutment so did not hit the cement wall and only had one bad encounter with spaghetti strainer branches. We stopped at lunchtime and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which had never tasted so good and went “up the lazy river in the noon day sun” for the second leg of our journey. The total trip was about six hours and well worth the four-hour drive to Kentucky from Indianapolis.
We tried out an old riverside tavern in the evening and had beer with a Jaegermeister chaser, a surprisingly good herbal liquer. On the label you will find the German inscription which roughly translated means: “It is the hunter’s honour that he protects and preserves his game, hunts sportsmanlike, honours the Creator in His creatures.” All the young people in the bar were drinking it, and when asked what it was, they said it was “deliciousness.” The balcony overlooked the misty and mysterious Kentucky River. The full moon lighted our way back to the Still Waters Campground where we enjoyed a second night in our pop-up camper. Everywhere we had seen horses in green pastures, prosperous farms with black barns and black wooden fences or old stone fences, tobacco, corn, and hay fields and pink flowering mimosa trees. We heard friendly southern accents, cicadas stridulating (sawing), crickets chirping, and bull frogs croaking and the air conditioner in our camper humming. It was a welcome sound in the ninety degree, ninety percent humidity climate where feeling like a fish did not mean you wanted to eat one.
The next day we went into Frankfort and learned a lot about Kentucky history at the Historical Society museum and were surprised to find Daniel Boone’s grave at the overlook above Frankfort. Later we found the “new town” up the hill from the old town on the interstate as well as more of the older town across the bridge over the Kentucky River. It was there that we found and toured the “new capitol building” which was actually not new at all but newer than the very old one in town. The governor’s mansion was modeled after the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s summer villa. We enjoyed a bookstore with the entire second floor devoted to old books. I found a first edition by Booth Tarkington, the Pulitzer Prize winning author from Indianapolis. Attached to the bookstore were an artist’s coop and coffee shop where we were lucky enough to meet the mayor who invited us to a concert that evening. Rebecca Ruth’s bourbon balls were quite a treat and some of the homes were reminiscent of an older, grander era. The day was complete when we attended the concert in front of the beautiful old courthouse and enjoyed a band that played 80’s music and did a wonderful rendition of “Billy Jean.” The town was alive with people now, and everyone enjoyed a festive Friday. A few people we talked to said they didn’t like canoeing but liked the Elkhorn Creek and some were quite impressed that we had tried it. One man we talked to had been on it quite a bit and loved it.
We would also highly recommend the creek for canoe trips and Canoe Kentucky for their great store, the Wenonah rental canoes, and the professional manner of the employees. The town of Frankfort offered southern hospitality and a sense of history, and it was interesting to see the old river town preserved in a separate area from the new town. It was a great paddle and a great trip.
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#Canoeing #Elkhorn #Creek