PLACES TO GO ON LAND                        HOME                        PLACES TO GO ON WATER


 Little Sandy River (Grayson Lake Area)


Upstream from Mouth of Caney Creek to the Main River/Middle Fork Split


Friday, July 30, 2010




I guess I don’t give lakes enough credit.  After all, most are just dammed up rivers (even though the dams themselves are absolute marvels of engineering).  Thus, when I look at a map and see a body of water that more closely resembles a snake (river) than a Rorschach ink blot (lake), I’ll generally opt to describe that section as a river.  This may not be technically correct, but for the purposes of this website, that’s how I’ll describe things (although I will note this as appropriate). 


To wit:  Grayson Lake looks an AWFUL lot like a river until you get right up near the dam, and the section that I paddled today definitely had a river feel – hence the title for this entry.  I trifled with Grayson Lake Tail Water Exploration #1 (#1 because so much of this lake could be described as a river that you’d have to do 2 full-day trips just to see it all), but the above title seemed more appropriate.  


Things do get a bit confusing though, because there’s only one accessible put-in for this section of the river close enough to allow for a thorough exploration – the Caney Creek Ramp.  As a further complication, there are 2 forks of the Little Sandy that you’ll be able to paddle a good distance into before you’ll be blocked by deadfalls (unless they’re taken out between now and then).  Thus, I could have also easily titled this entry:  Caney Creek/Forks of the Little Sandy River.  Anyway, I hope the above title will prove most useful to anyone interested in paddling here.


As for me today, I got on the water a little earlier than I usually do and that was a good thing - I’d need every bit of that time to get this all in.  There’s somewhere between 20 and 25 miles of shoreline to explore out here judging from my paddling speed – coves and incoming streams included - and that’s just on this upstream section.  In fact, the only thing that stopped my progress today was a deadfall on each fork of the Little Sandy about 10 miles up from the Caney Creek merger.  Lot’s o stuff!


The ramp I put in from was located in a very low-lying, terrace-like area, and once on the water my original plan was not to head upstream on the Little Sandy as I did, but to head upstream on Caney Creek (no flow)!  Well, although the Fish and Wildlife map of the lake seems to indicate that there’s quite a bit of water to explore upstream on this, I found that you’d need rock climbing equipment to do so - you won’t get very far at all before the stream ends at a rock face.  In fact, the 2 tiny coves here with little trickling waterfalls were actually the Big and Little Caney Creeks! 


Anyway, this exploration having come to a premature end, I turned around and began heading back downstream toward the Little Sandy.  Doing so, one thing became quickly apparent - Grayson Lake (if you do consider this area to be part of it) could just as easily be called Palisades Lake, Waterfalls Lake or Palisade Falls Lake.  It’s absolutely beautiful out here!  Sheer rock walls will accompany your progress throughout the day, as will the waterfalls that cascade off of them.  I passed at least a dozen of these falls today even in the midst of one very hot summer!  It’s really fun to imagine what this area would be like after a rainstorm!


After you make the first curve (a left) downriver from the ramp you’ll enter a long straightaway, make a tight “S” curve, and then enter another straightaway (all this could be considered an “S” with elongated ends).  As you enter the second straight, though, you’ll want to be sure to take a look on your right at about eye level.  If you do you’ll be greeted by a smiling rock!  It’s just one of the amazing striation patterns you’ll see out here today.  Certain minerals must have been eroded out, leaving the hardier ones.




Once you’ve passed through this “S” (which really serves as a fine introduction to the area) you’ll have reached the Little Sandy intersection.   Here I took a right to begin heading upstream, but not before noticing that once I do get around the downstream paddle from this spot I might make it with rock cliffs on both sides of me!  I’ll check this out next time…


Today I first made a slight left, straightened out, and then launched into a fairly tight right curve.  Doing so, I noticed another pattern beginning to form...  When you’re out here it seems that all the curves – and particularly the sharpest ones – have an equally curved rock wall accompanying them on the outside.  These walls can form 180 degree arcs that make for absolutely fantastic backdrops (this particular one also contained a shelter in the middle)!



Straightening out from here, the Hog Camp Creek comes in on the left, but since I was keeping on the right bank for every meander today I waited until the return paddle to explore it.  (I’ll usually do this kind of thing to avoid confusion on a paddle.  My mind tends to get a little cloudy at the end of a long day on the water and lakes and rivers can often be very confusing with all the coves and incoming streams anyway.  I find that this strategy helps to keep things simple). 


At any rate, I eventually found that the view at the back of this creek was one of the best of the day, with a trio of little falls…



As you continue paddling upstream from the mouth of Hog Camp Creek the river generally takes on the shape of a molar which you’ll paddle from right to left – and there’s a very small little “cavity” in the center!  Actually it’s a very tiny cove, but I noticed that the coves on this right side were extremely shallow to start out, and then they got longer and longer the further you went.


