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Dix River (Herrington Lake Area)


Kamp Kennedy Upriver to Gwinn Island Camp


Tuesday, June 9, 2009




Herrington Lake was formed when the Dix River was dammed up by the Kentucky Utilities Company to provide hydroelectric power and to mitigate flooding.  The reservoir the dam created also provides drinking water for Danville and Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.  It was completed in 1927, but not without opposition.  In fact, as per what I’ve read, the very idea was met with much outrage and as I paddled today I was able to see why first hand.  I’d love to have been able to paddle this river before the dam was put in!


As usual, finding an ideal put-in was a bit of an adventure, but the drive was nice.  I headed out from Lexington on Harrodsburg Road (US68), and before I got to the turn off for KY33 at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (a great place to visit, I saw something interesting.  It looked like they were preparing for some sort of festival or fair, and I noticed a sign which said Ichthus Festival, so I looked it up (  This is apparently a Christian music festival, and I found that a couple of my favorite bands (Sanctus Real and Hawk Nelson) were playing in the coming days!


Anyway, at first I wanted to try putting in at the dam ramp which looked to be the closest in terms of distance since I’m trying to cut my gasoline costs as much as possible.  I followed the directions in the Fish and Wildlife Boating Access Guide from KY33, but never found this particular ramp.  It should be near the large utility complex out here, but they were doing some construction and maybe I missed the turn off.  At any rate, the road I took (KY342) eventually just led me back to KY33 which soon entered Burgin, Kentucky where I took a right onto KY152.  I eventually came to a bridge over the lake. 


Apparently there aren’t any free ramps out here.  I came last year in search of one but only found marinas, and I know that marinas almost always charge even for a kayak to put in.  Thus, I was prepared to pay today but I was hoping to only have to pay a couple bucks.  I’d go as high as $3, but I wanted that to be my absolute limit because anything over that is just too high in my opinion.  I did have in mind, however, that if I didn’t paddle then all that money I spent on gas getting out here would have been wasted!


Pandora Marina was the first one I tried.  It’s just before you come to the bridge, but it was $5 and the sign indicated that I was to pay at the office.  Well, call me obtuse, but it wasn’t quite clear to me which structure the office was in.  I decided to try my luck further down… 


I remembered another marina on the other side of the bridge and tried it.  There was no sign indicating how much it cost to put in though, so I walked across the little pier over to the restaurant to ask.  There were a few guys hanging out, but it wasn’t clear who worked there and who didn’t, so I sauntered around like an ignoramus until someone asked if they could help me.  Posing my question, it was referred, and then pondered.  “Let’s see…  We’ve got a special today...”  Well, before he could tell me how much, I just told him I had $3 and “3 bucks!” was my answer!


Relieved to have finally found a good spot, I got all my stuff down to the ramp and put in, but wouldn’t you know that as I got into the kayak the back of the seat broke off!?!  (It was a weird day.  At one point I stopped to take a picture and the batteries fell right out of my camera!)  Well, I would have been supremely bummed if I’d gotten all the way out here only to have to go straight back, but the seat actually held up!  It’s hard to explain how it did, but I’ll try. 


The seat bottom was totally fine.  That in mind, the seat back which broke is shaped like a mushroom – and it broke at the base of the stem.  The strap around the top of the mushroom was still firmly attached to the sides of the boat, so it was firm.  All I had to do was replace the bottom of the mushroom stem into the middle of the back of the seat bottom, and when I leaned back, I kind of forced it into place.  We’ll have to see how long I can hold off on buying a new seat, although my kayak itself is already cracked from the 2007 Kentucky River trip – it’s getting pretty ragged.


Anyway, when you turn the map in the direction I’d be going today (“upriver” on the lake – or to the left when I launched from the ramp), you’ll be looking at a near “M” shape for the first few miles.  The letter extends from this, Kamp Kennedy ramp (that’s how they spell it), to a point just beyond the Herrington Marina.  A second, opposing, “M” shape will form the second half of the trip from the point where this letter ends to another point near the Gwinn Island Camp – where I’d turn back.  I’d begin the day by paddling the first of the “M’s” from the bottom left – just as you’d draw the letter.


