Come explore one of the largest undeveloped blocks of forest in the Eastern United States at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Founded in 1963, Land Between the Lakes offers 170,000 acres of forest, wetlands, and open lands on a peninsula located between Kentucky and Tennessee on Lake Barkley.
Aside from the 300 miles of natural shoreline and 500 miles of trail that provides ample camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, and water activities, the National Recreation Area offers unique attractions that draw people from all over to the area. An Elk and Bison prairie, planetarium, working farm and living history museum, and nature station are among the offerings that make Land Between the Lakes a premier vacation destination.
Land Between the Lakes offers a variety of camping options for visitors to take advantage of during their stay at the area. Visitors can reserve RV, tent, and horse-accessible sites at 4 developed campgrounds. Backpackers can also choose to camp at a variety of designated basic camping facilities.
Campgrounds include: Energy Lake Campground, Hillman Ferry Campground, Piney Campground, and Wranglers Campground. All campgrounds are near lakes or ponds and are equipped with amenities such as bathhouses, electric hookups, and trash stations. The Wranglers Campground is outfitted to accommodate horses and their owners, and is located near 100 miles of equestrian trails.
Other campgrounds have facilities such as archery ranges, playgrounds, and paddling rentals. Check the Land Between the Lakes website to access detailed campground maps, reservations, and more information.
The Energy Lake, Piney, and Wranglers Campgrounds offer cabin rentals for visitors seeking a roof over their heads instead of a tent or RV. Cabins vary in their amenities depending on the campground. Some cabins offer a more bare bones, rustic experience, while others are equipped with electricity and air conditioning.
Check the website to book your cabin rental and choose what cabin experience in which you’d like to partake.
Land Between the Lake’s variation of wetland, forest, and water habitats create an abundance of diverse wildlife that call the National Recreation Area home. There are many wildlife viewing hotspots across the area where visitors can see hundreds of species.
Stop by the Woodlands Nature Watch Area for good waterfowl, beaver, deer, reptile, and amphibian viewing. The 68,000 acre area was one of the first national wildlife refuges and still holds a reputation today for having abundant wildlife in its preserved woodland and marsh habitats.
Avid birders will be happy to hear that Land Between the Lakes hosts up to 250 avian species within its boundaries. The area’s website hosts a variety of recommended locations for birdwatching. The diverse terrain and habitat within the National Recreation Area makes for lots of waterfowl, songbirds, birds of prey, and other birds that visitors can catch a glimpse of throughout the area. Download a birding checklist from the website before your trip to Land Between the Lakes and check off species as you go!
Land Between the Lake’s location on Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake makes for ample water-related activities for visitors to engage in during their stay. Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake comprise one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. Their 220,000 acres of water are connected by a 1.75 mile long canal. The lakes also provide 300 miles of natural shoreline, creating a large area for swimming and fishing. Boating, paddling, swimming, and fishing are among the most popular water sports for visitors to the area.
Boating, on both motorized vessels and kayaks and canoes, is a great way to explore the massive amount of water that Land Between the Lakes has to offer through its beautiful lakes.
Motorized boats can access the lakes by way of 21 free boat access points, 10 on Kentucky Lake and 11 on Lake Barkley. Boaters can enjoy fishing, waterskiing, and other water sports while cruising the lakes. A number of private marinas and state parks in the region provide boat rentals and other amenities to ensure a pleasant boating experience.
Those interested in navigating the waters by kayak and canoe can do so on their personal boats or by renting boats at the Energy Lake campground. Paddling is a great way to explore the lakes at a slower pace than on a motor boat.
Visitors to Land Between the Lakes can cool off after a long, summer day at two designated swimming areas within the National Recreation Area. These areas are located at the Hillman Ferry and Piney Campgrounds for their guests. Additionally, there are 17 lake access points within various camping and day use areas throughout the Recreation Area. Check the Land Between the Lakes website for more details about these locations.
Swimming at all locations throughout the Recreation Area are at visitors’ own risk. There are no lifeguards at any swimming areas; water shoes and lifejackets are recommended, especially for novice swimmers.
The waters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, along with other ponds and smaller bodies of water throughout Land Between the Lakes, creates ample fishing opportunities for eager anglers visiting the area.
Common catches include crappie, bluegill, bass, sauger, and catfish. Visit the area in the spring for the best fishing. Visit the website for more information on the best fishing areas, information about fishing safety and regulations, and information on fishing licenses.
The absence of large predators within the Land Between the Lakes area makes hunting an essential and popular part of wildlife management at the Recreation Area. Hunters enjoy thousands of acres filled with game along wooded areas, marshes, and shoreline. Popular hunting includes turkey, deer, waterfowl, squirrels, and other forest game species.
