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Tales From A Lazy River

For the first-time canoeist, western Kentucky’s Green River offers a safe, slow trip through the area around Mammoth Cave National Park.

For the experienced outdoor person the Green means fishing, a chance to see Kentucky’s varied wildlife, and relaxed solitude.
Three journeys down the Green River show its ability to present a one-size-fits-all adventure.

A few years ago I organized an outing for five adults and five children, ages 4-7. Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak (see below sidebar for details of Green River outfitters) provided canoes, paddles, and life preservers and drove us to the river at 10 a.m. As they waved goodbye they told us to check out the cave about a half-mile downstream. The tiny side trip where you could paddle 50 feet into a small cave created an immediate memory for the kids to bring back to their friends.

After that we cruised comfortably along the river that measured between 100 and 200 feet from forested bank to forested bank.

At lunchtime we beached the canoes on a sandy shore to take a break from paddling, eat our sandwiches, and skip stones on the water.

By 3 p.m. we reached the takeout point, not quite exhausted, but with huge appetites and ready for a good night’s sleep.
A different kind of canoeist can have a different kind of trip down the same river.

George Mead, a photographer who often takes pictures for Kentucky Living, regularly hikes, rock climbs, hunts, and otherwise knows outdoor activities. He took a 25-mile overnight trip that he liked for its good fishing, seeing lots of different wildlife, and the feeling of having gone back to the times of Daniel Boone.

He did warn about not setting up camp too close to the shoreline. The dam at Green River Lake can release water any time, raising levels as much as four feet. The release also produces a faster current.

Last August I took my then 8-year-old daughter on a 25-mile overnight through Mammoth Cave National Park. We got trip suggestions, including good campsites, from Green River Canoeing in Brownsville.

During the trip I learned a few other lessons. Like, waterproof everything. While our clothes stayed safely dry in trash bags, my backpack didn’t protect match-striking surfaces from the accumulation of water in the canoe as paddling switched from one side to the other throughout the day. Heavy morning dew left the matchboxes even soggier. We almost missed out on bacon and pancakes.

And 25 miles in a day and a half makes this kind of father-daughter trip too ambitious. My drive to paddle to the finish before dark conflicted with her idea of stopping often to swim.

But we did have a fine, hot breakfast–food always tastes better when camping. We managed plenty of swim breaks. And we still remember that night in the tent on the point of land where the river narrowed and rushed and gurgled around a bend, too far from civilization for cell phones to work, under a night sky spectacular with thousands of shining stars.

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