I know words like majestic, splendid and stunning can read larger-than-life. But when it comes to describing one of Kentucky’s most impressive lakeside venues, those words can’t begin to paint an accurate portrait of Lake Cumberland. If you haven’t experienced the material or natural amenities of what’s been described as “a boating and fishing paradise,” here’s a glimpse of what’s in store.
Lake Cumberland beckons outdoor lovers to its beautiful countryside and 1,255 miles of shoreline with 52 boat ramps and more than 5,400 slips at 10 marinas. This incredibly vast body of water spans 65,530 acres, stretches some 100 miles end-to-end, measures over a mile at its widest point and borders six counties. It mesmerizes with striking panoramas and attracts over four million visitors annually. There’s little room for doubt: The lake has emerged as a priceless tourism commodity that drives the economy of south-central Kentucky.
As a South Florida writer, I made my first visit to Lake Cumberland in the summer of 2008, enjoying a spectacular tour courtesy of State Dock President Bill Jasper aboard a newly designed $1 million houseboat. As we left the docks for a cruise, I was blown away by what I saw — an infinite stretch of rolling hills paired with an endless span of blue waters that displayed just a small segment of the lake’s striking persona. What amazed me even more was its sheer quiet ambiance, which seemed to enhance the already enormous boundaries of the largest body of water east of the Mississippi.
And while the “wow factor” of my initial boating adventure is vividly tucked in my memory archives, what I find special about cruising Lake Cumberland is that it welcomes you with a new experience every time you’re there.
Ablaze with Vibrant Colors
I was sure my return would be even better for a couple of reasons: It had been several years since my last excursion, and I was getting the chance to see what an avid boater had told me during that summer trip: “You’ve gotta see this when the fall leaves set the lake ablaze with their vibrant colors.” My time to revisit Lake Cumberland was now.
From our home-base in Cave City, Ky., the eastbound drive along the Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Parkway afforded a less than two-hour scenic route that ultimately took us through the Russell County Seat of Jamestown. From there, we turned down Highway 92, following signs that directed us to Jamestown Resort & Marina, situated on the lake’s main side.
We secured a convenient parking spot, grabbed our gear and headed for the boat. The mega-steps that bridge the landside resort property to the marina is a surprising experience of its own, with some over-the-top views as you make your way down to the docks. However, don’t worry should you decide you don’t want to tackle the walk. Using Channel 13, you can hail one of two water taxis to pick you up at the boat ramp and take you anywhere throughout the marina complex, while a land shuttle provides the same service throughout the 300-acre resort property.
My second-time-around visit was highlighted by the fact that the lake’s water levels were back to full capacity for the first time since they were dropped back in 2007 to make repairs on the Wolf Creek Dam. This outing paired family and friends aboard a pontoon boat on a brisk autumn day — truly a time superbly crafted for cruising.
We talked with one of the dock assistants before heading out, gathered some information and maps, then charted our course. We opted for a lakeside lunch, enjoying good food while soaking up an incredible view from the marina’s dockside restaurant, Mariner’s Café.
As we powered across the lake, the natural beauty of the region came alive as the brilliant hues of autumn dressed the lush foliage along the high-bluffed banks in rich shades of golden yellow, burnt orange and deep burgundy. Add this plus factor into the mix: since the banks are protected by hills, windy conditions rarely pose a problem for Lake Cumberland boaters.
We made a turn down Pumpkin Creek for a short ride and then headed back out. The lake’s smooth-as-glass surface afforded ideal cruising as we explored the many beautiful coves tucked along the shoreline and made our way over to Wolf Creek Dam, a mammoth concrete wall towering some 773 feet. We looked up and saw traffic making its way over the dam above us, deciding to include this direction in our drive back to Cave City. It was a great choice, as the trip across the dam afforded us with a bird’s eye perspective of Lake Cumberland.
A Whole Different World
The return-to-port course gave us a different view of fall’s colorful display, lending credence to the local sentiment of “a whole different world” as we passed along Guffey and Whippoorwill Creeks. Pulling into the slip, our eyes glanced back towards a sky streaked with pastel blues and pinks, indicating a chilly night ahead. Although the climb back up the steps to our car seemed to take much longer than our earlier walk down, it provided us with time to reflect on the day’s journey and share newly made memories.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve got to be a water-enthusiast to enjoy Lake Cumberland. It’s also home to a pair of wonderful state parks that provide an all-access pass to the lake’s landside beauty. Lake Cumberland State Resort Park, nestled among 3,117 acres on the northern shore near Jamestown in Russell County, offers lodge accommodations at either Lure or Pumpkin Creek, camping facilities and dockage at State Dock Marina. An out-of-the-ordinary location — on an island in the middle of the Lake — gives General Burnside Island State Park a unique distinction as the state’s only island park. Named for Civil War Union General Ambrose E. Burnside and situated just south of Somerset in Pulaski County, its 430 acres affords camping, golf and lake access via a boat ramp on the island’s south end.
Unfortunately, the afternoon sun had slipped into the horizon, leaving me little time to explore the parks and their natural treasures. I also had to pass on an educational experience, as my schedule didn’t allow a trip to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, constructed in 1975 to produce fish stocked in public waters within the state. It was ditto for the city of Somerset (on the lake’s northeastern edge) with the nearby Civil War battlefields of Mill Springs and Dutton’s Hill, where visitors step back in time with re-enactments of those historical battles.
However, I can hear Kentucky calling me. And I’ve already started my list of places to see for my next trip to Lake Cumberland. Can’t wait!
Jamestown Resort & Marina
(800) 830-5131 / (270) 343-5253
General Burnside Island State Park/Lake Cumberland State Resort Park
(800) 225-8747 / (502) 564-2172
Somerset-Pulaski County Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 642-6287 / (606) 679-6394
Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery Environmental Education Center