The Glacial Canyon Run - Kayaking from Greenville Falls to the Stillwater River
Story, Photos & Videos by Matt Bayman
Before reaching Greenville Falls near Covington, Greenville Creek slowly and peacefully meanders through relatively flat farmland in Darke County. After the falls, and as the river enters its steep decline into the Stillwater River valley, it passes through a one-and-a-half mile section that can be called the “Glacial Canyon Run.” It’s a section that includes deep canyon walls (sometimes 10-to-15-feet-high) made of limestone and shale, and a number of challenging rapids that often jet past the tall cliffs. It’s also a chance to see a variety of fish and other wildlife in what is often crystal-clear waters. The trip only takes about an hour-and-a-half to kayak, and, because of the strong current, requires little to no effort to paddle. In short, it’s a fun, little trip.
Greenville Creek (technically a river) is a designated State Scenic River that starts near Spartanburg, Indiana near the highest point in the Hoosier State. It then flows north for a short while before cutting east into Ohio. In terms of geology, this “cut” happens because the river bumps up against a glacial moraine (a tall hill left behind by advancing and retreating glaciers), causing the northerly direction of the stream to drastically shift to the east and flow toward the nearest low-point in the topography, which happens to be the Stillwater River valley in Covington—some 27 miles to the east as the crow flies. From the Indiana border, the glacial moraine arches across Darke, Miami and Shelby counties, eventually breaking off near Bellefontaine, which is the highest point in Ohio. Greenville Creek closely follows this moraine all the way to the Stillwater River and, in fact, formed where it is because of the glacial flooding that occurred along the moraine at the end of the last Ice Age, some 14,000 years ago.
The limestone and shale seen on the Glacial Canyon Run are nothing special. If you go beneath the surface of western Ohio far enough, you’ll find plenty of both. They are only visible along Greenville Creek (and parts of the Stillwater River) because the streams have eroded down through the glacial till and exposed the ancient rocks. At Greenville Falls, and throughout the Glacial Canyon Run, this process is on display in dramatic fashion, starting with the 20-foot cascading waterfall at the Greenville Falls State Scenic River Area and continuing almost all the way to Covington.
Immediately after entering the water at Greenville Falls, kayakers can paddle beneath the waterfall and then explore the remnants of an old electricity plant that was once powered by the falls (see more HERE). Just a short ways down from the waterfall is a natural rock arch next to the stream. It can be seen from the park’s hiking trails, but the view from the river is even better. After the arch, the river moves quickly past a series of tall cliffs where grass and other plants appear to grow upside down on the cliff walls in the summer, and where spectacular icicles form in the winter. It then follows a miniature canyon for a good distance, which is the best part of the trip.
While Greenville Creek is fairly deep along the Glacial Canyon Run (3-5-feet), there are several areas where kayakers will most likely have to stand up and walk, especially if the water table is low. However, there are a number of fun rapids (6 or 7) that are almost always present, with even more to enjoy during higher, yet safe, water levels.
When the water is still, kayakers will notice that they are often gliding over massive, flat sheets of bleached limestone that span from one side of the river to the other. The water is sometimes so clear that you can see dozens of dark-colored fish contrasting against the bleached white stone. Some of them are quite large!
The scenery along the Glacial Canyon Run includes private homes, several of which have features directly on the water. Other sections are lined with lush patches of summer wildflowers and mushrooms.
Just before reaching Covington, Greenville Creek passes through a long, secluded wooded area, creating a peaceful and smooth ending to the Glacial Canyon Run.
Maybe the only problem with this trip is that it is too short. However, an extra mile-and-a-half can be added by continuing south on the Stillwater River in Covington and finishing at the F.L. Blankenship Riverside Sanctuary on State Route 48. This is a very beautiful and natural stretch of the river, ending at the historic steel bridge at the sanctuary after what will likely be a memorable and enjoyable day of kayaking. (Story continues below)
The Challenges of Kayaking the Glacial Canyon Run
While kayaking the Glacial Canyon Run is physically easy, making the whole thing happen is a little more challenging.
For starters, there are no kayak outfitters that offer trips on this section of Greenville Creek, so you’ll need to bring your own watercraft, or rent one. There is also no official launching area at Greenville Falls (and it’s a steep climb down to the water.) If you end your trip at the Stillwater River in Covington, there is no official exit point either. In other words, you’ll need to be creative.
When I did this trip in 2022, I was alone, so I had to be very creative. I threw my kayak and a bike in the back of my truck and drove to Covington. There, I left my bike at the end of Wright Street, which dead-ends into the Stillwater River at Greenville Creek next to some buildings owned by the Village of Covington where it would be safe. I then drove to Greenville Falls, dropped off my kayak next to the south side of the Rangeline Road bridge, found a parking spot, carried my kayak down to the river and started my trip. When I reached Covington, I left the kayak next to Wright Street, rode my bike back to Greenville Falls and then drove back for my bike. The entire experience only took a few hours and was like a miniature marathon, which was fun.
If I had another person (and vehicle) with me, we would have left one vehicle at the FL Blankenship Riverside Sanctuary and not worried about bringing bikes. The sanctuary has an official kayak launch and exit point, as well as public parking, making it ideal for this purpose. You’ll still have to deal with lugging your kayak down to the river at Greenville Falls, but the end of the trip will be much easier.
Regardless of how you do it, kayaking the Glacial Canyon Run is a little adventure filled with big fun.