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 Ohio River


Monday, August 30, 2010


Warsaw, Kentucky (Mile 528) to Patriot, Indiana (Mile 519)



This was my first day trip on the Ohio River, the largest body of water I’d ever attempted to paddle.   Its’ scope is truly amazing.  This river runs around 1000 miles, and at this particular point it’s a solid 1/3 mile across from shoreline to shoreline.  In fact, it looks more like a lake out here – a 1000 mile long lake!!!  At my rate of paddling (8 - 10 mile out-and-backs) it would take me at least a year to paddle the whole thing and document it in this way – NOT counting all the incoming streams.  Was I a little intimidated?  You bet!  This river might well be out of my league, but I had to at least see what it was like to paddle…


The navigation charts (numbers 103, 104 and 105) for this section are available online ( but I didn’t bring them with me today.  I simply wanted to get a general feel for what paddling this river would be like and see how far I could get.  While I didn’t expect there to be too much flow, I was hoping that there wouldn’t be too much wind!


The put in I used today was right along the waterfront in Warsaw, Kentucky.  This is a good launch, with very easy access to the Ohio on a very low bank.  There’s room for plenty of cars, and there’s a restroom here too along with at least a couple overhangs for picnics and a little fishing pier.  You’ve got everything you need for a nice day on the river or along the riverbank! 


Most would probably consider Warsaw a “typical” river town, but for me places like this are simply exceptional - they just seem to hearken back to a simpler way of life that makes this one seem waaaaay too cluttered and they soothe me, calming my nerves as they leave me feeling very content.  It’s a fantastic feeling!  I felt the same way in Carrollton, Kentucky at the end of my Kentucky River trip, I felt the same way when I reached Patriot, Indiana today, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same when I reach the next little town.


Another thing…  Would you believe that the Ohio River has its’ own distinct smell?!?  And, no, it’s not a bad one!  I don’t know how to describe it exactly; I’ll just have to invite you to judge for yourself, but I do like the scent and I wish I’d left the windows in the car cracked a little today when I left.  (However – I don’t remember the same smell when I emerged from the Licking River onto the Ohio in Covington, Kentucky across from Cincinnati.  I’ll not speculate on the reason that this might be, I just simply don’t remember it being the case.) 


Anyway, as I got on the water I found it to be fairly easy to paddle as I began upstream on the Warsaw side in the midst of a slow right curve.  US42 (the road I came in on) runs on the right side here for about the first 5 miles up to the Big Sugar Creek at mile 523.  Roughly half of this distance is Warsaw shoreline and about half is farmland with interspersed houses along the right bank, some of which are pretty amazing.  The people in here were nice too.  I met some ladies having lunch along the shoreline and the owner of one of the houses was kind enough to greet me as I passed by.


Meanwhile…  On the left side you’ll start out with forested hills which will slowly recede as you paddle upriver, making way for more and more shoreline dwellings.  Indiana Route 156 runs here the whole way to Patriot, Indiana as well, but here’s the kicker – this river is so wide that you can’t quite make things out over there!  I couldn’t even see a fairly large Bryant’s Creek!  In fact, I never even got to it today – ran out of time! 


At any rate, as I took my first pictures I straight away came to the realization that a normal camera like mine would be poorly inadequate to capture the scope of the views out here – many of the long shots were completely out of focus through the sunny haze of the day.  Add to this the fact that it decided to pull an I-pod imitation later and “forget” how to reliably turn on and off, and you’ve got the beginnings of an interesting day to say the least.  Hopefully that would be the extent of my problems…


A little flock of geese passed over me in this first section, by the way – possibly the same group that went over again at the very end of the day…




A power boat also passed, and this event would normally have been insignificant, but for the fact that I’d anticipated it with a fair amount of interest.  How would the boat wakes out here affect my kayak on this, the largest river I’d ever paddled?  Well, “The wake from this boat shouldn’t be that bad.”  I thought.  It was all the way over on the other side of the river and it wasn’t that large… 


WRONG!  Did it ever leave a wake!  The water was absolutely crashing against the shoreline, and I really began to wonder what it would be like when a barge went by!


