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Kentucky conserves the unique scenic, fish and wildlife, botanical, geological, cultural and recreational values of its most pristine rivers through the Wild Rivers Program. It was established by the Kentucky Wild Rivers Act of 1972 and is administered by the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves. Check out the Wild Rivers Story Map to learn about these special rivers.

Specific sections of nine rivers with exceptional quality and aesthetic character have been designated as Kentucky Wild Rivers:

  • The Cumberland River 
  • The Red River
  • The Green River 
  • The Rockcastle River
  • The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River
  • The Little South Fork of the Cumberland River
  • Rock Creek
  • Bad Branch
  • Martin’s Fork 

Each Wild River is actually a linear corridor encompassing all visible land on each side of the river up to a distance of 2,000 feet. The nine Wild River corridors comprise a total of 114 river miles and 26,961 acres of land.

Private and Public Land

Much of the land surrounding the Wild Rivers corridors is privately owned. Please make sure you do not tresspass on private property to access a river. While most of the rivers themselves are public waters legally open to canoeing and fishing, please be sure to only access the river from legally designated boat ramps or access points.

Public land on our Wild Rivers includes:
  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • The Red River National Geological Area
  • The Big South Fork National Recreation Area
  • The Daniel Boone National Forest
  • Cumberland Falls State Park

Wild Rivers are more than just clean, free-flowing waters in a scenic setting. They serve as refuges for wild plants and animals, as well as havens for those people seeking solitude and tranquility in nature. Their waters provide healthy sport fisheries, cool pools for swimming and white-water rapids for adventurous paddlers. Wild Rivers provide living examples of natural ecological processes for nature study and scientific research. Wild Rivers are also natural museums harboring the relics of prehistoric inhabitants in rock shelters and caves, and preserving the ancient impressions of primitive life in rock strata.

The Wild Rivers program protects these special places from unwise use and development. Some activities are strictly prohibited within a Wild River corridor, such as surface mining, clear-cutting of timber and construction of dams or other in-stream disturbances. Existing residential and agricultural uses continue, but developments that might impair the river's water quality or natural condition are regulated through a permit system. If you are a private landowner with property in a Wild Rivers Corridor, please contact the KNP office for more information. If grant funding is available the KNP may purchase land within a Wild Rivers Corridor from willing sellers at appraised value.

These priceless treasures known as Wild Rivers are held in public trust by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for our use and enjoyment, and thanks to the Wild Rivers Act, they will be here for many generations to come.

Permits Required

If you are interested in conducting scientific research or proposing a group event on a Wild RIver Corridor, you will first need a permit from KNP.  Depending on the corridor, you may also need a permit from other agencies. For a KNP application, please email us at before initiating your project or event.

Watch Kentucky Wild Rivers: Secrets of Discovery

A 30 minute WKU-PBS special on the Wild Rivers Program from 2016.


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