The clear waters of the Kokosing River offer a challenging, scenic paddle
PHOTOS BY JODI MILLER
Nearly all of the Kokosing River runs calmly and smoothly, rarely in a hurry, so paddlers who enter the lonely and secluded miles downstream of Millwood Road snap to attention at the distinct rush of water over rock.
Of the river’s navigable miles, the six to Riley Chapel Road are the most beautiful and challenging—rocky rapids, tree-lined corridors and sandstone cliffs that tower majestically above the water.
Locals call the main whitewater attraction the Factory Rapids, a wake-you-up stretch marked on river left by an industrial sand plant and the crumbling foundation of an old bridge. Paddlers who moor before paddling through find themselves overcome by the area’s mystique, wildness and beauty.
“My dad’s slogan for selling was that it’s just you and nature out there,” said Craig Gilmore, second-generation owner of Kokosing Valley, a canoe livery and campground founded in 1968. “You don’t have 15 liveries sending out boats.”
In fact, Kokosing Valley is the only operation on the river, offering boat rental, shuttle service and camping facilities in the small town of Howard. This summer, Gilmore’s crew is offering excursions between Millwood and Riley Chapel roads for the first time in roughly 25 years.
This addition to their normal trip menu allows casual paddlers who don’t own boats to explore the easternmost section of the 27.9-mile Kokosing River Water Trail, a section of the waterway made more accessible by a state improvement program.
Ohio boasts nine water trails. The Kokosing was the first, and many believe it’s still the best.
Between Mt. Vernon and the river’s confluence with the Mohican River, paddlers on the Kokosing will find nine access points, all with parking and many with picnic areas and restrooms. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources publishes a helpful map with point-by-point guide notes.
“I say that it’s essentially the same thing as a land-based trail, but it’s a trail for people to go canoeing or kayaking on,” said Douglas Leed, ODNR’s water trail coordinator. “The only difference is that on a land-based trail you’re starting and stopping at the same point.”
Like many others, Leed finds it difficult not to state the obvious about the Kokosing: “It’s just a nice scenic, leisurely paddle down the river.”
Aside from occasional rapids, the river provides a chance to relax, watch wildlife and fish for infamous populations of smallmouth and rock bass. Turtles line banks and logs, and deer routinely ford quiet, shallow sections. Novice birders will see great blue herons, belted kingfishers, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and other flyers.
For many Ohio paddlers used to brown, silt-laden rivers, the Kokosing’s clear, inviting water is enough to make a trip. Forty-one miles were designated a state scenic river in 1997.
“It’s hard to qualify what makes the cleanest river, but the Kokosing has exceptional water quality,” said Natalie Pirvu, a scenic rivers coordinator for ODNR. “It’s always fun to go down a river and actually be able to see what’s below you.”