Under the Stars: From Camping to Glamping in the Bluegrass State
There is a unique satisfaction that can only come from rolling up your sleeves and putting in the work to pitch a tent and set up camp. Building a fire and cooking over it, exploring your natural surroundings, being lulled to sleep by an orchestra of crickets, and waking up to the song of birds… What’s not to love? My son and I thoroughly enjoy camping and primitive-style is the way we most often prefer to camp, but every once in a while (and particularly when free time is scarce), it’s nice to change things up and arrive to a fully set up site instead. Whether it’s off-grid primitive camping or on-the-grid glamping, from the mountain areas of the east to the lakes in the south and west, Kentucky has an extraordinary number of opportunities for you to soak in the magic of nature and sleep under the stars.
It is always camping season in Kentucky, but especially when the weather is warmer, opting for a campsite on the water offers both stunning views and more recreational opportunities. Kentucky is full of gorgeous lakes and many campgrounds allow for you to set your tent up right along the shores. Imagine slipping out of your tent to a stunning sun rising through the trees and up over the water. Zilpo Campground on Cave Run Lake in the Daniel Boone National Forest has wonderful sites right on the water and others that are nearby. The campground includes a sandy beach and a cool fire tower you can climb for a bird’s eye view of your stunning surroundings. Nolin Lake State Park, located near Mammoth Cave, also offers primitive sites with awe-inspiring views. Nolin Lake boasts an abundance of the best of what nature has to offer.
Additional primitive campsite locations with water views can be found at Holly Bay Campground, Lake Malone State Park, and Land Between the Lakes. Holly Bay sites are along the western shores of Laurel River Lake in Daniel Boone National Forest. Laurel River Lake is perfect for fishing, swimming, snorkeling, and even scuba diving. Gravel tent pads, several community fire-rings, and access to a few hiking trails wait for you at Holly Bay. Lake Malone State Park, spanning 788 acres, is surrounded by spectacular 50-foot-high sandstone bluffs and hardwood forests. A group of 14-foot wood giants have recently been installed on the park grounds, giving visitors a bit of an adventurous challenge in finding them and photo ops as your prize! Land Between the Lakes is made up of 170,000 acres of magnificent land that is perfect for hiking, water sports and camping. There are hundreds of spots to choose from and the area itself is just magical.
For those who are just not as comfortable with all that comes with primitive-style camping, but still crave overnight adventures amongst flora and fauna, pure creativity combined with a love of nature has helped to birth so many cool glamping options across the Bluegrass State. From treehouses and yurts to wigwams and tipis, Conestoga wagons, cabins, airstreams, and other truly out-of-the-box options, Kentucky offers an extensive list of wilderness wonderland glamping options.
In a tree, lakeside, or on stilts, the yurt is clearly appreciated in Kentucky. For those unfamiliar with yurts, they are outdoor structures that look like a big, round tent. Several glamping destinations feature yurts with comfortable beds and sitting areas. Some of them even include their own bathroom. Red River Gorge camping features yurts that sleep 4 to 10 people. They are equipped with a full kitchen, fireplace, heating, AC, and they are pet friendly! They are surrounded by hiking trails, cliff-line views, and the peaceful sounds of nearby waterfalls.
With over 12 million acres of forest, Kentucky is unmistakably also one of the best places to enjoy treehouse living. Nestled among pine trees with amazing views through a clear wall, Red River Gorge offers a small village of geo-dome treehouses. Each treehouse has its own cooking facilities and bathroom. Shared areas include rope bridges and shared decks, and the entire village is available for group rentals.
Made for families and larger groups, a stay dubbed “Tradewinds Treehouse” consists of a twin treehouse with its own bathhouse and a hot tub fed by natural springs. The kitchen is fully equipped for family feasts, a private route with amazing hiking trails nearby, and there is an enormous slide that takes you from a deck between the treehouses to the ground below. Another particularly unique treehouse available on Airbnb under the name “Aliyah” was designed to resemble a hobbit’s castle. There are three treehouses connected by swaying rope bridges and built around giant red oak trees. The treehouses are fully equipped with multiple cozy beds, living rooms, full kitchens, observation decks, hanging swings, and cabanas for napping in the trees.
Tiny houses are another way to experience a few days of glamping. There are several moderately priced tiny homes available for rent in secluded and tranquil areas. Some favorites are in close proximity to Mammoth Cave National Park and Kentucky Lake. A careful search led me to a beautiful rustic tiny cabin tucked away in the woods right by a pond. It’s lovingly called Tiny House Country Retreat on Airbnb. You can sit on the porch and watch deer, play games, read a book, grab a fishing rod and head to the pond, or explore the surrounding wooded areas. It’s in Franklin, just about 50 minutes from Mammoth Cave.
To experience a bit of the Old West, Conestoga wagons provide a super unique and fun experience you will never forget. Falls Creek Cabins and Campground offers both traditional cabins and covered wagons for your stay. They are located near Cumberland Falls in Daniel Boone National Forest. The wagons have AC and heat, a small frig and microwave, multiple beds to sleep up to six people, and a picnic table and grilling area outside each of the wagons.
Wigwams and tipis are another fun option you won’t want to pass up. Though very few still live in these structures, Native Americans traditionally used both of these types of structures for housing and shelter in the past. These dwellings are synonymous with warmth and comfort, making them not only attractive and just plain cool, but also cozy and perfect for a few days of upscale camping. An interesting bit about cultural symbolism that we learned along our travels is that the floor of a tipi represents the earth, the walls represent the sky, and the poles represent trails that stretch from earth to the spirit world. How beautiful is that?
Last but not least, fancy airstreams, tents with clear roofs meant for star-gazing, RVs, and a ton of houseboats are also easily found for unique stays across Kentucky in nature-wrapped settings.
So, what are you waiting for? Whether you are romping into the woods to set up camp yourself or opting for luxury camping, there are thousands of different options throughout the Bluegrass State. Enjoy the outdoors, take in loads of fresh air, and immerse yourself in the peace that only nature can bring while sleeping under the stars.
Written by Magaly Fuentes
January 17, 2022