Exploring the upper reaches of the river
By Carrie “Mudfoot” Stambaugh
Grayson Lake is the place to be in the summertime in northeastern Kentucky if you live in Ashland or the surrounding areas. But the Little Sandy River, which flows in to and out of the lake, is far less crowded and is one of the areas most impressive places to paddle.
The river itself is one of the area’s most important watersheds. It drains an area of more than 74 square miles and flows more than 84 miles through Elliott, Carter and finally Greenup County before emptying into the Ohio River at Greenup.
Offering a variety of scenery from the chiseled sandstone and shale cliffs to lush river valleys, the river is surrounded by heavily wooded sinuous hilltops in most areas. Wildlife is abundant here too. In addition to many deer, paddlers can expect to see a variety of waterfowl and aquatic life.
The day-trip possibilities on the Little Sandy are abundant. However, for serenity, scenery and water quality, the upper section of the river before it enters Grayson Lake is unrivaled.
The Laurel Gorge area of the river, which begins at the confluence of the Laurel Creek and the Little Sandy to just past the town of Newfoundland, offers a half-day paddle that’s simply delightful. A distance of 8.4 miles by river, the trip takes about 2.5 hours when water levels are moderate.
Laurel Gorge itself with its moss-covered boulders, rock houses and waterfalls, should not be missed. For trout fisherman the Laurel offers some of the areas best fishing. The creek, which averages about 15 to 20 feet wide, is stocked throughout the year with rainbow trout and in the early spring, brown trout.
The Laurel Gorge Cultural Heritage Center is a great starting point for a day trip to this area. Before paddling consider taking a short hike to see the gorge’s 300 foot or spend an hour or so pursuing the center’s exhibits on local history, culture and wildlife.
When you’re ready, launch your boat at the Heritage Canoe Carry-down below the new Ky. 7 bridge and directly across from where Laurel Creek joins the river.
From here, the Little Sandy twists and turns surrounded by lush greenery. It is joined during this paddle by several tributaries, which make for a nice side trips when water levels are high enough.
Deep pools for fishing or swimming, spectacularly carved rock houses and overhangs; and tall cliffs trickling with small waterfalls, are the highlights of this float. There are many wonderful places to stop for lunch along the way.
On our float, we saw several locals fishing for White Bass in a deep pool below a tall cliff line. The beach on river right here was sandy and would make an excellent place for picnic and swim on warm days.
If you go:
Take Out: Newfoundland Boat Ramp.
Directions: From Grayson, take US-7 south for 18 miles. Turn right at sign for junction of Ky. 706 and immediately turn left into gravel parking lot. There is parking for approximately 20 vehicles including boat trailers.
Put In: Heritage Canoe Carry down.
Directions: (from take out) Continue on US-7 for 2.7 miles. Turn left onto Old Laurel Curve Road (old Ky. 7) , at sign for Laurel Gorge Cultural Heritage Center. Follow the road down the hill for about .5 mile, after crossing bridge over the Little Sandy River turn right. A gravel parking lot is on right, directly below a Ky. 7 bridge. There is parking for approximately 12 vehicles.