Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is a national recreation area in western Kentucky that is popular for outdoor recreation. Spanning over 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and open plains between Kentucky and Barkley Lakes in Kentucky and Tennessee, this area managed by the U.S. Forest Service—which gained its national recreation area status by President John F. Kennedy in 1963—is the perfect destination for outdoor fun. Whether you're camping for a few days or just here on a day trip, LBL offers visitors plenty of things to see and do.
Pitch a Tent and Go Camping
Land Between the Lakes offers camping accommodations for backpackers, car campers, RVers, OHV drivers, horse lovers, boaters, canoeists, and fishermen alike. You'll find a campsite here for every type of camper, and reservations are available from 48 hours up to six months in advance for campsites at Energy Lake, Hillman Ferry, Piney, and Wranglers. The rest of the campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Wranglers Campground, Backcountry Camping, and Self-Service Campgrounds areas are open all year. Hillman Ferry, Energy Lake, and Piney Campgrounds are open March through November. Developed campgrounds offer different amenities at each location, including RV hook-ups, restroom and shower facilities, bike and canoe rentals (in season), and beach and activity areas.
Primitive camping shelters, where you have to bring your own bedding, are available at Energy, Piney, and Wranglers Campgrounds. You can also go backcountry camping just about anywhere in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
Cast a Line and Catch Some Fish
The waters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley surround Land Between the Lakes on three sides, making LBL one of the premier sport fishing spots in the country. Anglers come here to fish for crappie, bass, sauger, catfish, and bluegill, and in late fall, they come for some great smallmouth bass fishing.
While guests are welcome to cast their line into either lake by themselves, there are also a number of fishing guide services available in the recreation area. Kentucky Lake Guide Service in Paducah and Angling Adventures Guide Service in Murray both offer guided tours of the lake where an experienced fisherman shows guests the best spots to catch particular fish.
Fishermen are required to adhere to Kentucky and Tennessee fishing regulations, so you'll need to acquire a valid fishing license for each state before you hit the waters and cast a line. Consult the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for more information about license requirements.
Drive Through the Elk and Bison Prairie
700 acres of Land Between the Lakes is enclosed in order to restore it to its native prairie grass habitat, and as part of the recovery process, elk and bison have been introduced here along with wild turkeys and a variety of small game including prairie dogs. Visitors can experience the wildlife up close with a leisurely drive along an interpretive road, which winds through the prairie for a little over three miles before looping back to the rest of the recreation area.
Open year-round from dawn until dusk, driving along the road requires a small fee per vehicle. One-time entry cards can be purchased at the Prairie entrance or at the Golden Pond Visitor Center, Welcome Stations, or any day-use facility in LBL.
Explore the Woodlands Nature Station
Explore the indoor discovery center and outdoor wildlife exhibits at the Woodlands Nature Station, where visitors can experience the plants and animals of the region up close. Guided hiking, biking, and canoe excursions are available in spring, summer, and fall, and you can also rent mountain bikes and canoes here, too.
Ride Horses Through the Park
Horseback riders can saddle up at Wranglers Campground and explore over 70 miles of trails and old roads that lead to some of the most scenic spots at Land Between the Lakes. Stop by Rocking U Riding Stables to book a guided trail ride, which will take you from Lake Barkley and Fords Bay on the eastern edge of the park to Laura Furnace Creek and Lick Creek on the western side. After a day of riding, return to the Wranglers Campground, which has stalls, hitching posts, and hot showers as well as a variety of different campsites for overnight accommodations.
Step Back in Time at the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm
The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum is an active farm that takes visitors back to a time when farmers made their livelihood off the land. Guests can talk with interpreters or lend a hand with farm chores to see how folks lived in a mid-19th-century rural community. Spend the day wandering through the restored historic structures or taking part in traditional seasonal activities, and be sure to stick around for old-time music performances later in the day. Additionally, the farm hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, including the Homeplace 1850s Trades Fair over Labor Day weekend and the annual Pickin' Party Old-Time Music Festival in the summer.
Hike and Bike the Trails
More than 200 miles of trails are available to hikers and backpackers alike at Land Between the Lakes. With dozens of different paths to choose from, guests can pick their own adventure at LBL. For a full view of the recreation area, take the grand tour on the North-South Trail, which spans the length of LBL. For a shorter journey in the south part of the park, follow General Grant's footsteps along the Fort Henry National Recreation Trail, and in the north, view beautiful lake views along the Canal Loop Trail. These and all the other trails offer scenic views and opportunities to see wildlife.
All trails are accessible 24 hours a day year-round, but some occasionally close due to inclement weather or to repair the paths after a particularly bad storm. Be sure to check the official website before you plan your trip to see which paths are open for the season, and pick up a map at the Welcome Center before you set out to make sure you don't get lost in the wilderness of the LBL.
See the Stars at the Golden Pond Planetarium
The Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory is an educational center geared toward learning about the night sky. Watch simulated astral phenomena on the planetarium's 40-foot dome, observe stars through four telescopes, or witness solar flares using the Hydrogen-Alpha refractor.
The planetarium offers several different shows daily, from March to December, including "Tonight's Sky Live," a guided presentation that teaches guests about the stars, constellations, and planets that will be visible in the night sky of the coming evening. The observatory is also home to the West Kentucky Amateur Astronomers, which offers a variety of educational programs throughout the year.
Hunt for Deer and Turkey In-Season
Land Between the Lakes offers over 230 days of in-season hunting, which includes annual spring quota and non-quota hunts for turkey as well as fall archery and quota gun hunts for deer. All harvested deer and turkeys must be reported before leaving Land Between the Lakes at the North or South Welcome Stations or Golden Pond Visitor Center. In addition, all hunters over the age of 16 must acquire hunter use permits for LBL as well as valid hunting licenses for Kentucky and Tennessee; all hunters must comply with harvest reporting regulations for those states.
Drive Off Road Through the Turkey Bay OHV Area
With over 100 miles of Off-Highway Vehicle trails covering a variety of terrain, Land Between the Lakes offers something for every skill level of off-road driving. Explore flat meadows, mud bogs, rolling hills, and rocky plateaus throughout the recreation area, but be sure to adhere to the strict guidelines administered by the LBL. A permit is required to use the OHV area and can be purchased annually or for one to three days. While there are no rental companies in LBL itself, there are several places you can rent an OHV to drive through the wild terrain of the Turkey Bay Vehicle Area.