At any rate, as I paddled on I also noticed that the shoreline consisted of little pebbles in many places on the right which would have made for very nice beaches had they not been covered in foliage (not that there’s anything wrong with foliage!).  The water looked fairly clear at these spots too, and at one point I got into a little cove about 100 yards.  Someone had a pleasant little fishing set-up on a little dock toward the back.


Following that first little right curve in the Ohio I mentioned, the river will next straighten out a bit and then begin veering left from mile 524 to about mile 521.  Memorable here is the sight which greets your eye as you first start making this curve.  It looks like a massive southern-style plantation, complete with a white fence that seems to run nearly as long as the river runs wide.




You’ll also notice by this point that those forested hillsides you started out with on the left will have receded almost all the way back to let in what could be one or two huge farms on the inside of the peninsula here.  Meanwhile, on the outside (the right side) of the curve there are 2 streams that come in – the Big and the Little Sugar Creeks. 


Big Sugar is the first of these and it has the US42/127 Bridge going over its’ mouth.  There’s also a marina (The Sugar Creek Marina and Restaurant) just inside, and receded a bit across the way is a public ramp that looks like it can be accessed right off 42/127 on the east side of the bridge.  As for the stream itself, I got back a solid ½ mile, finding the view at the back to be exceptional.  There appear to be 3 dry streams and you can look directly up the one in the middle…




As for the Little Sugar, it had a very sharp left curve at the entrance and there were quite a few boats here.  I decided to pass up paddling all the way in, but I did notice from the charts that it looks like I would have made it about the same distance I’d made it into the Big Sugar – ½ mile.  (You’d have seen this stream from the road, by the way, if you’d driven in the same way I did - on US42/127.)


Back on the Ohio as you look upstream from this point, you’ll see the last part of the curve and a portion of the ensuing straightaway.  There were many more dwellings on the right side in this stretch while the farmland continued on the left, and I found one of the homes particularly interesting.  It actually had a “driveway” which extended down from a garage door in the back of the house to the shoreline.  I’d never seen one like this before.


Anyway, by the time I’d reached the “plantation” I’d spied a set of barges approaching in the distance.  They were towed by the Marge McFarlin.  Built in 1976, this vessel is apparently owned and operated by the Ingram Barge Company based in Nashville (  By my count on the website they run 130+ vessels. 


Now, what would the wake from this be like???  Surely it would be much more powerful and produce much greater waves than that first boat had…






Yep - nonexistent.  This was quite perplexing given what had happened before!  Either the captain was especially cautious, especially courteous, or a combination of both --- or I was simply waaaay too concerned!  Now of course I’m not going to paddle right up to a barge – I was all the way over on the bank - but I had no problem whatsoever.


Guess what, though?


Completely unheard, another set of barges was coming at me from the other direction at almost the same time!  I’d been warned about how sneaky these barges could be, having read Eddy Harris’ book Mississippi Solo (a great read on one mans’ canoe journey down the Mississippi River, by the way), and y’know what?  It’s true!  Amazing how something so powerful can be so quiet!  No way would I ever want to paddle across this river after dark!  One of these could very easily sneak up on you!




Anyway, this particular set of barges was being pushed upriver by the Raymond Grant Eckstein.  Built in 1981, this vessel is owned and operated by the Marquette Transportation Company based in Paducah, Kentucky. According to their website,, Marquette operates a fleet of 50+ vessels and owns some 700+ barges.  It also looks like they’ll haul just about anything.  Aren’t these boats beautiful though?!?  I think they’re fantastic sights on the river!




Half way between mile 522 and 521 the Paint Lick Creek enters from the right at a really nice spot on the river.  Curving right from the mouth where the Little Sugar Creek had curved left, the combination of these 2 streams forms a kind of “pinch” of water that nearly surrounds the grounds of the plantation house. 


Paint Lick, by the way, would have been the largest incoming stream that I paddled today had I not noticed that my boat was filling up with water on the way back!  Judging from how far I got into the Big Sugar (1/2 mile) and then looking at the map though, I’d guesstimate that you could probably paddle about a mile back into this one.  It really opens up after that first curve and begins to take on more of a lake feel.


