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The Main Fork of the Licking River offers great canoeing. It's a wider and deeper river than the Little South Fork but is still primarily Class I with just a few stretches of Class II. It features the entertaining Willow Riffle, half a mile of "whitewater" that provides lots of thrills for beginners and low intermediates but is still safe. There are a few more buildings than along the Little South Fork, but still mile long stretches of thick forest, rocky outcroppings and grassy flats. The Main Fork is canoeable in late Summer when the Little South Fork is too low. The water is still clean, the fishing still good, and the wildlife still common. The big difference is there's more water pushing you along and the current is more defined, so mistakes have consequences, but the worst that happens is canoes will be turned around backwards, stuck sideways on rocks, or capsized. If this happens, the current's not strong enough to cause serious problems. As the river narrows to squeeze through drops, or sandbars or rock outcrops create eddies, it provides teaching opportunities about reading water and using correct paddle strokes.
Thaxton's Canoe Livery provides access. They offer camping or cabins, and can rent you canoes or kayaks or shuttle your own equipment up the river or pick you up down the river. Phone 859-472-2000 or visit GoPaddling.com. Thaxton's operates just North of Falmouth in the small community of Butler. The most common trip is to put in at Falmouth, where the Little South Fork joins the main river, and paddle down to Butler. However, Willow Riffle lies above Falmouth, so to paddle it you need to take the trip where they put you in 18 miles upstream and you paddle back down to Falmouth. The aluminum canoes shown in some of these photos are being used by youth groups; Thaxton's rents Old Town Royalex canoes and kayaks, which are also shown in several photos here.
If you're into fishing, bring your gear. The Licking is Muskie country. These huge leftovers from the Ice Age grow bigger in the Licking River than anywhere else on Earth. They can run over four feet long and 30 pounds, and trophy Muskie have been caught from the Cave Run Dam all the way down to Cincinnati. Most serious Muskie fishermen use 1000 crankbait equipment and Grim Reaper is a favorite. April and May are the months in which most trophy Muskie have been caught. However, over 100 species of fish are in the Licking. The state record 55 pound carp and 80 pound catfish were both taken from the Licking. Channel, Blue and Flathead Catfish all flourish in the Licking. Most youth groups come just for a one day canoeing trip, but lots of fathers bring their sons or daughters, spend several days, and leisurely camp, fish and cook their way down the river.
The Licking was home to numerous Shawnee and Cherokee permanent villages and other tribes used the river as a route between the mountains and the Ohio River. Arrowheads and other artifacts are commonly found, especially on benches just above the river which hunting or warring parties used for camping. There are also thousands of fossils laying along the river, especially on the rocky shorelines seen in several of these photos. Once the Europeans arrived, they explored, fought battles, hunted, and farmed here. As a result, old coins, bullets, horseshoes, nails and other metal objects are often found along the river, especially with metal detectors.

If you live in Kentucky or Southern Ohio, you could embark on a major expedition right in your own area by canoeing the 320 length of the Licking. You would put in at West Liberty or Salyersville up in the mountains, paddle down to and across Cave Run Lake, portage around the dam, and continue on down the river. Assuming you make 18 miles a day, a typical pace, the trip would take 16 days. You could start below the dam and cut it to 14 days, a convenient two week package. Along the way, you could camp most nights but relax at a few riverside bed and breakfasts and spend one night at the Blue Licks Lodge at the state park.

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