A Weekend Guide to Land Between the Lakes
A GUIDE TO EXPLORING THE CUMBERLAND RIVER BASIN
If you’re looking for a place to soak up a bit of summer sun, it’s hard to beat Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a fork-shaped oasis straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Pack your tent, grab a paddle and head out to the Kentucky and Barkley Lakes for everything from kayaking to horseback riding to hiking – and even bison viewing!
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite things to do in LBL over the course of a weekend, plus a few tips to help with planning. Mix and match for an epic time on the lakes.
Elk and Bison Prarie
Elk & Bison Prairie Rd, Golden Pond, KY 42211
Bison used to roam North America in massive numbers – an estimated 60- to 70- million. But by as early as 1880, their numbers were greatly reduced due to massive overhunting by European colonists and today only 200,000 remain on the continent.
Prior to the Europeans’ arrival, the Shawnee Nation maintained the region as a grassy prairie, using controlled burns to expose tender young grass shoots that attracted big game.
LBL has recreated this landscape at the Elk and Bison Prairie, a protected reserve with a drivable loop for wildlife watchers who want to catch a glimpse of these amazing animals. But remember: bison are 2,000-lb juggernauts that can run up to 35 miles an hour – don’t get too close! Along with elk and bison, you may also spot smaller critters like turkey, quails, rabbits. Entry is $5 per car.
Photo courtesy of Brent Moore
Honker and Hematite Trails
Hiking trails of varying length and difficulty crisscross LBL, so visitors have ample opportunities to enjoy shady strolls through thriving forests, across lakes, and around scenic inlets and bays. While you’ll be spoiled for choice, we love Honker Lake and Hematite Lake Trails, both located in the northeastern half of the recreation area.
Honker is a 4.6-mile path that loops through leafy woodlands, lilypad-speckled shorelines and grassy clearings. Honker’s most notable feature is the stretch of trail that spans the Honker Dam, a land bridge lined with an explosion of flowering plants and trees that attract butterflies and other buzzy pollinators. Hike counterclockwise to end your outing at the Woodlands Nature Station, a fascinating museum and conservation center that houses rescued and rehabilitated animals, including a red wolf. Entry to the station is $7 for adults and $5 for kids.
This 2.4-mile hike follows the shoreline of its namesake lake (so named for the iron ore that used to be mined there) and it’s one of the best places in LBL to appreciate nature’s small wonders. Watch butterflies and dragonflies flit amongst the wildflowers or grab a rod to try your hand at angling for sunfish, Hematite’s primary catch. The trail eventually turns into a scenic boardwalk that hovers the lake’s atmospheric marsh – peer over the edge to see turtles, frogs and fish in the shallow water. This is a great option for families and wildlife lovers.
5100 Laura Furnace Rd, Golden Pond, KY 42211
It wouldn’t be Kentucky without horses, and Wrangler makes them (and you) feel right at home.
Alongside numerous campsites and cabins, this campground offers several stables for equine pals, so you can enjoy the great outdoors together on LBL’s 100 miles of horse trails.
Don’t have a horse? From April to October you can book rides at the campground’s Rocking U Riding Stables, home to lots of friendly horses perfect for a trail ride. Choose from a 45-minute ride for $25 or a 90-minute ride for $35, but make sure you bring some paper bills with you, as the transaction is cash only.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
If you’re going to LBL, you’re likely keen to spend the night in the great outdoors. Luckily, the recreation area offers tons of different camping options depending on your barometer for roughing it. Here are some tips to help you find the campsite perfect for you.
Best for hikers
Dispersed camping is permitted throughout LBL and is most frequently done off of the 31-mile North/South trail that runs the length of the recreation area. Backpackers need to acquire a permit online before heading out.
Best for quiet evenings
LBL’s self-service campgrounds offer a step up from the bare bones basic and backcountry campsites, complete with designated camping spots and vault toilets. There are several to choose from, but we like Redd’s Hollow to the south and Craven’s Bay to the north (if you pick the latter, vie for a spot in the back of the campground near the boat ramp).
Best for small groups
Energy Lake Campground only has 35 sites and a few cabins, making it a perfect choice for those who want the amenities of a developed campground without the crowds. Sites are largely situated along the waterline so you’ll have access to optimal lakeside serenity.
Best for families
Hillman’s Ferry Campground contains a whopping 374 sites, but with its size comes tons of amenities – a stay here is like a trip to summer camp. Kids will enjoy the large lake swimming area, and they can also take advantage of the campground ball field, archery range, bike trails, disc golf course, playground, fishing dock, and regular ranger programming.
LBL is ringed with small communities that offer a local touch to your lake getaway – Cadiz, Grand River, Kuttawa, to name a few. Stop in for farmers markets, boutiques, and plenty of down home cookin’.
Patti’s 1880 Settlement
1793 J H O’Bryan Ave, Grand Rivers, KY 42045
If you’re a fan of American kitsch and mouthwatering homestyle fare, Patti’s 1880 Settlement in Grand Rivers is an essential stop.
This complex – which features two restaurants, a moonshine distillery, several boutiques, and even a wedding chapel – serves as the foundation of this little town at the northwestern gateway into LBL.
The main restaurant transports patrons with whimsical touches like flowers and fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, stately stained glass and unique dishes like their fluffy flower pot bread – bread baked in a terracotta pot and served with little clouds of strawberry butter on the side. Don’t miss the porkchop, Patti’s claim to fame and possibly the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.
123 D.J. Everett Dr, Cadiz, KY 42211
A southern road trip is never complete without a taste of good barbecue, and Triplett’s in Cadiz fits the bill.
The sister restaurant of high-end Harper House, Triplett’s draws in lake goers with well executed staples like flavorful beef brisket, tender pulled pork, and savory smoked chicken.
If you want the full experience, we suggest ordering the BBQ Sundae, an open-faced dish layered with pork, brisket, cornbread, beans, slaw and house-made pickles.