As you begin it’s quite congested because you have this marina, the bridge, and the Pandora Marina across the way, and some other things about this lake also struck me almost immediately.  It’s very narrow and very active with dwellings lining the shores, and it seems to be very low or sunken in – I’d have rock walls or cliffs almost the entire way.  Once I was fully immersed in my experience to the point where I was able to think more deeply, it also occurred to me why the lake did seem so sunken and why it would have been so amazing to have paddled to Dix River before the dam was put in. 


The Kentucky River, at about this same point upriver from its convergence with this one (technically the Dix), has its’ most notable palisades, and it would have been the same way on this Dix River before it was flooded by the inputting of the dam which turned it into Herrington Lake.  Thus, the rock walls I saw today must have once been incredible palisades which, in their splendor, probably rivaled if not surpassed those on the Kentucky River.


Interesting too, is the fact that this lake is the deepest in the state (as I just found out) and since it is so narrow compared to the others I’ve seen (it still looks like a river on the map), it’s another indication of just how breathtaking these palisades would have been on the old river!  No wonder people were so aghast at the prospect of the dam!  In fact, I’d love to scuba dive this lake to see it from that perspective, although I don’t know how clear the water would be from deep under the surface. 


At any rate, the rock walls on the left side for this first part of the trip will provide really nice views as you paddle up to them and look down, and there was one point that I missed heading up, but that I did notice on my return.  It was a nice but really small little nook that was shaped kind of like an arm nestling something in close (or maybe the thumb of a hand), and there was what looked like a submerged kayak at the crux.  This was a nice, quiet place to stop and ponder the beauty of the lake.


As mentioned, there are a ton of houses out here, with the vast majority being on the right side as I paddled today.  Many of these are incredibly nice while some, high atop the hills, have amazing stair setups which lead down to the water.  In fact, it looks like some even have rail lines down! 


Things get interesting near the top of the second rise in this first “M”.  On the left you’ll have a nice rock face which had some good color on this day, with the white and grey of the rock merging with the green of the trees and the brown color of the seemingly singed grass.  In fact, the reader may think I’m crazy (which I wouldn’t dispute, by the way), but this trip today reminded me quite a bit of the one I took on the Pedernales River (via Lake Travis) outside Austin, Texas - without the longhorns.  That’s because along with all the dwellings, the landscape is similar in its undulation, and I even saw some of the same kind of yellow flowered cacti out here!



Rounding the top of the letter, you’ll come to a cove on the left through which the Tanyard Branch enters.  There’s another put-in toward the back of this, and I paddled in with the intention of checking it out, but I didn’t get too far.  You see, my thing is that I like my space.  Combine that with my desire to treat others as I’d like to be treated, and you’ll understand why I didn’t go all the way in.  There were quite a few boats back here with people enjoying the water, and since the width of the branch wasn’t quite to the point where I felt comfortable going around these people even from the opposite bank, I felt like I’d be bringing pause to their reverie - I headed back out. 


There’s another cove almost immediately after this on the same side, although I haven’t yet been able to find the name for it.  This one has seemingly swallowed the Herrington Marina which lies very near the mouth, and it was so congested that I decided not to paddle in.  There are some really nice looking rock formations on either side of the entrance to this particular cove though.  In fact, some of the formations out here appear as if they were made out of a giant child’s building blocks!




Upon passing this cove, you’ll soon enter into a long, fairly straight section of the lake where you’ll progress from one “M” to the next, essentially entering into the second half of the trip (although this portion is a little longer since this particular “M” has more pronounced ends).  At any rate, on this second letter you’ll paddle in the opposite direction as it pertains to the letter itself, following it from right to left instead of left to right.


After the marina the left bank is almost all farmland from this point, and in one spot I noticed a few cows, one of which looked like it was doing some rock climbing and one of which was staring at me face deep in the water.  What posers!