Hunters must purchase a hunting permit and adhere to all local and federal hunting regulations. Visit the Recreation Area’s website to ensure you have all the proper information on hunting seasons, rules, and safety before embarking on your next hunt.
Visitors looking to practice their shot before their hunt can do so at the Golden Pond Target Range. Open from dawn to dusk, the first-come-first-serve range offers rifle, pistol, and archery ranges. Recent renovations to the range makes it an attractive destination for sharp shooters to show their skills.
A trail system containing over 100 miles of hiking routes and 200 miles of roads makes hiking, biking, and backpacking popular activities for visitors to Land Between the Lakes. These roads and trails offer opportunities to explore the Recreation Area’s shorelines, meadows, and wooded areas, observing wildlife and wildflowers on the way.
There are 10 major hiking routes within the area, half of which share the trail with bikers and equestrians. Bird lovers will find the 2.2 mile-long Hematite Trail particularly rich in diversity of avian and other wildlife species as they walk around Hematite Lake and along old-growth forests. The Woodland Nature Watch trails also provide opportunities for wildlife viewing, while the Honker Lake Trail follows the lake shoreline and provides a great location to put in your kayak or canoe for a calm paddle.
Looking for a more adventurous hike? Land Between the Lakes hosts 4 trails that are available for overnight hikers. The most prominent of these trails is the North/South Trail, which runs along all 59 miles of the recreation area. The trail features a variety of terrain, from rugged and hilly areas to mellow lakeside hiking, and can be accessed from various points along service roads throughout the area.
Backpackers can camp at various designated basic camping facilities along the trail. Overnight hikers must obtain a free permit before staying at these facilities. There is no potable water provided along any of the overnight trails; make sure to pack in your own or bring a filter to use on seasonal streams.
200 miles of paved road, along with 5 designated mountain biking trails throughout the area, provides ample opportunities to explore Land Between the Lakes on two wheels.
The Canal Loop trail is the area’s most popular mountain biking route, with 11 miles of spectacular views and challenging terrain. Those looking for a more mellow ride can follow the Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail, which features smooth surfaces, lots of rest stops, and beautiful views of Lake Barkley.
Elk & Bison Prairie
Visitors from all over the region flock to Land Between the Lakes to experience one of its most distinctive attractions: the Elk and Bison Prairie. Situated on 700 acres of grassland habitat which once housed the creatures a century ago, the enclosure supports elk and bison who roam free in the area.
Visitors can see the elk, bison, and other native species up close by driving through a 3.5 mile paved loop that circles part of the enclosure. The prairie is open from dusk to dawn and costs a small fee for entry.
Homeplace 1850 Working Farm and Living History Museum
Interested in learning more about the history of the area where Land Between the Lakes is situated? The Homeplace 1850 Working Farm and Living History Museum provides interpretive programming and educational experiences for those who want to dip their toes into the past and learn more about what life was like hundreds of years ago in the area.
The farm and museum represents a two-generation farm operational in the mid-19th century. Visitors can stroll throughout the farm and observe actors in period clothing performing era-specific tasks on the farm. Take a trip to the gardens to learn more about heirloom gardening. Pop into the Tool Barn to see tools and farm equipment from the era. Meet all the farmplace animals, which include rare and endangered breeds.
The farm and museum are open from May to November. Pay a small entry fee to experience this immersive take on farm life.
Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory
Sit back and let yourself be awed by the night sky at the Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory. This site allows visitors to take advantage of the dark night skies in the area and learn more about our universe through planetarium programs and their high-tech telescope located at the Observatory.
The planetarium offers 40-minute shows to educate visitors about astronomy and re-create celestial events. Stop by the observatory for events like Star Parties, summertime evening events that provide participants with their own telescopes to discover the skies above them.
Visit the recreation area’s website for scheduling information and more details about planetarium and observatory events and happenings.
Woodlands Nature Station
Looking for even more ways to explore the wildlife at Land Between the Lakes? The Woodlands Nature Station offers guided wildlife tours for visitors to learn more about the diverse range of species that live within the area. The center also is also home to a range of animals kept in captivity, from coyotes to owls to snakes and more!
The Nature Station hosts a range of children’s programs throughout the year, including Cool Critters Days, story-time programs, and chances to meet the center’s animals up close. Staff-guided tours take visitors out on Lake Barkley to spot eagles and catch amazing views on their eagle tours, sunset canoe trips, and kayak tours.
Visit the center’s website to reserve your place on an upcoming tour, view the events calendar, and get more information.