KY7 crosses over the river at the far side of the molar on a single span bridge, and on the left just after this was another shallow cove – Rose Creek.  You can’t paddle into it very far, but like the Hog Camp Cove, this one ends in another beautiful rock sculpture/waterfall.  Y’know, though…  It’s at points like this that trash seems particularly blasphemous.  I’ve seen trash strewn coves before – and some horribly so – but this was a contrast.  There was very little trash here, but it somehow seemed more poignant because of that contrast.  Beautiful sculpture.  Discarded cola can.  Nuff said…


Turning the map in the direction you’ll be headed in now, you’ll see an “S”, and both of the sharp curves here are accompanied by some more fantastic curved rock walls…



There was a fairly large incoming stream at the end of this “S”, and in looking at the Kentucky Atlas and Gazetteer (, I believe that this was Newcombe Creek (interestingly, I eventually found that it took me an hour and 15 minutes to paddle up both Newcombe and the Little Sandy from this point - that translates into roughly a mile and ½ of shoreline in each direction).  As mentioned, I was keeping to the right though, so I explored the Little Sandy first.


The shape of this stream doesn’t really lend itself to easy description from here, but it looks most like a “V” and then an “M” stacked on top of one another, the “V” standing on its right end, and the “M” standing conversely on its’ left.  On the right side of the “V” portion at the point where another waterfall forms a tiny cove, you’ll notice an incredible spectrum of color at the top of the rocks.  Either there’s a ton of different kinds of minerals in this particular rock formation or there’s a paint factory up there!



On the second half of the “V” there’s a little incoming stream on the left (Collins Branch?) and then there’s another one on the right just as you launch into the “M” - Stafford Creek.  At the mouth of the Stafford was a little island, and I got in about 100 yards.  It was here that I met with one of the 2 most scenic waterfalls of the day (this and Hog Camp Creek), complete with another pleasant rock shelter.  (I’d generally note that this is a great place to be on a very hot day.  Not only is it nice and cool as you paddle into these rocks, but you can also pass under the waterfalls to cool yourself off too!)



Anyway, as I headed back out and returned to the upstream paddle, I found yet another little cove which entered from the right on the last section of the “M”.  I’d guess that I made it into this about 100 yards or so, but when you reach the very end of the “M” you’re at the limit of the Fish and Wildlife map.  If it continued it would show you that the river makes a significant split here. The branch on the right is the Little Sandy itself.  This would have eventually led me through Sandy Hook, Kentucky had it not been jammed up with trash and debris about 400 yards up.   It looked to be the larger of the 2.


The left branch was the Middle Fork of the Little Sandy.  It would have introduced me to the community of Fannin, but I couldn’t quite make it that far, again being blocked by a deadfall about 400 yards up.  This was the more scenic of the 2 branches (although to be fair, I didn’t get to see enough of these streams to make a proper assessment). 


At this point I began heading back to check out Newcombe Creek.  This turned out to be an interesting one.  I was greeted almost immediately on the first left curve by another face in the rocks.  It was at eye-level on the right side, but with the mouth submerged.  If this character could have talked, it might have warned me that things were about to get really confusing!



You’ll curve right from this face, then left, and then enter a straight before the creek will seem to explode.  This area is just about impossible to accurately describe, so I won’t even try.  Remember how I mentioned earlier that at the end of a long paddling day all the incoming streams have a tendency to merge together?  Well, there were so many tiny little incoming streams here that it nearly made my head spin!  There’s one coming in from every direction.



Although I explored all of these (worth it – one reminded me of the area around the mouth of the Boone Creek off the Kentucky River), none of them were named according to my map.  I must have just missed Laurel Branch, Burton Branch, and Rocky Branch which all come in not too much further up from the deadfall that blocked my progress on the main branch – the Newcombe Creek.  As mentioned, however, there’s plenty to explore anyway.  The out and back paddle from the Little Sandy into this area took me a little over an hour.



Having experienced this I headed back to the ramp, while in the process exploring the 2 coves I’d passed up – the aforementioned Hog Camp and Rose Creeks.  I noticed someting else, too.  Once back on Caney Creek I came upon an area of trees where a cacophony of different bird calls could be heard!  There must have been some serious bug-chompin' going one here!



There was quite a bit of commotion when I arrived back at the car too!  A few people were fishing there with their children – maybe a half dozen kids.  It was nice to see.  You just never know what you’ll encounter at these ramps, so you have to be prepared for anything.  Well, this might have been among my most pleasant take-out experiences.  It should always be like this!  Water is a great age-equalizer – there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the midst of a serene setting.  What could be better?




From I64 take the Grayson, Kentucky exit for KY7 and take it southbound all the way to KY504.  You’ll pass over the water 4 times.  Make a right on 504 and follow it 2 miles to the ramp on the right side.  Look for it carefully.  There will be a dirt pull-off which will be very apparent, but the road leading down to the ramp is not quite so obvious when you’re looking at it from this direction.  It’s on the northernmost side.