Megan Bryant is a passionate writer and traveler who has combined her two loves to help others fulfill their traveling dreams. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually curled up with her 3 Dachshunds and a good book or planning her next adventure—wherever that may be.
Kentucky is known for its bluegrass music, Kentucky fried chicken, and its bourbon. But we think it should also be known for its lakes, as the Bluegrass State has some beautiful stretches of water—many of which are reservoirs that provide flood control and energy production.
Quite a few of Kentucky’s lakes feature expansive state parks, which only add to their recreational activities and the amount of fun you can have in and around the water.
From boating and fishing to cycling and hiking, Kentucky’s lakes have it all, and if you’re in need of some time down by the water, you’ll want to check out one of the following Kentuckian lakes.
Barren River Lake
Barren River Lake is a popular vacation spot in Southern Kentucky, and both locals and tourists flock to the waters to relax and unwind—especially near the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. The 10,000-acre reservoir is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and features boat slips and launches, making it easy to get watercraft into the water.
Of all the things to do at Barren River Lake, fishing is by far the most popular, with anglers reeling in bass, walleye, and crappie, amongst other fish species. Whether you pitch a tent in the lake’s campground, hike one of its many surrounding hiking trails, or swim at Bailey’s Point or Tailwater, you’re guaranteed to have a great time at one of the best lakes in Kentucky.
Buckhorn Lake is a 1,200-acre reservoir near the Appalachian foothills and the Daniel Boone National Forest. But of all sections of the lake to explore, most people visit the Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park on the lake’s northeast shore.
Buckhorn Lake is a popular choice amongst families as it features lodges, water activities, and beaches for everyone to enjoy. If you do have your own boat—or even a kayak—you can launch it from the resort’s marine boat launch. And when you’re done splashing about in the water, you can take part in miniature golf and hiking, and your little ones can even play in the nearby playground.
Cave Run Lake
Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest is the 8,270-acre Cave Run Lake, which is more than just a pretty face. Cave Run Lake is not only an excellent place to take part in water-based activities like boating and fishing, but it also provides flood protection and supplies the local area with clean water.
With two campgrounds boasting 400 campsites, swimming beaches, picnic areas, and 12 boat ramps for launching your boat on the water, Cave Run Lake is definitely up there as one of the best lakes in the whole of Kentucky.
Green River Lake
Green River Lake, near Campbellsville, Kentucky, spans over 8,000 acres and has plenty of public access points along its sandy shores. One of the most popular areas of the lake is the 1,300-acre Green River Lake State Park, which has rental boats, jet skis, and fishing vessels for visitors to enjoy. Once you’re done with the water, you can even explore the land surrounding the lake by hiking down one of its many hiking trails, all before spending the night in the lake’s 200-site campground.
Kentucky’s deepest lake, Herrington Lake, covers roughly 2,300 acres. Although it doesn’t boast a state park like many of the other best lakes in Kentucky, it is still a fantastic place to hang out with plenty of activities. The central part of the lake is a hot spot for recreation, with many people renting kayaks or pontoon boats to explore the waters in the best way possible. And even anglers will be happy at the reservoir as Herrington Lake is regularly stocked with bluegill, catfish, crappie, and bass species.
No best lakes of Kentucky list would be complete without mentioning Kentucky Lake—a massive reservoir on the Tennessee River. Kentucky Lake covers roughly 250 square miles and acts as a significant hydroelectricity source and a buzzing recreational area.
The lake’s 2,300 miles of shoreline feature campgrounds, public access points, boat launches, and marinas, making it easy to get out on the water to enjoy what the lake has to offer. As the lake has a reputation as one of the best places to fish in all of Kentucky, the lake has become a popular destination for anglers with a valid fishing license who are in search of bass and crappie.
Laurel River Lake
Another lake within the Daniel Boone National Forest is Laurel River Lake, a scenic reservoir with some of the cleanest water in the state of Kentucky. Due to the lake’s crystal clear water, fishing and scuba diving are favored pastimes; however, you can also boat and camp, which plenty of locals and tourists take full advantage of these activities in the summer months.
Nolin River Lake
Just north of the Mammoth Caves National Park is the Nolin River Lake and the Nolin Lake State Park. People visiting the nearby National Park often camp out in Nolin Lake’s campground, and with over 60 sites close to the water, it’s easy to understand why. With a boat launch for easy access to the water, miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, and water-based recreational activities, Nolin River Lake is one of the best lakes in Kentucky.
Taylorsville Lake sees a lot of visitors on the weekend, most of whom come to enjoy the lake’s 3,000 acres of water and its surrounding state park. While at the lake, you can relax on the shores, wade in the water, or participate in activities like kayaking and paddle boarding. You can even rent a pontoon boat from the Taylorsville Lake Marina or launch your own boat into the water at the Possum Ride or Settlers Trace boat ramps.
And if that wasn’t enough, Taylorsville Lake also has hiking, biking, and horseriding trails and RV camping at the park’s full-service campground. And don’t worry, if you forget your fishing supplies, you can purchase some at the Taylorville Lake Marina.
Lake Barkley is a 58,000-acre reservoir opposite Kentucky Lake, and although it is a third of the size of Kentucky Lake, it still draws in plenty of tourists and locals alike. Lining the shore of Lake Barkley are several communities that offer accommodation options to tourists, as well as picture-perfect dining establishments that overlook the lake’s stunning waters.
Within the resort state park, hiking, fishing, golfing, boating, and bird watching are popular activity choices. And even if you don’t feel like being active, just relaxing by the edge of the water makes a trip to Lake Barkley well worth it.
Lake Cumberland is one of the largest man-made lakes in America, and its purpose of controlling flooding and energy production has made it one of Kentucky’s most visited attractions. Lake Cumberland is often referred to as the Houseboating Capital of the World, as fleets of houseboats are regularly found on the water. You can rent houseboats from the lake’s marinas and resorts or just enjoy the lake from a powerboat, jet ski, or fishing rig. Whether you like water skiing, angling, or swimming, Lake Cumberland has everyone covered.
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