Camping at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Land Between the Lakes
Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. @whitneybolinger

One of the largest areas of undeveloped forest in eastern United States, Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is a 170,000-acre peninsula between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. LBL sits on the Tennessee-Kentucky border near its western edge, though most of the recreation area is in Kentucky. The area is 48 miles long and ranges from one to nine miles across. Boasting hundreds of miles of trails, LBL is a fantastic destination for hiking. The park also offers tons of equestrian trails, biking trails, boat-access ramps, nature-watching opportunities, and educational facilities. LBL has been a designated recreation area since 1963.

What Makes It Great

With more than 500 miles of trails, Land Between the Lakes has something to offer for almost anyone to enjoy. Two hundred and sixty-one of those trail miles are designated for hiking, and what hiking it is! Hikers will delight at the loop opportunities in the Fort Henry Trails System at the south end of the park, as well as the 58-mile North/South Trail, which traverses the entire length of this recreational area. Steep ridges and rocky footing will challenge your fitness level, and you’ll be rewarded by the tranquility of the forest.

Primitive camping is allowed nearly anywhere in LBL. The area offers several basic campsites as well as developed campgrounds with restrooms and RV hookups. Backpackers can also take advantage of several backcountry shelters.

LBL’s vastness, along with its aquatic surroundings, make hiking and camping here a pleasantly solitary experience. Hikers are far removed from the sounds of cities and highways, leaving only the chirping of birds and the rustling of squirrels as an auditory backdrop. Being allowed to camp anywhere gives backpackers a sense of freedom and spontaneity, and the hundreds of miles of hiking trails will make you want to return again and again until you’ve seen it all.

300 miles of undeveloped shoreline make LBL a boater’s paradise as well. Several free public boat ramps give access to the two huge lakes flanking the recreational area, and canoe/kayak rentals are available at the LBL Nature Station from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Who is Going to Love It

Land Between the Lakes is truly a hiker’s dream. Anyone who finds peace in the woods, who feels refreshed by separation from society, will love the chance to hike deep into the area’s forested sanctuary. Camping facilities make the area easily accessible for families, and backcountry camping offers a challenge for seasoned backpackers. Boaters and other water-lovers will appreciate the easy access to the large lakes, plus bikers and horseback riders will be happy to find their fair share of the playground here, too.

Directions, Parking & Regulations

Google Maps will navigate drivers to Land Between the Lake’s main Visitor Center at Golden Pond. This is a central location within the area, but it’s a half-hour drive to the North Welcome Station and to the South Welcome Station from here. If you’re a hiker or backpacker who knows you want to hike a loop on the Fort Henry Trails System, you should navigate to South Welcome Station. If you’re a mountain biker who knows you want to explore Canal Loop Trail, you should navigate to North Welcome Station to save yourself unnecessary driving time. Note, however, that the North and South Welcome Stations are closed Dec. 1 - Feb. 28, and open only Wednesday-Sunday throughout March and November. Golden Pond itself is open while Welcome Stations are closed, and beginning in April, all are open seven days a week. 

Parking at LBL is plentiful. Backpackers should fill out backcountry permit forms found at the visitor center or the welcome stations. For more information, visit landbetweenthelakes.us/reservations/