Water, water everywhere—and plenty of places to dock
KENTUCKY IS A BOATER’S PARADISE— crystalline waters, scenic shores, waterfalls in secret coves—and marvelous marinas to call home whether it’s for a night, a weekend or all season.
Edging the rugged Daniel Boone National Forest in the Appalachian foothills, Buckhorn Marina, located inside Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park, is a place to disconnect.
“It’s very remote with limited cell service, but a great place for kayaking and watersports,” says Will Adams, deputy commissioner of Kentucky State Parks.
There’s plenty of hiking on trails with such wonderful names as Leatherwood and Moonshine Hollow, as well as a museum and an 18-hole miniature golf course. Its cottages and 36-room lodge, with restaurant, pool and views of the lake, are pet friendly. There are boat rentals at the 95-slip marina and, conveniently, a fishing rod loaner program. In trees along the waters, it’s common to see eagles nesting.
Dale Hollow State Resort Park Marina
Straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, the crystal-clear waters of Dale Hollow Lake beckon spear fishers and scuba divers who plumb the depths day or night to discover the remains of a town.
It’s known as the Smallmouth Bass Capital of the World, and above the waters, there are plenty of eagles to spot and hiking trails to follow.
Rent a boat at the 200-slip state-of-the-art marina and explore the rock formations, deep woods and inlets along the shore. You can rent a boat and sign up to go underground at the undeveloped (yes, you’ll get dirty) Cindy Cave.
Grayson Lake Marina
The 225-slip Grayson Lake Marina can accommodate houseboats up to 50 feet. It also offers pontoon rentals and prepackaged snacks and ice cream, bottled water, soft drinks and bagged ice. The 1,512-acre lake, with its tree-topped sandstone cliffs and rocky coves with waterfalls, is also a way to step into the past. The area was once a favorite campground for the Shawnee and Cherokee.
“There are a lot of historical sites around it,” even though the lake itself is man-made, says Robin Voiers, who owns the marina with her husband, Kelly, and sister-in-law Lana Voiers. The marina has been owned by the Voiers family for 35 years, with updates and expansion of the dock and addition of rental boats along the way. The family credits Kelly’s late brother, Buddy, for the marina’s growth.
“Grayson Lake Marina and Grayson Lake State Park offer something for everyone, from boating, swimming, fishing, camping, picnicking, picnic shelters, playgrounds and restrooms,” Robin Voiers says. “White-tail deer are often spotted drinking from the lake and heron diving for fish. There are a large variety of eastern woodland plant life and rock formations.”
Jenny Wiley State Resort Park and Marina
Located on the 1,100-acre Dewey Lake, the full-service marina features overnight slip rentals, boat launches, fuel, marina store and even a vending machine that dispenses bait after hours in case you get a yen for casting a line at midnight.
“You can rent a pontoon and tie off at one of the boat-in campgrounds only reached by water,” says Trinity Shepherd, park supervisor and interpreter. “There’s also a 121-site campground with utility hookup, restrooms and showers.”
Other options: Take a seasonal elk viewing tour, throw in a line to catch a muskie or check into May Lodge overlooking the lake and jump in the pool. Go full Kentucky at the lodge dining room with Hot Browns and catfish, and check out the selection at the Dewey Bourbon Bar.
Kentucky Dam Marina
Lapping the western shoreline of the Land Between The Lakes, the 160,300- acre Kentucky Lake is a major reservoir on the Tennessee River.
The state-of-the-art Kentucky Dam Marina has a plethora of rental options, including double-decker pontoons with slides, luxurious 58- or 80-foot houseboats, kayaks and paddleboards. The 350 slips include transient docks, and can accommodate boats up to 80 feet.
“We upgrade our houseboats every year,” says Shanalda Burden, southeastern regional marketing specialist for Suntex Marinas, which owns and operates Kentucky Dam Marina. “So, they always have the most up-to-date amenities.”
Those would include free Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, fuel and a fully stocked ship store. Cable TV is available at some of the docks.
Because the marina is nestled within Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, boaters also have the option of staying at the park’s lodge with pool, cottages or campground. There are also public access sand beaches and hiking, horseback riding and biking trails nearby.
