Spend a weekend boating, fishing, hiking, and camping at Kentucky Lake this summer. Here’s where to stay and where to go on your trip.
Kentucky Lake is nestled in the western tip of the state, near southern Illinois and Missouri, and continuing into Tennessee. At 160,309-acres, Kentucky Lake is the largest artificial lake (by surface area) east of the Mississippi, so there’s plenty of room to roam free on the open water—skiing or tubing is a fun requirement. The lake was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1944 when the Kentucky Dam impounded the Tennessee River. It is 184 miles long and has more than 2,300 miles of shoreline.
Just a little over three hours away from STL and two hours from Nashville, Kentucky Lake makes for a great summer getaway with the family or friends. If you’re going with the fam, you’re going to want to stay on the Kentucky side of the lake, where drinking on the water is “technically” illegal. For a friends' weekend, we suggest going to the Tennessee side, where you can take a boat right up to a bar.
Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley surround a 170,000-acre strip of land that has been turned into a nature preserve. The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL) is home to bison, elk, deer, wild turkeys, bobcats, bald eagles, osprey, and more. Over two million visitors a year come to camp in LBL’s campgrounds and use its miles of trails for mountain biking, off-roading, hiking, and horseback riding. Take a trip back in time at The Homeplace, a historically accurate working version of an 1850’s farm.
Two Kentucky state parks, Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park to the north and Kenlake State Resort Park to the west offer cabins, cozy cottages, lodge rooms, and campgrounds. Both state parks have pools and offer boat and boat slip rentals. Kenlake hosts the Hot August Blues music festival every year, the weekend before Labor Day weekend.
Green Turtle Bay Resort
Another great campground for tent camping or RVs is Hillman Ferry Campground in Grand Rivers which offers many lakeside sites. They don’t have reservations, so you just have to get there early to secure your spot. More into glamping? Get a cabin at Green Turtle Bay Resort which features a spa and the Thirsty Turtle Tavern, a backyard-style bar with live music on the weekends, cold beer on tap, and casual food. Airbnb is not huge in the area, but there are some listings.
To get the full Kentucky Lake experience, you need to be on the lake (duh). If you don’t have a boat, you can rent one. Kenlake Marina, Moors Resort & Marina, and Kentucky Dam Marina offer pontoons and tri-toons (some with slides!), jet skis, houseboats, paddle boats, ski boats, canoes, kayaks, fishing boats.
The lake is full of white bass, Buffalo carp, yellow perch, crappie, and more. A Kentucky fishing license costs $7/day and there are fishing guide services that can take you out for a full or half day and give you tips on fishing this expansive body of water.
Even though drinking booze on the water is technically illegal on the Kentucky side, there are a couple of party spots, including The Sands and its neighbor, the Rock Quarry, north of the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, close to Kentucky Dam.
Let’s face it, you aren’t here for the food. That being said, there are some viable options around. Sometimes there’s a floating restaurant at The Sands with kebabs and such. On land, Belew's Dairy Bar has the best burgers and milkshakes for miles. Ralph's Harborview Bar & Grill at Moors Resort & Marina is decorated with Beatles’ memorabilia; the bar is shaped like the helm of a boat, and the large outdoor deck is nice when it’s not 100 degrees outside.
Paris Landing State Park is an 841-acre park located on the western shore of the Tennessee River offering cabins and campsites, hiking, two Olympic-sized swimming pools with diving boards, beach volleyball courts, and a Par 72, 18-hole golf course, which approximately 1.25 million visitors take advantage of every year.
Photo courtesy of Paris Landing State Park
The Paris Landing area offers a lot of dining options on land. Bud Dave’s is a little hole-in-the-wall down the street from The Breakers. It looks like a biker bar, but they have surprisingly delicious pizza. Blue’s Landing is rebuilding from a fire, but plan on offering live music, Cajun food, and a full bar again when they reopen soon. The Olive Pit is one of Paris’ most upscale restaurants, and they don’t even have tablecloths. If you’re craving BBQ, head to Trolinger's Old Fashion Butcher Shoppe. This is also a good option for pick up if you need to feed a crowd. Head next door for surf n’ turf from the Fresh Market Restaurant. Paris Winery or Perrylodgic Brewing Co., offer local libations (although the views are better than the wine tbh).