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Let’s go to the beach, Kentucky!

Who needs Florida?

“Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.”Daniel Boone, circa 1769

“If there is a heaven for me, I’m sure there is a beach attached to it.”Jimmy Buffet, circa 1969

For those traveling close to home—and who isn’t these days?—it’s a short leap from heaven to beach, especially if the beach in question is the soft, sandy swath at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park in western Kentucky, widely regarded as the most beautiful beach in the state. 

“The pristine white sand beach makes this the perfect getaway for couples and families,” says park manager Bill Thielen of this Dawson Springs treasure named for the delicate pennyroyal flower.

Because this beach is so alluring, it is also extremely crowded, particularly during weekends. Planning a visit during the week means fewer people and more space to spread out towels and blankets. 

Amenities include beach volleyball, concessions, picnic tables, grills, restrooms, easy-access parking, hiking and mountain biking trails, golfing, fishing and boating. Nearby are the lodge, overnight cottages and camping area, which also includes equestrian campsites. The Clifty Creek Restaurant is open for in-person dining and offers delicious dishes made with Kentucky Proud ingredients, gorgeous lake views on the side. “We also offer a great variety of daily activities for visitors and guests,” says Thielen. 

If the beaches in Florida or other out of state destinations aren’t on the calendar this summer, Kentucky beaches make wonderful, warm-weather replacements. With 45 lakes across the state, there is a swimming beach or three a quick drive away, from sandy stretches at Kentucky’s largest lakes—Lake Cumberland, Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake—to ones like Twin Knobs and Zilpo curving along the shores of the scenically beautiful Cave Run Lake in the Daniel Boone National Forest. 

Kentucky State Parks operates 10 beaches, each a sunshiny blend of sand-side and water-time fun. Six of the beaches are at state resort parks (those with a lodge with overnight accommodations): Barren River Lake, Buckhorn Lake, Kentucky Dam Village, Lake Barkley, Pennyrile Forest and Rough River Dam. Four are at state parks: Carr Creek, Green River Lake, Lake Malone and Nolin Lake. Each has its own combination of recreational and natural assets. All are blessed with lushly forested, postcard-worthy settings. 

The Karst Beach at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave. Photo: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park
In the Twin Knobs Recreation Area at Cave Run Lake in Daniel Boone National Forest, a sandy beach with a roped swimming area affffords a spectacular view of the lake. Photo: Morehead Tourism
At Nolin Lake State Park, a 333-acre park located along the northern edge of Mammoth Cave National Park, you can camp or swim lakeside on the sandy beach. Photo: Kentucky State Parks
Barren River Lake State Resort Park is home to lush rolling hills, 10,000-acre lake, spectacular wildlife and scenic swimming beach. Photo: Kentucky State Parks
At Rough River Dam State Resort Park, the beach is situated along one of the loveliest parts of the lake. Photo: Kentucky State Parks
Laurel River Lake, in the London Ranger District in the Daniel Boone National Forest, features 5,600 acres of clear, deep water and nearly 200 miles of tree-lined shore. Photo:

At Barren River Lake State Resort Park in Lucas, the beach is large enough to accommodate more than 1,000 sunseekers along its swimming area shoreline of 775 feet. Located 10 minutes from Glasgow and Scottsville and just over 30 minutes from Bowling Green, it offers beach volleyball and canoe rentals, plus hiking, fishing, 18-hole championship golf, marina and the Driftwoods Restaurant and Highlands Pub Bar. 

“Our recreation staff plays games on the beach with visitors throughout the week,” says Park Manager Danny Sallee. “Our beach is also home of the Barren River Fourth of July Fireworks Show. This is normally viewed by 2,000 to 3,000 people, plus hundreds of boats out on the lake.” 

Near Campbellsville, the spacious beach within Green River Lake State Park beckons with a swimming area shoreline of 425 feet, beach volleyball, basketball court and nearby playgrounds, plus picnic tables, grills and restroom facilities. The country store in the park’s campground area is the perfect place to pick up beach essentials, including sunscreen, snacks and drinks as well as sunglasses and towels. 

“We also have 28 miles of multipurpose trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding,” says Green River Lake State Park’s Park Manager Wesley Lanham. “Another fun attraction is our 18-hole miniature golf course that is in our campground. 

“Patrons can also enjoy fishing from the banks of the public area and a ramp to put your boat in the lake and enjoy a day of boating, fishing, tubing or skiing on the 8,200-acre Green River Lake.” 

Sheltered within Daniel Boone National Forest, Laurel River Lake lies in Laurel and Whitley counties and is a land of enchantment with its pristine waters, rocky outcroppings, underwater rock formations and beach curling along the shoreline at the spillway of the Laurel River Dam. 

Lake amenities include picnic sites and shelters, fire rings and grills, hiking trail and new accessible vault toilet or waterless restroom. Considered one of the deepest and cleanest lakes in Kentucky, the 5,600- acre Laurel River Lake, outlined by cliffs and dipping into secret coves, lures water babies and scuba divers alike.

KATHY WITT is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer based in Northern Kentucky and the author of Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles. 

More destinations to explore

Beachy keen. Choose your sandy patch of pleasure and get ready to while away the summer days. Be sure to call in advance to check hours and openings or closures. 

Beach bums play here 

Barren River Lake State Resort Park 

1149 State Park Road, Lucas 

(270) 646-215 

Green River Lake State Park 

179 Park Office Road, Campbellsville 

(270) 465-8255 

Laurel River Lake 

1433 Laurel Lake Road, London 

(606) 864-4163 

(London Ranger District office) 

Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park 

20781 Pennyrile Lodge Road Dawson Springs 

(270) 797-3421 

More beaches 

Cave Run Lake—Twin Knobs and Zilpo beaches 

2375 State Route 801 S., Morehead 

(606) 784-6428 (Cumberland Ranger Station) 

Swimming, sunning and lots of sandcastle building happens here, along with other recreational activities. 

Nolin Lake State Park 

2998 Brier Creek Road, Mammoth Cave 

(270) 286-4240 

A clean sandy beach with a swimming area shoreline of 300 feet, this pocket of paradise edging Mammoth Cave has plenty of fun-in-the-sun opportunities, plus a campground store with goggles, pails and other beachy bounty. 

Rough River Dam State Resort Park 

450 Lodge Road, Falls Of Rough 

(270) 257-2311 

Amenities include a beach house with showers, picnic tables in the beach area and nearby sand volleyball court, playground, picnic shelter, tennis courts and basketball court. 

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave—Karst Beach 

950 Mammoth Cave Road, Cave City 

(270) 773-3840 

Amenities: Bathhouse, shallow end play area, Corcl boats, beach access to the Swirl Station (ice cream) and more. The Wibit, a separate, fee-based attraction comprising slides, towers, trampoline, etc. is at the deep end of the lake. Karst Beach is open Memorial Day weekend–Labor Day weekend. 

Beachy atmosphere 

Hurricane Bay at Kentucky Kingdom 

937 Phillips Lane, Louisville 

(502) 813-8200  

Season runs May 27-August 15 and weekends through September 6. Single-day admission tickets and season passes available. 

MSMC Aquatic Center 

3486 Indian Mound Drive, Mt. Sterling 

(859) 498-8728 

This new water playground offers zero-depth entry, water sprays, dumping buckets, vortex slide, splash pad and more. Season runs May 29–September 6. Single-day admission fee and season passes available. 

Venture River Water Park 

280 Funway Drive, Eddyville 

(270) 388-7999 

Special feature: single cabana and cabana retreat rentals. Season runs May 28– September 6. Single-day admission tickets and season passes available. 

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