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By Matt Bayman

By the time fall foliage is at peak, a long, hot summer has often reduced many of our local streams and rivers to trickles. For kayakers, low water levels usually means the end of kayak season, which is a shame because one of the best ways to see Ohio’s beautiful fall color is from the middle of a river. 

   Last year was a particularly dry year, which hindered the length of kayak season. It was also one of the most vibrant falls in Ohio in a long time.    

   Knowing that we might get stuck on plenty of rocks, and could possibly end up walking half of our trip—but really wanting to see the fall colors from the water—in October of 2022 my wife and I kayaked from Troy to Tipp City on the Great Miami River. What we learned is that, even under the dry conditions, the Great Miami River (at least this part) is completely navigable by kayak. We certainly had to push ourselves through several low points on the water, but neither of us ever stood up or walked our kayaks, if we didn’t want to. And, best of all, the scenery was truly amazing, and worth the extra effort.  

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A Great Section of the Great Miami River   

   The section of the Great Miami River from State Route 41 in Troy to Tipp Elizabeth Rd. in Tipp City (a distance of about 5 miles) is very secluded and beautiful. (The bike path in this area is equally stunning.) The river is lined with trees and thick stretches of wooded areas. In the fall, both are ablaze with color. It’s also very quiet and peaceful (you are often far from any road or home) and there’s lots of wildlife along the banks of the river, and in the water.   For whatever reason, the river was much clearer and calmer in the fall than I had ever seen it. In some of the deeper areas it was possible to see the bottom of the river, as well as the larger fish that live down there. This is something I usually don’t see in the spring or summer.   


   The calm and clear water also made the orange, yellow and lime green foliage mirror beautifully in the stream, amplifying the fall scenery. In some of the more narrow parts of the river, the mirror creates a tunnel-like effect where the kayaker is constantly paddling through the center of the waving and shimmering fall colors, as pictured above.    Another fun sight is watching the leaves fall into the water and blanket the stream. Instead of sinking, they float downstream, slowly dancing and spinning in the soft current.    


   Immediately after entering the water in Troy, the river passes beneath the old Indiana, Bloomington & Western Railroad trestle (part of the Great Miami Recreational Trail). Again, the calm waters cause the old bridge to reflect in the river, creating another optical illusion on the water.    


   Even with the low water levels, there were still several challenging rapids to enjoy on our trip—almost all of them located just north of Tipp City. In each circumstance, the strong rapids are caused by the river making a sharp turn. This causes much of the water to flow to one side of the stream, creating a strong current. These are also the most dangerous spots on the river. Fallen trees often collect in these areas, which can tip over or trap a kayaker. However, in each of the rapids on this trip, it is possible to portage around if necessary.    


   Although we had been warned about the water levels, and that it might not be the best kayaking experience, we were both glad we decided to try it for ourselves and to learn that it is indeed possible to kayak in the fall and that the scenery is definitely worth the effort.  

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