A few weeks ago, I checked my weather app to see what the coming weekend would be like. Angell and I were due to hike the Scott’s Gap loop in Jefferson Memorial Forest, and the forecast called for 90+ degree weather all weekend. Dreading the idea of hiking on the sun, I texted my Dad to see if he’d like to do a little aquablazing and break-in his new canoe on Floyds Fork. He responded quickly with a simple “No.”
Streamflow was too low.
Floyds Fork, which strings together the isolated parcels of the Parklands of Floyds Fork, attracts paddlers of varying skill levels who put-in and take-out from seven access points between the North Beckley Paddling Access at the Parkland’s northern terminus at U.S. 60 and the Cliffside Paddling Access at the Parkland’s southern terminus at U.S. 31E, 19.7 miles in all. Paddlers take their cues from gauges located at three spots between these access points:
- The Peewee Valley Gauge covers North Beckley to Creekside (2 miles)
- The Seaton Valley Gauge covers Creekside to Seaton Valley (11.7 miles)
- The Mt. Washington Gauge covers Seaton Valley to Cliffside (6 miles)
According to the Parkland’s website, paddlers need a flow of at least 30 cubic feet per second (CFS) to have a trip with more floating than walking and dragging of one’s craft. Dad’s rule-of-thumb says a minimum of 100 CFS is more like it, but that’s for a kayak carrying a single person, not the equivalent of a water bus.
The evening after I first texted Dad, a band of thundershowers moved through town, dumping enough rain to get the streamflow up to acceptable levels for the weekend. I checked back, and we agreed to meet Sunday afternoon for a go of it.
We dropped our car at Cliffisde, which reminded me more of a put-in on the New River or some wild river out west, with all the kayaks and people attending them. The creek was up, and seemingly everyone in Louisville was taking advantage of it. Dad pulled up behind us, and we jumped in the back of his truck and rode through the Parklands, enjoying the views as we cut through Broad Run and Turkey Run Parks on our way to the Seaton Valley Paddling Access.
At Seaton Valley, we unloaded the canoe and filled it with our gear: folding seats, life jackets, camera gear and drinks. Dad’s canoe has three seats, with cup holders on the middle one – not exactly Lewis & Clark, but we loved it. We waited while a few other groups put-in, then took our turn. The put-ins are well designed, with skids for craft to slide down to the water’s edge. We joked about flipping the canoe over before we got started, but everyone climbed in without incident.
The water looked like spilled latte from all the rain and carried us along at a nice clip. Angell and I are novices when it comes to canoeing, and it took a few minutes to get into a comfortable rhythm with me up front and Dad in the back, steering. Angell captured the experience on video from her perch in the middle.
That day, the Seaton Valley gauge read 150 CFS. Remember that number if you plan on taking a canoe on this section of Floyds Fork, because anything lower means walking and dragging your canoe along the many riffles. We scraped the bottom quite a few times, but never got out to drag it. 150 CFS – that’s the ticket.
Going With The Flow
Every bend in the river brought some new encounter. First, we passed a lady stuck in a shallow riffle in her kayak. As we approached, she nervously tried to scrunch her way out of it, lunging forward and nervously looking back to us every second or two until she finally got out and pulled her kayak into the main channel, slipping at every step on the mossy rocks. Two male companions sat in an eddy a little downstream yelling at her to hurry. When she finally broke free, her kayak floated backwards through a riffle for a few dozen yards before she finally regained control and joined the fellas.
We saw dozens of people on the creek, and early in our trip we heard a story about a missing woman. Her husband got out of their two-man kayak at a sand bar, and she paddled around alone in front of it while he watched the current carry her downstream. Evidently, she thought she could paddle back upstream, but overestimated her abilities until she finally, and literally, went with the flow.
Stories like that creep me out when I hear them, and we each speculated about what may have happened, our stories ranging from the macabre to the humorous until we put it out of minds altogether.
At Muscle Shoals, in Turkey Run Park, and then on the sandy banks at Broad Run Park, we passed families enjoying the water, their children splashing around and waving to us as we floated by. We talked about the wisdom of letting kids swim the creek, having read stories in the Courier Journal about the water quality of Floyds Fork. Our only conclusion was that the kids all looked like they were having a great time.
The Silence of Water
Though we saw a few dozen people on the water, our differing paces ensured that we only saw them long enough to share a few words before one or the other of us moved on and restored the solitude.
The quiet of the water soothed me, and I most enjoyed the moments when we all seemed to notice the silence at once, the only sounds coming from the critters on the banks and the sucking sound of our paddles as Dad’s red canoe sliced a path through the water. I didn’t take long before Dad and I fell into a nice rhythm, working together and communicating the proper line to take as the creek constantly changed. At the same time, our words ebbed and flowed, as we moved from silence to conversation, sharing laughs and gossip in-between the faster water and moments of silent meditation. It was a golden afternoon.
Sooner than I wanted, we reached the bridge at Cliffside, which marks the end of the run on Floyds Fork. We pulled up and let a couple guys get ahead of us and get their boats out of the water while we enjoyed the spidery roots of the big sycamore trees that line the banks until it was our turn to paddle up to the big, stone steps and drag our canoe up to the parking lot.
I wished we could’ve stayed longer, which is the supreme compliment for any trip, but it was Sunday, and we had to prepare for the week ahead. We left Angell with the canoe and our gear while I drove Dad to get his truck. While we were gone, Angell learned that the “missing” lady was alive and well and probably feeling silly at the commotion she caused. The two-person kayak sat a few feet from where Angell waited until a Parklands ranger showed up in a pickup truck to get it. We could only guess that he was returning it to the lady and her husband.
Thankfully, the story ended on an anti-climactic note. Isn’t that the way all paddling trips should end – safe, with a reluctance to stop, but knowing you must? That was our experience, anyway, and I can’t recommend it enough, provided the stream conditions are just right.
Watch our Video Trail Guide