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Explore Land Between The Lakes

Unique destination offers wildlife, star gazing, trails on land and water 

Energy Lake is a popular camping site, offffering a beach, kayak and canoe rentals, hiking trails and playground. Photo: U.S. Forest Service
Land Between The Lakes is a hummingbird paradise, with a little help from feeders. Photo: Kathy Taylor
A red wolf dozes at the Woodlands Nature Station. He’s part of LBL’s work to ensure the species’ survival. Photo: U.S. Forest Service
The Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory’s programs tell daytime visitors what they can see in the nighttime skies above LBL. Photo: U.S. Forest Service
These bison roam free within the Elk & Bison Prairie’s native prairie grass ecosystem. Photo: U.S. Forest Service
Visitors can explore restored buildings like this one at the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm. Photo: Friends of Land Between The Lakes
Wranglers Campground offffers accommodations not only for visitors, but their horses. Photo: Kassidy Cobb

LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES National Recreation Area (LBL) is a place of adventure, attracting nearly 2 million visitors each year to its 171,280 acres across Trigg and Lyon counties in Kentucky and Stewart County, Tennessee. There’s wildlife to discover, history to explore, or, if you simply want to relax—on the water or at a campsite—you can do that, too. Start planning your LBL getaway. 

Woodlands Nature Station 

Take a walk on the wild side this summer at Woodlands Nature Station. Tucked away in the woods near Hematite and Honker lakes, this environmental education attraction features an indoor learning center, plus a backyard exhibit area with bird feeding stations and native wildflower gardens. 

Its sanctuary is home to birds of prey, coyotes, Barkley the bobcat and more. Daily educational programs, like Afternoon Animal Encounters and Raptor Row, let visitors see the animals up close, while learning more about them. 

“All the animals we have there were either orphaned or injured or born in captivity,” explains Carlin Lewis, LBL public affairs specialist and West Kentucky Rural Electric consumer-member. 

Woodlands Nature Station also offers the rare opportunity to see a native Kentucky animal no longer found in the wild—a red wolf. This guy is named Jasper. 

“We have the only red wolves in the state of Kentucky, so we’re a part of the efforts to help with the breeding and survival of this critically endangered species,” says Lewis, adding that LBL has been involved in this conservation effort for over 30 years. 

The Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory 

For an out-of-this-world experience, check out LBL’s planetarium and observatory. Entertaining and educational daily programs include weather phenomena in the solar system, space travel and laser light shows. If you’re camping and wondering what you might see in the sky above you, Tonight’s Sky Live! features a live interpretation highlighting star patterns and planets visible in the early evening. 

An exciting soon-to-arrive addition to the planetarium is a new, custom-made projector. It will offer crisper, more visually enhanced programming, comparable to the quality found in planetariums in major cities, like St. Louis. However, the system was manufactured in France, so pandemic travel bans must be lifted before it can be installed. 

“We really look forward to being able to bring a new and improved viewing experience to our visitors at the planetarium as soon as we possibly can,” says Lewis. 

Elk & Bison Prairie 

Travel north of Golden Pond Visitors Center to the always-popular Elk & Bison Prairie, a 700-acre enclosure where elk and bison roam free. Visitors driving enclosed vehicles can meander along a 3 1/2-mile paved loop road, in hopes of spotting the elk or bison. 

“I recommend you go slow, and you really look and take it in because the elk especially can hide in the woods. They can blend in and be hard to see,” says Lewis. Take along a pair of binoculars. 

A second bison herd can be seen at the South Bison Range across from the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm. In the open grassland, there are also plenty of butterflies, songbirds and wildflowers. Pack a lunch and enjoy the nearby picnic area. 

When is the best time to visit the elk and bison preserves? Anytime of the year. But Lewis suggests planning a summer trip starting in May—that’s calving season. “Visitors might get lucky and see a bison calf,” she says. “They’re really cute.” 

The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm 

Take a step back in time with a visit to the Homeplace to catch a glimpse of what life may have been like for a middle-class family in the region. The interpretive site is a living history museum with artifacts, and restored buildings to explore—plus it’s an actual working farm where all of the tasks are done by hand with tools or animal power. 

