Updated – 7/15/21
Originally Published through Heartland Boating Magazine by Bobbye Miller Kenyon
It’s summertime, and the livin’ is especially easy if you happen to be aboard a boat in Kentucky. The Bluegrass State lays claim to some of the most inviting and accessible waters in all of the eastern U.S. — 170 lakes and more than 89,000 miles of rivers and streams to be exact. From the Western Waterlands to the Northern Kentucky River Region to the Southern Lakes and Rivers Region, cruising here offers incredible venues that mix memorable metropolitan, countryside and historical excursions. What else could a traveler of our Heartland waters ask for?
THE WESTERN WATERLANDS
This area’s unique geography blends the beauty of sparkling lakes and wonderfully wooded shorelines. Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, which are joined by the 1.75-mile-long Barkley Canal, run parallel for some 50 miles on either side of the vast Land Between the Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area, creating a long and tranquil inland cruising route teeming with wildlife. The Western Waterlands are a magnet for Great Loopers, utilized as a favorite stopover or delightful side trip.
YOU CAN’T MISS Grand Rivers, known as the Village Between the Lakes, which sits strategically on both lakes and at the north entrance to the LBL. Its rustic charm transports visitors back in time with a stroll down Main Street, where they can browse a variety of antique shops, dine at the famous Patti’s 1880’s Restaurant or enjoy entertainment at Badgett Playhouse.
TIE UP AT one of the full-service marinas located on your lake of choice.
Consistently voted a “Must Stop!” by the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA) and recipient of the Five Anchor designation by Quimby’s Crusing Guide, Green Turtle Bay Marina (Cumberland River, Mile 32, Lake Barkley) has a ships store, showers and restroom facilities, laundry, fuel dock and two on-site restaurants. Enjoy a cool dip in the indoor pool or relax with a visit to the spa. The marina office provides internet and business services. Courtesy vans are available to take guests nearby landlocked sites.
Lighthouse Landing Marina (Tennessee River, Mile 25, Kentucky Lake) provides guests with 190 open slips and access to city water, electricity, laundry, internet and self-service pump-out. A best bet, it boasts some of the prettiest sunsets on Kentucky Lake, so don’t miss out on this beautiful perk.
VISIT NEARBY Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. This 170,000-acre outdoor playground is the largest inland peninsula in the country, with more than 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline. It’s steeped in history from the Civil War and iron industry eras, with relics scattered throughout the landscape, and is also home to a mega wildlife population: elk, bison, white-tail deer and 200+ species of birds. You can find plenty of courtesy docks, fishing piers, and beach and picnic areas from which to explore 200 miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback-riding trails.
BB Riverboats offers dining and sightseeing cruises on the Ohio River.
Across the Ohio River from Cincinnati’s bright city lights lies a trio of counties — Boone, Kenton and Campbell — that are collectively known as Northern Kentucky. There’s plenty to see and do here, so whether you’re planning a slow cruise or a fast-paced run, summer provides an all-access pass to this stretch of communities that dot the riverfront.
YOU CAN’T MISS Newport on the Levee in Newport, Ky., for a glitzy dining, shopping and entertainment experience. The Newport Aquarium (rated one of the top aquariums in the Midwest) offers an enjoyable educational experience with 60 extraordinary exhibits.
Cruise back in time as you board one of the majestic BB Riverboats for dining and sightseeing on the Ohio River, or book a 40-minute Ride the Ducks tour on a customized World War II-era amphibious vehicle and see area landmarks from a whole new perspective.
If you’re a fan of German fare, make sure to visit Newport’s Hofbrauhaus. Modeled after the legendary Munich eatery, it’s reportedly the first authentic hofbrauhaus in the U.S.
TIE UP AT Riverside Marina in Dayton, a family owned and operated facility with fuel docks, electric/water, transient slips and ample boat storage. It’s floating Bar & Grille serves up a weekly menu of specials and live music on weekends.
VISIT NEARBY O’Neill Riverwalk in Augusta, which offers boat docking facilities within easy strolling distance of the shops, museums and restaurants along scenic Riverside Drive. The historic, Revolutionary War-era town is located about 42 miles east of Cincinnati.
CAVES, LAKES AND CORVETTES
This region is home to exceptional natural beauty, as demonstrated in its rolling hills, winding rivers, pristine lakes and intriguing cave system. Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the latter, as well as the scenic valleys of the Green and Nolin rivers. To the southeast, the 10,000-acre Barren River Lake affords endless recreational activities along its 140 miles of shoreline and at Barren River State Resort Park.
YOU CAN’T MISS a tour of the above-mentioned Mammoth Cave, the largest cave in the world, or a drive to Bowling Green for a look at the 68,000-square-foot National Corvette Museum (I-65 exit 28), which features more than 70 Corvettes displayed in periodic settings, prototype designs, rare collectibles and memorabilia.
TIE UP AT the full-service Barren River Lake State Park Marina, which includes 300 covered and uncovered slips. It’s tucked inside a cove adjacent to the Barren River State Resort Park complex, which covers more than 2,100 acres comprised of lodging, cottages, camping and dining facilities.
VISIT NEARBY Tompkinsville, 44 miles southeast of Barren River, where you can explore the Old Mulkey Meeting House State Historic Site. It’s the oldest log meeting house in Kentucky, constructed in 1804, and is now part of a 20-acre park with a picnic area, playground and gift shop.
Jamestown Resort & Marina on Lake Cumberland.
SOUTHERN LAKES AND RIVERS
Lake Cumberland beckons outdoor lovers to its breathtaking beauty and welcomes boaters to a destination with 52 boat ramps and some 5,400 slips at 10 marinas. The man-made body of water covers 65,530 acres and captivates with its striking panoramas, attracting more than four million visitors each year to its 1,255 miles of shoreline.
Its reputation as one of the best poker run venues in the country, impeccable beauty and incredible span of water make it a natural for boaters. When powering across Lake Cumberland, make time to explore its many coves, where you can drop anchor, cool off with a swim or try your luck fishing.
YOU CAN’T MISS Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery for a fun-filled educational experience. (It produces more than a million rainbow and brown trout annually.) The lake is also home to a pair of Kentucky State Parks, so be sure to enjoy Lake Cumberland State Resort Park and General Burnside State Park, located on a 430-acre island in the middle of the lake.
TIE UP AT Jamestown Resort & Marina and take in the sights of this 300-acre destination on Lake Cumberland. The marina offers full service for 800 open and covered slips, ValvTect fuel docks, boat and engine repair, a launch ramp and a delightful lakeside restaurant, Mariner’s Café.
Prefer landside accommodations? Book a room at the all-suite hotel or reserve one of the chalet-styled cabins that dot the nearby woods.
VISIT NEARBY Mill Springs Battlefield Visitors Center and Museum, located off of highway 80 about eight miles west of Somerset, Ky., for a history lesson of Civil War days. Reeactments here let you relive the events at one of Kentucky’s legendary battlefields.