7 Scenic Places to Camp Near Water in Kentucky
There’s nothing like pitching a tent near the water. Without straying far from camp, you can swim, launch your kayak or cast your fishing line, and then fall asleep to the sounds of rushing waters or waves lapping against the shore. Plus, it’s handy to have a water source right outside your tent flap. Luckily, with more navigable waterways than any other state in the Lower 48, Kentucky offers campsites like this in spades.
Whether you’re looking to camp in the pristine back country or you’re in the market for a campground with more amenities, there’s something for you in Kentucky’s many waterside campsites. If you’re in the back country, remember to stick to Leave No Trace ethics and camp in established sites (you’ll see telltale signs, like a fire ring), or, if there are no such sites, pitch your tent at least 200 feet from a water source and leave behind no sign of your presence there.
As you plan your next Kentucky adventure, consider the following seven awesome campsites right on the water.
Nolin Lake State Park
The Nolin River was impounded in 1963 to create 5,795-acre Nolin Lake, but its namesake state park didn’t open until spring 2001. Since then, it’s become a beloved destination for campers who want a site on the water. There are 32 sites with water and electricity hookups, plus another 27 primitive sites. During your lakeside stay, you’ll enjoy easy access to a beach, and anglers will have great opportunities to catch bass, crappie, and walleye. Nolin Lake also features more than 9 miles of single-track for hiking and mountain biking.
Land Between the Lakes
It’s hard to imagine a better campsite-on-the-water experience than a 40-mile-long peninsula with 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline. Land Between the Lakes straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky border, between Kentucky and Barkley lakes, and its camping options are endless: developed campgrounds, primitive campsites, and backcountry shelters are available. The Redd Hollow Basic Campground has sites right on the water, and there’s plenty of dispersed camping (established sites without traditional amenities like hookups or water). If you’re backpacking, you’ll need to pick up a free permit, available at one of three locations around the recreation area.
Green River Lake State Park
There’s no shortage of scenery or fascinating history at Green River Lake State Park, located in Taylor County. In the mid-to-late 18th century, frontiersmen known as “Long Hunters” explored the area, and two recruiting camps popped up during the Civil War to encourage young men to sign up to fight for the Union. Today, primitive and developed campgrounds exist on the banks of 8,200-acre Green River Lake, which was created in 1964, when the river was dammed. The park opened five years later. In addition to the well-maintained campsites, you’ll find hiking trails from easy to strenuous in the rolling hills (some as high as 900 feet) surrounding the lake.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is known, of course, for the world's longest cave system, which boasts more than 405 miles of explored passageways, but there’s so much more to this national park than Mammoth Cave. A section of the Green River also runs through the park, so there’s prime backcountry camping and opportunities for multi-day trips on the river. There’s also the Houchin Ferry Campground, which has 12 primitive campsites, each of which has a view of the Green River. The campground is open year-round.
Yatesville Lake State Park
Yatesville Lake is among the most scenic lakes in eastern Kentucky, and its marina and state park are known for being clean and well maintained. The lake, formed when Blaine Creek was impounded, encompasses 2,300 acres, averages around 40 feet deep, and has three islands. There’s a campground with hookups, but Yatesville also features 20 primitive sites, including four you can hike into and 16 boat-up sites, which are maintained by a service road but can only be reached by boat. If you love to fish, bring your gear, because the lake is known for its brag-worthy bass, bluegill, and crappie.
Holly Bay Campground
Nestled in the 2.1-million-acre Daniel Boone National Forest, Holly Bay Campground is conveniently located on the western banks of Laurel River Lake, which covers 5,600 acres and boasts more than 200 miles of shores lined with trees and bluffs. It’s among the deepest lakes in Kentucky, so it’s also great for fishing, swimming, and scuba diving. Sites at Holly Bay have gravel tent pads, fire rings, and access to a shared water pump. There are 28 sites that can be reserved in advance, while the others are first-come, first-served. The nearby marina is open year-round, and the campground offers access to five hiking trails.
Fall Creek Campground
Recently-renovated Fall Creek Campground features 10 campsites and is right on the shores of Lake Cumberland, one of the largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi River. Originally constructed in 1952 to manage flooding and produce hydroelectric power, the Wolf Creek Dam created 102-square-mile Lake Cumberland, whose more than 1,200 miles of shoreline offer infinite recreational opportunities. The campground features panoramic views of the scenic lake, and campsites are shaded by mature hardwood trees and have access to bass, rockfish, and walleye fishing. It’s also just a 15-minute drive to the historic Mill Springs Park, a 19th-century gristmill that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.