Close this search box.

Five Reasons Why the Russell Fork Should be on Your Bucket List

There are so many great things to love about Fall…. the cooling weather, the changing leaves, pumpkin flavored everything, but the absolute best thing about Fall? It means its Russell Fork Season. 

Ever since my first trip to the Russell Fork back in 2005, it has held a very special place in my heart. In case you need some convincing on why you should check it out, here are a few of the reasons why I think it is one of the best places on the planet:

1) The kayaking is classic!

While it may be short, the Russell Fork Gorge is packed full of some of the most fun rapids around. Tower, Maze, Triple Drop, El Horendo and Climax are the kinds of rapids kayakers dream about. And if you want to lengthen your day, you can warmup on the class 2-3 Bartlick section or easily get multiple laps on the gorge section. 


2) The Lifestyling is epic!

Because you can’t put on the gorge until around noon due to the water release schedule, it means that the Russell Fork is the perfect place for late nights and relaxed mornings! There are multiple camping options, but my all time favorite is at the takeout. It’s super convenient to swing by your tent in between laps, there are great camping spots, a covered pavilion to get out of the rain if necessary and theres even an awesome play wave right there. Couldn’t have designed it any better myself.

3) Elkhorn City is one of the most kayaker friendly towns out there!

Located in rural Kentucky on the Virginia border, Elkhorn City has a population of barely a thousand people. I’m not sure if it just the excitement of having new faces around or what, but this place really makes a point to be supportive of and embrace the kayakers coming to town (which is quite the opposite in some other places). My favorite camp spot at the takeout I mentioned? Thats actually a day use area that they allow us to overnight in during the season. Some days you’ll even pull up to the takeout and find warm chili and cornbread being served in the pavilion! And don’t get me started on the moonshine…

4) The scenery is spectacular.

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the South,” the Breaks gorge is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. Whether you’re paddling through it, or viewing it from an overlook, you’ll be wowed by this beautiful place. And with Breaks Interstate Park right there, there are plenty of non-kayaking recreation options as well in case you need a break from the river or have non-kayakers along.pa220003

5) The season finishes up with a super fun grassroots race!

The Lord of the Fork Race, named in memory of Jon Lord, a Russell Fork regular who passed away at Tower rapid, is by far my favorite kayak race out there. There is something about it being not too hard, but not too easy, and filled to the brim with quality rapids and many of my very favorite people all coming together that earns it that title. The timing works out so you can get a practice lap in the morning of the race, and theres plenty of time for either  another lap or good ole beer drinking afterwards. And the day is capped off with the Russell Fork Rendezvous, a kayaker party that raises money for American Whitewater. What more could you ask for.

While my time at the race this year wasn’t one of my best (I placed 5th with a time of 7:51), I still had a great time and am already looking forward to next year’s Russell Fork season! See you there!

Congrats to fellow BRO Ambassadors Chris Hipgrave and Adriene Levknecht for their top placings in the race! Check out full race results here

Share this post:

Discover more in the Blue Ridge:

Join our newsletter!

Subscribe to receive the latest from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine sent directly to your inbox.