Land Between the Lakes - Flatwater Paddling (Kentucky & Barkley Lakes)

Kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding provide a different vantage point for enjoying the pristine waters at the Land Between the Lakes. Early risers can sip coffee while watching the brilliant pink and orange sunrise over the trees huddled right up against the shoreline. Then put your boat in the water and glide smoothly through the still water. Watch for osprey diving for fish, search for beavers building dams in secluded coves and keep an eye out for lotus flowers in bloom.

The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area’s two lakes make up one of the world’s largest man-made bodies of water in the country. The 184-mile Kentucky Lake on the east and the 134-mile Lake Barkley in western Kentucky are connected by a canal at the northern end. All this space means there is plenty of room for all kinds of boaters to peacefully share these waters—from motorboats to kayaks and canoes to stand-up paddleboards.

What Makes It Great

Three hundred miles of undeveloped, undulating shoreline packed with nooks and crannies waiting to be explored is at the heart of what makes paddling at the Land Between the Lakes so special! Paddlers will marvel at the unrivaled scenery as they travel along the numerous bays and rugged bluffs of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

To help enhance recreation and conservation (as well as economic development) in the area, the park has partnered with a variety of state and federal agencies to establish a regional water trail system called the Land Between the Lakes Water Trail. They even have a few routes already identified for use.

One of the water trails already developed is the Kuttawa Landing Rookery Water Trail, which is near a 4-acre heron, egret, and cormorant rookery with thousands of nesting birds and is very popular with birdwatchers. This 2-hour paddle is recommended for advanced paddlers as it is found on the main channel of the Cumberland River.

The Ginger Bay Water Trail highlights a large bay off of Kentucky Lake with rocky limestone bluffs on parts of the shoreline. Pull over for a picnic and to explore the rocks that are filled with fossils such as crinoids, brachiopods and ancient clams.

For day trippers and beginning paddlers, it’s easy to rent canoes and kayaks from either the Nature Station, at Energy Lake Campground or from some of the marinas dotting the outer shores of Kentucky and Barkley lakes. The naturalists at the Woodlands Nature Station provide occasional guided water trail tours in the park, including a popular twilight tour.

Swimming is allowed anywhere in the park so no worries about jumping overboard when the temps being to rise. If you’re going ashore, be sure to bring insect repellent to protect yourself from ticks from March through October.

Who is Going to Love It

Anyone who loves being on the water will have a memorable day at Land Between the Lakes. Whether that’s casual day trippers and families who rent a kayak for an hour, or sunrise yoga stand up paddleboarders, or even hardcore long-distance paddlers, there is literally something for everyone here.

This Southern gem is also an idyllic place for fisherman who prefer their sport from canoe or kayak. As a regional sport fishing center for crappie, bass, sauger, catfish and bluegill it would be hard to find a better spot than on these calm waters with so much undisturbed shoreline.

Directions, Parking & Regulations

To get there follow the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway which is the main north/south road into the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area or follow the directions to the specific put-in desired. Parking is limited, and while some put-ins have vault toilets and trash dumpsters, none have water. Plan to pack it in and pack it out.

There are restroom facilities, picnic areas and developed and back country camping in the park, much of which is accessible via boat. Due to the location spanning parts of Western Kentucky and Tennessee, you’ll have to follow applicable state fishing rules and have appropriate licenses when fishing in each state. For more information on the guided water trail tours call 270-924-2020.

Permits are required if you stay overnight, and can be purchased online.

Originally written by Lisa Collard for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.