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  • Writer's pictureCanoe Kentucky

What do the colors in the Water Level Interpreter mean?

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

So what does our "Water Level Interpreter" mean for your experience? We get this question quite often, so we wanted to give you an idea of what each level means if you're not familiar with our creek!

First things first, the descriptions, ie. "Caution Needed" and "Extreme Caution", etc. only pertain to rental trips on the Elkhorn Creek's "Fun Float" or "All Day Adventure". They do not apply to any guided trips, including the "Whitewater Hairraiser", or any Kentucky River Trips. These trips use different gauges and are determined on a trip-by-trip basis. If your trip is cancelled do to a unsafe level for these trips, you will be contacted individually by CKY staff.

What goes into the creation of these different zones? Well, not only does the water level come into play, but also the cubic-feet-per second (CFS), or the flow. These levels have been created using over 40 years of Elkhorn Creek experience to create the best and safest possible experience for our guests.

ORANGE - 2.0ft to 2.5ft

LOW! When the water is low you can expect to have to get out and help your boat over the shallow spots. How many times you have to get out depends on how well you read the water, but on average, you will get stuck 8 to 10 times. There are many deep pools to keep the paddling fun, but low water can make for a longer day on the water with more work involved. You must plan on getting in the water many times, so wear proper footwear. No rafts or tandem kayaks available at these levels.

GREEN - 2.5ft to 3.75ft

This family/beginner friendly level that the creek has to offer. At these conditions, the water level is high enough that you don't have to worry about doing a lot of walking but is low enough that the experience needed to navigate is minimal! At this level, the CFS is also on the lower side, which means each trip will move a bit slower than at higher water level conditions. This water level is also a favorite among anglers and fishermen! The lower the water, the less area the fish have to disperse, so it does a good job of concentrating the different species of bass into smaller areas. Canoes and kayaks are best at these levels, but rafts are still available until it gets below 3.0 ft. This rule is also true for tandem kayaks.

BLUE - 3.75ft to 4.5ft

This level is another popular level, as it offers a different experience on the creek compared to the GREEN level! It's still a beginner and family-friendly level, just at a bit higher level, and a faster flow! At this level, we usually do not recommend bringing out children under the age of 6 years old, as the faster flow of the water requires a bit stronger swimming abilities than children younger than 6-year old's usually possess! The trip will go by quicker, as the flow at this level is faster-moving. Fishing is also usually still great at this level, especially in the spring and fall. These levels are great for family rafting, as well as canoes and kayaks.

YELLOW - 4.5ft to 5ft

This level is where more intermediate/advanced experience is needed if you're looking to rent or take out a canoe or kayak! We also encourage raft rentals at this level, which allows families, and those with less experience to still get out and enjoy the creek! At this level, boat control is much more important for canoes and kayaks as the speed of the water is quicker than our normal spring/summer conditions, and "strainers" (trees and branches that can catch onto boats and people) are much more likely to come into play. Rafts just bounce off these obstacles, while they can cause flipping and pinning issues for canoes and kayaks.


At this level, we suspend all rentals to customers for their safety! When the Elkhorn Creek gets above 5ft in height on the gauge, the CFS is extremely fast, requiring an advanced level of boat control, and usually has many other obstacles, such as the strainers, mentioned before. We also discontinue shuttling for those who own their own boats at this level. If it is not safe enough for us to rent, we don't feel it is safe enough for anyone to paddle. Fishing is not recommended at this level!

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