Destination: Land Between the Lakes – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Destination: Land Between the Lakes

The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL), a peninsula about 50 miles in length and bordered on either side by Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, has long been an attraction for Midwest boaters — and for good reason. These lakes, created by the impounding of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, offer excellent opportunities for fishing, cruising and water sports, with countless access points, inviting marinas and charming attractions for shore leave.

The land route through the LBL is called the Trace. Its 45-mile length would normally take just over an hour to travel at the posted speed limit of 50 mph. But with so many worthwhile historical, educational and outdoor diversions, a visitor will have to choose his route carefully. Hiking, biking, ATVing, camping, hunting, wildlife watching, picnicking and horseback riding are just a few of the possibilities. Additionally, the LBL has 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline. Many of the side roads from the Trace lead to lake access points and other areas for primitive camping.

The fishing in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is excellent. The approximately 220,000 surface acres of the two lakes provide great habitat for crappie, bass, sauger, catfish and bluegill. Once in the lake of choice, the fisherman will find an almost unlimited number of coves in which to anchor. Except for the occasional cruising boater passing by, or a great blue heron perched on a nearby bank, the angling is a peaceful and often solitary affair.

Boating Amenities
Since there are no commercial establishments within the LBL itself (this means no restaurants, gas stations or quick-stop markets), food, fuel and other supplies must be brought in. Four state resort parks surrounding the LBL have marinas, RV parks, golf courses and many other amenities; they are Lake Barkely State Resort Park (midway down Lake Barkely), Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park (just south of the Kentucky Dam), Kenlake State Resort Park (midway down Kentucky Lake) and Paris Landing State Resort Park (at the southern end of Kentucky Lake).

At the northern end, the Kentucky town of Grand Rivers provides services for the boater to gas up and buy supplies. Also on the southern (Tennessee) side on Lake Barkley, the town of Dover is large enough to have most all provisions needed.

Numerous marinas are scattered around both Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, all offering transient docking and many with first-class comforts such as private waterfront cabins, spa facilities, on-site restaurants, boat rentals, fishing guides and more. (See the sidebar for locations and contact info, and see our sister-publication Quimby’s Cruisig Guide for detailed descriptions of each facility.)

Living History
Grand Rivers sits on the narrowest part of the isthmus between the lakes, which has the Barkley Canal connecting them. While here, one must-see attraction is Patti’s 1880 Settlement, which includes an excellent restaurant and a plaza with specialty shops and old-fashioned games for children and the entire family [UPDATE: In February of 2018, Patti’s had a fire which destroyed most of the restaurant. They are rebuilding but currently serving food outside under a big tent]. Grand Rivers also has motels, an assortment of antique shops and the Variety Theater, which produces Branson-like shows.

Grand Rivers Pattis 1880 Restaurant (2) copy
Patti’s 1880 Settlement

Visitor centers are located at the northern and southern entrances of the LBL, plus one more in the middle. Golden Pond Visitor Center, the third and largest, is centrally located and has interpretive displays, plus a planetarium and observatory. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, and the center has a playground and small lake.

The 700-acre Elk and Bison Prairie is just north of Golden Pond Visitor Center. Travelers can drive on a paved, one-way road through the wildlife range and see these magnificent animals. The best times to view the elk are in low light, just after sunrise and before sunset. Bison roam the prairie and are viewable most any time. There is an entrance fee.

One of the most popular attractions for children is the Woodlands Nature Station. Regular programs are conducted throughout the day on the various species at this rehabilitation and nature center: turtles, owls, eagles, coyotes and hummingbirds. The center has landscaping to attract birds and butterflies and offers inside displays of species that inhabit the LBL, plus a gift shop.

Barn Owl at Woodlands Nature Station 1) copy
Barn owl at Woodlands Nature Station

In the southern Tennessee portion, The Homeplace is a living history museum and working farm. It’s about 12 miles south of the Golden Pond Visitor Center. It re-creates a rural farm of the mid-1800s. There are several buildings on the grounds, with interpreters to give accounts of how life was during that time period “between the rivers,” which the area was called.

With such a full slate of activities, both water-related and land-based, the Land Between the Lakes is a “must” for any Heartland boater’s bucket list.

Author: James Richardson is a contributor to HeartLand Boating

Land Between the Lakes Region


Golden Pond Visitor Center
(270) 924-2000

The Homeplace
(270) 924-2020

Patti’s 1880 Settlement
(270) 362-8844

Woodlands Nature Station
(270) 924-2299


Big Bear Marina & Resort
(207) 354-6414

Buzzard Rock Resort & Marina
(270) 388-7925; (800) 826-6238

Cozy Cove Waterfront Resort
(270) 354-8168; (800) 467-8168

Cypress Bay Resort & Marina
(731) 232-8221

Cypress Springs Resort & Marina
(270) 436-5496

Eddy Creek Marina Resort
(270) 388-2271; (800) 626-2300

Green Turtle Bay Marina & Resort
(270) 362-8364; (800) 498-0428

Kuttawa Harbor Marina
(270) 388-9563

Lighthouse Landing Resort & Marina
(270) 362-8201; (800) 491-7245

Moors Marina & Resort
(270) 362-8361; (800) 626-5472

Prizer Point Resort & Marina
(270) 522-3762; (800) 548-2048

Shawnee Bay Resort
(800) 272-4413

Sportsman’s Lodge
(270) 354-8333; (800) 733-6716

Sugar Creek Bay Marina
(270) 436-2525

Town & Country Marina
(270) 354-8828

Water’s Edge RV Park & Marina
(270) 436-5321

State Resort Parks:

Kenlake State Resort Park
(270) 474-2245 (Kenlake Marina)

Kentucky Dam Village State Park Resort
(270) 362-8386 (Kentucky Dam Marina)

Lake Barkley State Resort Park
(270) 924-6081 (Lake Barkley Marina)

Paris Landing State Resort Park
(731) 641-4475 (Paris Landing State Park Marina)

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