From here the left side of the Ohio would be predominantly composed of forested hills once more, with Indiana Route 156 again becoming visible.  At mile 521 was an interesting sight…  I’m not really sure what it was, but it looked like a spot that used to be public but is now private.  An old ramp extended a short distance to the water and there was also quite a bit of stone work that had been done. 


Then, just upstream from mile 520 there was an incoming stream on the left which ran under one of the IN156 bridges.  Unnamed as far as I know, it was in this stream that I encountered a MASSIVE fish.  It must have been 5 feet long, so I’ll say 4 just to be safe, but it was huge.  I’m not sure what kind it was, but when I first noticed it, I thought it was simply a log in the water bobbing up and down with the waves on the shallow, muddy shoreline... 




There weren’t any waves!!! 


It swam off in a rush of water!  I could see its’ large silhouette, the size of which I’d compare to an otter or maybe a seal.  Of course, having been thus unprepared, I certainly didn’t have time to get a picture at this point, but when I emerged from this stream I did get what I thought was my best farmland shot…




Over on the right side of the river there’s a long line of mud bank here which forms a good deal of the next right curve in the river from about mile 521 to 519.  This bank was so uniform in height and in hue that from a distance I actually thought it might be some kind of barrier in the water – possibly even a dam (although again, I’d not brought the charts with me).


Anyway, by the time I’d reached this point the outskirts of Patriot, Indiana were now visible on the left side.  At first the dwellings appeared in the midst of little forest clearings, but later the hills began to recede to let in the city itself which extended all the way up to the bank.  This sure looks like an endearing little town! 


It’s quite inviting too, with a little sign on the shoreline that beckons boats to come dock at their pier and come ashore for some pizza!  They also advertise a grocery, a liquor store, a park, and 2 Baptist churches.  What’s the population?  202!  Nice!!!




I began heading back at this point, but I later noticed on the charts that there was a public ramp just a little bit further upriver from where I’d made my turn.  Oh well – I’ll check it out next time!  And get some pizza!


Some other interesting sights on the way back?  A junk yard along the bank with some absolutely classic cars…




...and speaking of classic, or maybe just plain classy, check out Fred and Barney having a great time out here!  You've just gotta love the Flintstones!  How incredibly cool is this!?!  Hope these people don't mind me putting this pciture up...



At another point I saw some raccoons.  You know you’re up against it when you see these guys!  It’s starting to get late!  I needed to cross back over the river soon, but not just now




Another set of barges had emerged in the distance, you see, just visible over the surface of the water and just visible through the shadows cast by the setting sun.  Can you spot it in the picture below?



Needless to say, you’ve gotta be real careful out here!  At any rate, this set of barges was being escorted upriver by the Captain Butch Bowman below, a push boat originally built in 1953 according to a website I found (  Owned by the Excell Marine Corporation out of Cincinnati (, this vessel was moving veeeeery slowly – it must have had quite a load.  Hopefully things like this bode well for our economy!




...but by this point I, myself, had quite a bit of extra "cargo" – water in my boat, that is!  It wasn’t enough to prove evidence of a major leak, but it was a leak nonetheless.  So, before I began my crossing (and after the barges had passed, of course!) I wrung out as much as I could to increase my speed, and when I arrived back at the ramp it was nearly nightfall.  I found the area to be just as pleasant as when I’d first arrived though!  There was someone enjoying one of the picnic canopies, and a woman and her son had also come down to the water to take in the atmosphere with their dog.  I’ll get a good picture of Warsaw from across the river on another trip.


Upon my departure I this time tried going home directly through Warsaw on KY35.  This town has some fantastic old farm houses!  It seems, however, that this way is just about the same as the other in terms of time (directions are below – for both ways).




I took the Verona exit off of I71 and headed north on KY14 until it dead-ended at a combined US42/127.  Then, taking a left here I simply kept following the US42 signs until I reached Warsaw, Kentucky (don’t worry – you’ll know when you’ve arrived).  After taking a right on 1st Street toward the river I eventually spotted the ramp right down by the water.




You can take the KY35 exit off I71 and head north right into downtown Warsaw.  Then, if you just keep going north toward the water you’ll wind up at the ramp and park.