Staff and volunteers don period clothing as they complete their daily chores. Stroll around the farm to see men splitting rails for fences. At the blacksmith shop, items like nails are forged for roof repairs and buildings on the farm. At the double pen house, women are busy spinning wool, sewing quilts or baking pies in a Dutch oven over the fire. 

Out in the fields, depending on the season, there are crops to plant or harvest. Many of them are grown from heirloom seeds that predate the Civil War. Draft mules or oxen help plow the fields. Other farm animals include pigs, sheep and chickens. The livestock are rare or endangered species. 

The farm’s double pen house is so named because such houses had two rooms or “pens.” One side would serve as the living space and the other a place to welcome visiting guests or family. A breezeway connecting the two pens offered cooling shade during the hot Kentucky summer. 

Lewis says the Homeplace is one of her favorite sites on the whole peninsula. “It’s just stepping back in time to a simpler time,” she adds. “I always love going there.” 

Escape to the great outdoors 

Combined, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley form one of the largest human-made bodies of water in the world, boasting over 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline. “We’re so fortunate here in Kentucky and Tennessee to have this huge resource and all of the recreational opportunities that it brings, like paddling, boating and fishing. It’s pretty awesome,” says Lewis. 

Canoers and kayakers will find it easy to plan a trip with LBL’s regional water trails program—an online interactive “water trails” map of paddling access points. “It gives them special highlights of places they can see on their paddle, how far the paddle is going to be and amenities they might have,” says visitor information specialist Emily Cleaver, who was instrumental in creating the program. 

If you need a break from water activities, LBL offers over 500 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, off-road riding 

and equestrian use. Hiking trails range in length from less than a mile to the 59-mile North/South backpacking trail, and feature loops, out and back treks, and lots of connector trails, allowing for a customizable hiking experience. Long Creek, a quarter-mile, paved wheelchair-accessible trail, is near the Woodlands Nature Station. For families with children, Cleaver suggests the 2-mile Hematite Trail loop— an easy hike with scenic Hematite Lake views, plus a picnic area. 

Bring your all-terrain or utility terrain vehicles, four-wheelers, side-by-sides, and four-wheel drive vehicles to Turkey Bay, the first off-highway vehicle and camping area of its kind in the country. With approximately 100 miles of scenic trails that wind around Kentucky Lake’s shoreline, Turkey Bay makes for an unforgettable off-highway vehicle experience. 

If you prefer to hit the trail on horseback, Wranglers Campground offers accommodations for both you and your horse. The campground serves as a base camp for riders to explore over 100 miles of remote backcountry trails. No horse? No problem. Guided trail rides are available April through October. 

One of LBL’s most popular activities is camping. The over 1,400 campsites range from primitive backcountry sites to rustic cabins and bathhouse amenities found at Energy Lake, Hillman Ferry, Piney and Wranglers campgrounds. 

Lewis calls LBL a treasure to the greater Southeastern region and beyond, noting there are few places like it that offer so much in the way of exploration, recreation and outdoor learning for the public to enjoy. “We hope visitors come out to see us this summer,” she says. “We remind everyone to recreate responsibly when visiting their public lands.”

AMY COBB, a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. 

Land Between the Lakes celebrates 

In 2013, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area celebrated its 50th anniversary. This 15-minute video hits the highlights of this national treasure.


Another fun and unique way to explore Land Between The Lakes is through geocaching. Geocachers use a GPS device, smartphone or geocaching app to locate a hidden cache of “treasure” left behind by other visitors. Throughout the recreation area, there are hundreds of hidden treasures to discover—like keepsakes or journals to log your name alongside those of past treasure hunters. 

For the past five years, LBL has connected history with recreation through its annual Heritage Geocache Challenge. The challenge encourages visitors to explore the forest, as well as the unique history of families who once lived in the region. As visitors successfully visit each of the geocache sites, they can collect tokens, which can later be redeemed at the visitor center for a limited-edition challenge coin. For more info, seendo/outdoor-rec/geocaching

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