Marina@Rowena, which broke ground in 2017, is the first marina to be built on Lake Cumberland in almost 60 years. The full-service marina features a wide range of watercraft rentals, including water scooters, pontoons and tritoons. The Ship’s Store sells souvenirs, watersports equipment, fishing gear, snacks and live bait. The marina is pet friendly, though watercraft rentals are restricted to certified service animals.
The complex includes an RV park, a restaurant with a kids’ menu and 3.5-acre parking lot that’s essentially on flat land, making it easy to transport luggage and gear from car to boat.
Most of all, there’s the 65,530-acre lake with a 101-mile shoreline notched with scenic coves and waterfalls, and top-notch fishing.
“We have excellent fishing with striped bass weighing up to 40 or 50 pounds that in the heat of the summer will fight to the death,” says General Manager David Dyson, adding that the marina’s restaurant will cook any fish you catch as long as it’s cleaned.
A plus for landlubbers, the marina is adjacent to 1,000 acres of private property for hiking, biking, ATVs and horseback riding.
JANE SIMON AMMESON is a food, lifestyle and travel writer, James Beard Nominating Judge for the Great Lakes Region, photographer and author of 11 books.
Do the Loop
The Great Loop, a 6,000-mile continuous waterway encircling the eastern portion of the United States, passes through Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. Most of us don’t have the time or inclination to traverse the entire loop, but navigating between the two lakes via the Barkley Canal located in the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area is a fun adventure. It’s made even more fun as the famous Patti’s 1880s Settlement, closed for a few years because of a fire, has reopened. More than a great restaurant, it’s a village of gift shops, a recreated log cabin, café and ice cream shop, along with a waterwheel, miniature golf course and lovely gardens. For more information, go to www.greatloop.org and www.pattis1880s.com.
More marinas to visit across the bluegrass state, plus how to contact the marinas listed within this story.
- Barren River State Dock
- 1148 State Park Road, Lucas
- (270)646-2357; www.barrenriverstatedock.com
In the rolling hills southeast of Bowling Green, the 100-slip marina at the Barren River Lake State Resort Park features boat rentals and transient slips.
- Lake Barkley Marina
- 4200 State Park Road, Cadiz
- (270) 924-6081; www.lakebarkleymarina.com
The marina, within Lake Barkley State Resort Park, rents boats by the hour or the day. All that the park has to offer is within walking distance, including a stunner of a lodge with 3.5 acres of glass for great views of the 58,000-acre lake. Other amenities include a spa, fitness center and pool.
- Lighthouse Landing Resort & Marina
- 320 W. Commerce Ave., Grand Rivers
- (270) 362-8201; www.lighthouselanding.com
Learn to sail or polish your boating skills: the marina on Kentucky Lake offers lessons as well as a two- to four-day American Sailing Association certification course. A sidewalk makes it easy get to downtown Grand Rivers.
- Yatesville Lake State Park Marina
- FD-1000, Louisa
- (606) 686-2361; parks.ky.gov/louisa/parks/recreation/yatesville-lake-state-park
Stunning in its beauty and solitude, Yatesville Lake is a 2,300-acre mountain reservoir dotted with three islands and featuring 16 camping sites accessible only by boat. Other amenities include boat rentals, campgrounds and an 18-hole golf course.
- Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park Marina
- 4441 State Route 1833, Buckhorn
- (606) 398-7510; parks.ky.gov/buckhorn/parks/resort/buckhorn-lake-state-resort-park
- Dale Hollow State Park Marina
- 1226 Marine Road, Burkesville
- (270) 433-6600; www.dhspmarina.com/
- Grayson Lake Marina
- 325 Launch Ramp Road, Grayson
- (606) 474-4513; www.kentuckytourism.com/grayson/water-activities/marinas/grayson-lake-marina
- Jenny Wiley State Resort Park
- 19 Jenny Wiley Drive, Prestonsburg
- (606) 889-1790; parks.ky.gov/prestonsburg/parks/resort/jenny-wiley-state-resort-park
- Kentucky Dam Marina
- 466 Marina Drive, Gilbertsville
- (270) 362-8386; www.suntex.com/marina/kentucky-dam
- 11565 State Route 588, Albany
- (606) 206-7488; www.marinarowena.com