Flatwater Paddling and Wildlife at Boatwright WMA (Ballard Bottoms)

Ballard Bottoms is a land area at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in western Kentucky that’s filled with sloughs, bottomlands, oxbow lakes, and tupelo and cypress swamps. If you’re looking for solitude, you’ll find it in Boatwright Wildlife Management Area, or Ballard Bottoms as it's known by locals. Ballard Bottoms is a lesser-known paddling region, but community leaders are working to build awareness about the area and its location on the Kentucky Great River Road National Scenic Byway. The Great River Road follows the mighty Mississippi River and runs through four Kentucky counties over its 3,000-mile route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.


What Makes It Great


Ballard Wildlife Management Area and Boatwright Wildlife Management Area to the south cover more than 16,000 acres near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Part of the Mississippi River floodplain, Ballard Bottoms is an important wetland system for migrating birds. With 11 lakes at Ballard and another nine lakes at Boatwright, there are plenty of paddling opportunities here. The paddling is easy once you get out on the water, but there is no signage to direct you where to go so be sure to have a map and some confidence in your navigational skills.


Depending on when you visit, look for bald eagles in the spring, summer, and winter; migrating neotropical songbirds in the spring, summer, and fall; and migrating waterfowl in the fall and winter. Keep an eye out for wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and even a coyote or bobcat on land. There are also several species of frogs, turtles, and snakes that call the WMAs home.


Mitchell Lake in Ballard WMA is a good place to see shorebirds, including great blue herons. Swan Lake is one of the larger bodies of water in Boatwright WMA, and is a good place to spot ring-billed and herring gulls, double-crested cormorants, and bald eagles.


If you are an advanced and experienced paddler, you can maneuver through the streams and lakes to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers for an extra challenge, but be sure you know what you are getting yourself into if you go out to these waterways.


Who is Going to Love It


Anyone who is looking for a peaceful and easy paddle should explore these two wildlife management areas. There are plenty of lakes and streams to choose from, which means you could go out for just a day or spend a whole week or more exploring the areas.


If you enjoy looking for birds and also stretching your legs, there is plenty to do here. With two state parks just a short drive away, 20 miles of OHV trails in a nearby county, a couple driving routes and a walking trail through the WMAs, the Kentucky Great River Road National Scenic Byway is worth checking out. You can also go fishing on the lakes, and hunting in the wildlife areas during certain times of year.


Directions, Parking & Regulations


Ballard WMA is 30 miles west of Paducah, Kentucky. From Paducah, take US-60 for 17 miles, and then take KY 358 north for 5.6 miles to KY 1105. Follow 1105 through Bandana to KY 473. Continue for six miles to Lodge Road. There are several roads running through the WMAs, and Boatwright WMA is south of Ballard WMA.


There are few places to stay near the wildlife management area, but there are a few hunting lodges and a couple spots in La Canter and Wickliffe.


You can get more information from the Ballard WMA office, or call 1-800-858-1549. The area is sometimes closed for hunting and occasionally closed for flooding

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