Upon leaving the ladies, I soon reached paradise!  What exactly paradise is, I’m not sure, but it’s got what looks like a marina and ramp on the right bank (seemingly private) along with what looks like a really nice condominium complex.  According to the map I have this is off Paradise Camp Road, so there might also be a camp out here.  (For that matter, there seem to be a lot of roads along the lake with “camp” in them, so there could be a dozen or so of these on this lake.)


Nearing the first top of this second “M” I came upon a sweet little oasis amidst a backdrop of farmland, complete with a couple really nice looking couches and a grill.  Check this out - someone has set up a nice spot to relax!



Once I rounded the corner I was looking at a straightaway in which houses and boat docks lined the right bank.  There was also some great looking farmland visible atop a hill at the end in the distance (at the middle of the letter), and upon reaching this point the houses and boat docks switched to the left with the rock cliffs on the right.  One of these houses, in fact, looked like a train caboose!



Sims Mid-Lake Marina (apparently now called Nelson’s) was now visible in the distance, and when I reached it I noticed that there’s an interesting old chimney atop the hill behind it (old homestead?).



From here the trip would have a more remote feel.  Without all the houses and boat docks you can really get a better feel for what this lake is like because, to me, the landscape features seem more pronounced.  In fact, I think I appreciated the scenery here more because of this – and for the same reason that I like to live in places where I can experience a change of seasons.  Braving through the winter gives me more of an appreciation of spring and summer - I get a feeling of near jubilation when the warmer weather comes!


Anyway, on this last part of the trip some of the views are really outstanding.  There are some more cliffs with interesting rock formations on the left as you round the last significant bend before reaching the Gwinn Camp and Marina on the outside of this curve…



And on this same side is also an area of shoreline which has another building block feel as the lake seems to be bordered by a little block wall.



I was paddling this section from the inside, however, and just after I got the picture below I realized that there was a fisherman around the corner directly ahead.  Since I was paddling really close to the shoreline we kind of startled each other.  He began reeling in as I quickly tried to paddle outward in order that he wouldn’t have to.  I really don’t like to disturb these guys and I apologized, but I think it was too late.  He said they weren’t biting anyway, but this didn’t help me feel any better!



There’s a really interesting structure just after this curve on the right.  It looks like a really old water intake which is fashioned like a castle.



Soon reaching the Gwinn Island Marina, I saw that it looked really nice, as does the entire area.  There may also be come cabins up on the shoreline, which is more gently sloped here than at most of the other areas I passed today.  The ramp looks to be well maintained too.


The trip back was somewhat of an adventure as well as a test of nautical navigation skills.  I usually cut across the curves in lakes on my way back in order to cut off some of the time on the return trip, but I wouldn’t be able to do that today – and I’d get back after dark.  I was successful at first in the less congested part of the lake, but after that I was forced back every time I tried.  9 straight power boats sped by one right after the other just after the last time I successfully crossed, and I thought twice about it after that.


You’ll really have to be on your guard out here because, as I mentioned, this lake is very narrow and congested.  There are a lot of power boats, many of which are meandering as they pull skiers or tubers, and there are also more fishermen than I’ve seen on the other lakes I’ve paddled (it’s well known for its quality fishing).  So…  I had to hug the shorelines most of the way, but even then you’ll have to be very wary and plan your trip duration accordingly.


The headlights of the cars going over the KY152 Bridge looked really cool from down on the water and I got some pictures - none of which turned out that great, unfortunately.  Below is the best.



I could also hear the sounds of all the people hanging out by the water when I neared my take-out point at the Kamp Kennedy ramp – both at the marinas and along and atop the shorelines.  It must be fun to live out here!




From Lexington, I took US68 ( Harrodsburg Road) past Brooklyn, Kentucky to the KY33 junction (right across from the entrance to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill) and took a left.  You’ll then want to go straight into Burgin, Kentucky and take a left on KY152.  You’ll soon go over a bridge over the river and you’ll take the first left thereafter to the Kamp Kennedy ramp.