An Insider's Guide to Columbia, KY: A Haven for Anglers and Paddlers
Tucked between Green River Lake and Lake Cumberland, the community of Columbia serves as a gateway to all of the great fishing and watersports in south-central Kentucky. Located just off the Cumberland Parkway, Columbia is a convenient stop and an ideal location for those seeking a peaceful escape.
Resting in a landscape of rolling hills, near the waters of Russell Creek, Columbia is a pastoral place that puts you at ease. Still, among the tranquility, travelers will find plenty of amenities and amusements in this town of about 5,000 people, including lively eateries and inviting accommodations.
FLOATING & FISHING
Kentucky’s Green River is a biologically rich gem. The entire length of the river holds some 150 species of fish and more than 70 types of mussels. Green River Lake Dam, constructed in 1969 by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, is an 8,200-acre reservoir north of Columbia. Fishing is hot year-round, and a Crappie Festival is held each April. If you visit in late summer, work the depths when low oxygen pushes fish out of the shallows. Multiple species of bass, plus muskie, bluegill, and catfish are regularly hauled in. Camping, playgrounds, picnic areas, and even a mini golf course can be found at Green River Lake State Park. The park marina rents out fishing boats, pontoons, houseboats, and more.
The Upper Green River Blue Water Trail is the tailwater fishery below Green River Lake Dam. It’s noted for smallmouth bass, and other targets include largemouth and spotted (Kentucky) bass, crappie, walleye, and muskellunge. From the Tailwater Ramp to the Roachville Ford Ramp is 12.5 miles and it’s a full-day float for most. Russell Ford Ramp is 6.6 miles farther downstream and just outside the town of Greensburg, with additional ramps at American Legion Park and Greensburg. This section of the Green is a mix of deep pools and flowing shoals.
Russell Creek is a narrow, flatwater paddle, and fishing is popular as well as wildlife watching and birding. You can float more than 25 miles, and you’ll probably find success bank fishing at the mouth of the creek. Limited parking is available at the primitive Green River-Russell Creek VPA Site off of U.S. Highway 68/Kentucky Highway 70. Just west of Greensburg, Ky., Russell Creek flows into the more popular Green River.
Thirty miles south of Columbia is Lake Cumberland. Highlights in this area include Lake Cumberland State Resort Park near Jamestown and Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery near the dam. The lake provides recreation options similar to those of Green River Lake to the north. The tailwater below the dam is a premier trout fishery. The state record brown trout, a 21-pound lunker, was hauled out from here. The hatchery produces 1 million trout (brook, rainbow, and brown) annually for stocking throughout Kentucky and has an interactive nature center, gift shop, and a stocked creek for fishing.
FOOD & FUN IN COLUMBIA
Where to Eat
After a long day on the water, settle in for some down-home cooking in Columbia. Try Betty’s OK Country Cooking for catfish, and don’t skip the sand pie, a sinful dessert filled with vanilla pudding and topped with pecans and mounds of whipped cream. (Take note that Betty’s is a cash-only establishment.)
Not far down the road is Anderson’s Pizzeria where you can choose from 10 different pizzas and add a specialty flavor of the month. Beyond pizzas, Anderson’s also serves pasta, burgers, sandwiches, salads and apps, plus some top-notch desserts. During most weekends, you can also enjoy live music performed by local and regional artists.
If Mexican food is your favorite, try Acapulco Grill #2 on the square, just northwest of the iconic courthouse. Grab a booth, order a margarita and peruse the extensive menu. If you have a hard time choosing, you can’t go wrong with any of the Acapulco Combos, and the Sunday buffet offers up plenty of Tex-Mex classics.
If you’re in Columbia during hot weather, cool down with a Mimi’s Shaved Ice found right behind the post office. For a hearty meal to fuel your adventures, hit the Circle R, which serves breakfast all day long.
During your stay in Columbia, take time to soak in some of the local history. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Home Place on the Green River protects and promotes the rural heritage of southern Kentucky. It hosts special events throughout the year, including the popular Spring Plow Days, Summer Theater, and Heritage Fall Festivals.
If you visit in early August, don’t miss the South Central Kentucky Outdoor Expo. In addition to dozens of exhibitors and speakers, this event hosts the state championship turkey calling contest each year. During the fall, Downtown Days fills up the Columbia town square with scarecrows as well as friends, family, neighbors, and visitors.
Where to Get a Good Night's Rest
When it’s time book your accommodations in Columbia, you do have options beyond the national chains of hotels and motels. On the south end of town you’ll find Kozy Haven Log Cabin rentals, which offers cabins that sleep up to four people and include kitchens. In the area you’ll also find a number of B&Bs, including Hill & Valley Farms, which sits on a large rural plot of land near the Cumberland Parkway, has three guest rooms, and allows 8 to 10 guests to rent the whole house. Near the heart of historic downtown, the Columbia Bed & Breakfast has three rooms for rent, but book early, as it often fills up.
Whether you’re headed to central Kentucky to chase largemouth bass or simply cruise the lakes in your kayak, allow some time to stay in Columbia. It’s the perfect place to launch your adventures or just spend a few restful days in a welcoming community that provides a friendly home away from home.
Written by RootsRated Media for Kentucky Tourism.