How Deep Is the Kentucky River?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: September 26, 2023
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Kentucky is a southern state, and its western border is defined by the Ohio River and the Mississippi River. Although those two bodies of water are far larger and deeper than most, they are not the only rivers in the state. The Kentucky River is another significant river within the state. So, how deep is the Kentucky River and why is it important? We’ll show you the depth, significance, and uses of this river. 

Where Does the Kentucky River Start and End?

Kentucky River Stats
Length263 miles
SourceNear Beattyville, KY.
MouthOhio River

The Kentucky River has an interesting, three-pronged source. The river stems from the confluence of the North, Middle, and South Forks of the Kentucky River. The Middle Fork of the Kentucky River joins the North Fork Kentucky River a few miles from the main stem of the body of water. The North Fork and South Fork of the Kentucky River become one river at Beattyville, Kentucky.

This river flows for a total of 263 miles. Starting at the farthest source of the river, it flows from the southeastern part of the state to the northwest. This river has many twists and turns, but it eventually meets and joins the Ohio River between Carrollton and Prestonville near the border with Indiana. The Ohio River contributes its flow to the Mississippi River farther downriver.  

The Significance of the Kentucky River

Sunset on the Kentucky River.

Native Americans used the Kentucky River as a source of food and water, as well as for transportation.

©Patrick Jennings/

The Kentucky River was once an important waterway before the arrival of Europeans in the area. Native Americans used the river as a source of food and water, and they also used it as a form of transportation.

The arrival of the Europeans brought about new industries, and the river maintained its significance as a freshwater source and a tool for transport. Commercial goods and travelers were transported on flatboats and keelboats.

The river has a history of being difficult to travel, with many sandbars, sunken trees, and shallow or narrow areas. A series of dams and locks were installed along the river, making it largely unnavigable for commercial purposes.

These days, the body of water is important to the area for two reasons. First off, the river is a primary drinking water source for cities like Lexington. The river is also important for water recreation in the area. Many people go fishing and boating along sections of this river.  

How Deep Is the Kentucky River?

Dix River in Kentucky

The river is less than 100 feet deep at its greatest.

©Brian Stansberry, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons – License

The Kentucky River is about 45 feet deep at its greatest depth. According to the Kentucky River Authority, the average depth of the river is about 20 feet. The minimum depth in the navigable portions of the river is 6 feet deep.

Obviously, this river is not that deep, especially compared to the deepest rivers in the United States. Still, the river is not a major shipping lane, so its depth is not all that significant.

Comparing River Depths in the Bluegrass State.

Mississippi River - New Orleans

New Orleans is the location of the Mississippi River’s maximum depth.

©Sean Pavone/

Kentucky River45 feet
Ohio River167 feet
Mississippi River200 feet

The Kentucky River is about 45 feet deep at its greatest depth. This is not the only major river in the Bluegrass State, though. The Mississippi River and the Ohio River both flow along the border of Kentucky. Both of these rivers are far deeper than the Kentucky River.

The Mississippi River is one of the deepest rivers in North America, behind the St. Lawrence River and the Hudson River. This river reaches its deepest point in New Orleans, Louisiana, where it plunges to 200 feet.

Meanwhile, the nearby Ohio River has a maximum depth of 167 feet, and the body of water achieves this depth near Louisville, Kentucky.

Can You Swim in the Kentucky River?

little kids swimming in pool underwater.

It’s probably safer to swim in a pool in Kentucky than the Kentucky River.

©YanLev Alexey/

Technically, yes, you can swim in some parts of the Kentucky River. However, that does not apply to all of the river. Some parts of the river are unsafe due to bacteria levels and pollution. It’s best to check with the local government resources to find out whether or not it’s safe to swim in certain parts of the river.

However, people should also bear in mind that the river has many underwater snags that can be hazardous for swimmers. The most important takeaway from this is that people must consider the body of water on a location-by-location basis.

Recreation on the Kentucky River

Channel catfish



have whiskers around their mouth, giving them the “catfish” name.

©Jenniveve84/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

The commercial legacy of the Kentucky River is mostly at an end, but the body of water is an important source of drinking water. Aside from that, this area is popular for fishing, boating, hiking, and other recreational activities.

The area is known for having good fishing opportunities. Anglers can look forward to catching some of the following fish:

  • Channel catfish
  • Muskies
  • Rock bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Spotted bass

Many other fish live in these waters, though. People fish for them from the shoreline as well as from boats in the middle of the river.

So, how deep is the Kentucky River? It’s not very deep at only 45 feet. Many other rivers in the state and the country are far deeper. Still, the river is useful to people who like to take part in recreational activities like boating, swimming, hiking, and fishing. This body of water may not be the biggest or most important, but it’s still worth knowing about.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © AndreyKrav/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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