Fun on the Water in the Bluegrass State

A myriad of fun water exploration awaits in the Bluegrass State


Known as the Bluegrass State, there is much more to Kentucky than the nickname implies. Historically considered a Southern state, Kentucky is more accurately a combination of the South and the Midwest, with many industrial areas in the northern portion of the state and more rural areas dotted with farms and mines in the southern portion. 


Kentucky has also experienced quite a bit of growth and a notable shift in demographics over the last decade, with a close to 40 percent increase in the Hispanic population. With this type of growth and change comes an influx of diversity and a host of new residents and visitors hungry to learn more about the many precious treasures the state has to offer. 
Whether you are a nomad on a solo journey, travelling with a group of friends, aiming to create epic vacation memories with your family, or living in Kentucky and wanting to discover more about your home state, Kentucky holds a plethora of options for fun. And, in terms of outdoor possibilities, it may surprise you to learn that a whole host of enjoyment can be found by venturing off the rolling hills of bluegrass and into the water. 


Across the state, stunning waterfalls, rivers, streams, and lakes will draw you into their majesty for unforgettable adventures and relaxation. From newcomers who may favor the tried-and-true to thrill-seekers opting for the “less traveled,” Kentucky has the ingredients for whatever your preferred formula for travel requires.


Imagine open skies, hundreds of trees, and the serene sounds of nature wrapped around you as you paddle and gently glide across glass-like flatwater passageways while soaking it all in. You can kayak, paddleboard, or canoe through dozens of lakes. This is a great way to explore waterways, and with the general ease and flexibility of being able to double (or triple) up in one vessel with kids and friends. Kayaking Mammoth Cave, for example, is a must. 


Less than 100 miles from Louisville, Mammoth Cave National Park is mostly known for its large cave system – 420 miles of passages throughout the longest known cave system in the world. The Green River runs through the park, which gives visitors to the park the option to flatwater paddle through the caves. Taking a canoe or SUP through the caves are alternatives to a kayak. The Green River is controlled by a dam, which ensures flatwater conditions and the opportunity to calmly cruise through at your own pace while taking in all of your surroundings.  


To kick things up a notch in terms of paddling, a number of steep areas across the Bluegrass State create fast-moving rapids, presenting adrenaline-pumping whitewater paddling opportunities. Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Cumberland Falls (also known as the “Niagara of the South”) and Cumberland River offer prime Class II and III whitewater rafting rapids suitable for adventurers of all ages.  In the southern portion of the state, Big South Fork River is an optimal Class III and IV rafting destination. There is an approximately one-half day trip through the canyon section of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area that offers a great introduction to whitewater rafting with some thrill, while not proving to be too extreme for adult beginners. In Eastern Kentucky, Big Sandy River – formed by the confluence of Levisa and Tug – boasts an intense stretch of whitewater with distinctive Class IV, Class V and steeper drops as well as various experienced commercial guide offerings. 


If jumping in and exploring underwater is more enticing, Laurel River Lake offers great visibility, an abundance of aquatic life, underwater rock formations, and more to enjoy. Easily accessible from Interstate 75 and about 20 miles from London, you can snorkel or scuba dive portions of the 5,600-acre lake. When coming up for air, quiet spaces for picnicking, camping, hiking, and simply relaxing and contemplating are all around, providing the perfect destination for an all-day, weekend-long, or even longer-stay outdoor adventure. 


For an alternate diving experience that provides more of a training environment unaffected by unpredictable weather variables, Blue Springs Resort in Hopkinsville features extremely clear water, depths ranging from 5 to 130 feet, and close to 40 attractions sunk throughout the vibrant blue 22-acre limestone quarry. Also referred to as Pennyroyal Quarry, Blue Springs Resort is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Louisville. Divers and photographers aiming to strengthen their skills head to Blue Springs, as do families looking for a day (or days) full of fun and adventure. Some of the sunken attractions include a vintage motorcycle, a television, a UH-1 Huey helicopter, and an old firetruck. Snorkel or free dive in the shallower areas or utilize a diver propulsion vehicle in the less explored deepest areas of the quarry. There are even navigational lines running between attractions in the shallower areas to provide support, and nearby spots to take breaks from the water for picnics and camping out with family. 


Boating and fishing are other options to tempt your travel palate across Kentucky. With hundreds of thousands of acres of water, several lakes across the state are unequivocally considered a boater’s dream. From pontoons to ski boats and fishing boats to personal watercrafts for cruising around, marinas, launch sites and rental offerings abound. Houseboats are also readily available for rental – and in high demand particularly through summer months – with Lake Cumberland earning the nickname of “Houseboat Capital of the World.” 


Whether one is born and raised in the heart of America or has immigrated to the U.S. and now made Kentucky home, boating and fishing is a common thread across many cultures. From the banks of a river, the shores of a lake, or, from a boat, fishing is a practice that creates opportunities for bonding with others and our natural surroundings. 


Did you know Kentucky is only second to Alaska as far as navigable miles of water in the United States? Fishermen, -women, and ‘children are drawn to fishing in Kentucky lakes for bass, walleye, crappie, muskie, bluegill, channel catfish, and logperch, to name a few, but the skill enhancement, bonding time, challenges, and opportunities to relieve stress surrounded by the state’s natural beauty provide countless benefits on levels beyond what could possibly be enumerated. 


For some of the best river fishing, head to spots in Ohio River, Mississippi River, Cumberland River and Green River. For amazing creek fishing, anglers head to Tug Fork, Levisa Fork, and Beargrass Creek. For excellent lake fishing, considering species, rate of success, and accessibility, some of the best lakes to head to are Lake Cumberland, Dale Hollow Lake, Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake, Cedar Creek Lake, and Herrington Lake. More than half the fun of fishing is in the stories connected to the experiences. Fishing adventures in Kentucky are guaranteed to give you tales to tell for many years to come.  


When thinking of fun-on-the-water adventure destinations, chances are that Kentucky is not commonly top-of-mind. The Bluegrass State’s ability to fly under the radar is part of what makes it so special. Whether flatwater paddling through tree-lined lakes, exploring caves in one’s preferred vessel, exuberantly riding whitewaters, snorkeling, diving, swimming, boating, skiing, fishing, or simply relaxing along the banks admiring luscious vistas, Kentucky provides fun on the water and relaxation for everyone. 


Written by Magaly Fuentes January 17, 2022


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