The Land Between the Lakes is just what its name says it is. This land lies between Kentucky Lake on the west and Lake Barkley east on the in far western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee. The lakes run parallel to each other in a southwest to northeast line. The Land Between the Lakes is a National Recreation Area (NRA) of over 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and open lands on a peninsula between Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.
The Tennessee River feeds Kentucky Lake, and the Cumberland River feeds Lake Barkley. The road traversing the Land Between the Lakes is called “The Trace”. Pioneers called many roads the Trace, short for “Buffalo Trace” because these roads were ancient buffalo trails carved out by thousands of years of buffalo roaming the North American Continent. Today, the Trace on the Land Between the Lakes begins as Tennessee State Route 461 (SR 461) at the intersection with US 79.
The U.S. Forest Service manages the Land Between the Lakes NRA. The Land Between the Lakes Protection Act of 1998 transferred administrative jurisdiction from the Tennessee Valley Authority to the Secretary of Agriculture so that the NRA could be managed as a unit of the National Forest System. The focus of the protection act is on outdoor recreation and environmental education and clearly stated in the act.
Is Land Between the Lakes Worth Visiting?
With a variety of wildlife habitats, a significant population of white-tailed deer, and a terrain covered with croplands, vegetated wetlands, mudflats, and scrub areas, plus outdoor and water sports, the Land Between the Lakes is not only worth visiting, it is a must visit. Experiencing Land Between the Lakes should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Visitors report the Land Between the Lakes absolutely beautiful, the elk and bison watching at dawn thrilling, gorgeous scenery, and plush woodlands. Don’t let the name Elk & Bison Prairie fool you because the geography is woodsier than tall grasslands. The Elk & Bison Prairie is 3.5-mile loop full of wild turkeys, a variety of birds, deer, small game, butterflies, and prairie mammals. The elk and bison come out at dawn and dusk.
How Much Does it Cost to Get into Land Between the Lakes (LBL)?
There is no entrance fee to get into Land Between the Lakes. Rates in the developed campgrounds range from $12 to $40 per night depending on hookups for tents and RVs and $50 to $75 per night for cabins. Hunters Use Permits cost $25 annually besides the regular fees for hunting permits. The Planetarium charges a small fee.
Secrets of Land Between the Lakes
There are over 270 known cemeteries from a time gone by on LBL. Before the damming of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, creating the lakes, LBL was home to over 2,000 families and close-knit communities. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began to buy the homesteads and officially took over LBL in the 1960s. Many of the families moved to nearby communities. The LBL region expects visitors to be respectful of the cemeteries and the history they represent.
However, one stubborn resident would not move. This information comes from the U.S. Forest Service Blog Post. No matter how many times the TVA tried to relocate Cleo Griffin, a WWII veteran, they could not remove him. Cleo was supposed to live with his family in Dover, Tennessee, 15 miles south of LBL, but he kept returning to his family home on foot.
It is believed that Cleo suffered from PTSD, which was referred to as “shell shock” at the time of WWII. Cleo fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino at Cassino, Italy, from January 17, to May 18, 1944, between Allied forces and Nazi Germany. The battle destroyed Cassino and its famous, historic Benedictine monastery. Cassino witnessed four engagements, and over 55,000 Allied soldiers died in it.
Cleo was born at his parent’s homestead in Model, Tennessee, a small unincorporated community on LBL. Every time the TVA or his family moved Cleo to his family’s new home in Dover, he would walk the 13-plus miles back to his home. We do not know for sure, but possibly the Tennessee Veteran’s Administration convinced the TVA to let Cleo remain.
Cleo’s family home is still on LBL and a popular site to visit. Carl Feagans is an archaeologist for the US Forest Service. He reported in 2018, “Soldiers from the Alpha Company of the 39th Brigade Engineer Battalion came out to the LBL for a very special mission. They helped the Heritage program begin a project to safeguard and preserve the house formerly occupied by Cleo Sanford Griffin. (2017)”.
Cleo remained in his home on LBL over 20 years after all the other residents had sadly moved away, leaving memories, family histories, churches, farms, and communities behind. Cleo moved to a nursing home in 1989 and passed away in 2000. He is buried at Hicks 2 Cemetery on LBL. Locals hold Cleo in high regard today. Visitors are asked not to enter Cleo’s home due to its poor condition and leave his artifacts undisturbed.
Paranormal remnants from Native Americans and the Civil War are said to live on LBL. Many have reported that a strange yellow light that looks like a motorcycle headlight follows people on LBL late at night and disappears upon leaving the peninsula. A local man, who camps on LBL frequently, pitched a tent with his wife on hill on LBL, and their friend camped on the shore.
When darkness fell, the couple felt an uneasy sense of dread and felt someone was watching them. The feelings grew until they had to move their camp. Their friends on the shore did not experience the same eeriness, and returned to the same area to camp another time. That night, all at the same time, the camp party felt an overwhelming evil sensation, and one began to cry.
They looked into the blackness of the woods, saw a face leering at them; they fled as the camp as fast as they could, and never returned. This story is repeated over and over by campers, and the thing causing the wicked distress is called the “Beast of the LBL”. Native Americans told of a wolf-like, dog-man creature that walks on two legs. This fierce and ravenous creature is said to have mutilated and murdered farm animals after settlement.
The Vampire Hotel is an abandoned structure on LBL where the Murray, Kentucky, “Vampire Clan,” led by Roderick Ferrell, is rumored to have held meetings. Ferrell believed he was a 500-year-old vampire called “Vesago” who murdered a couple in Florida and went to prison. There is no proof of the meetings, only local lore, but the Vampire Hotel was not completely removed in the 1960s, when it became a local hangout spot.
Rick Ferrell, who hailed from Murray, Kentucky, 20 miles southwest of LBL, was born in 1980. He led a ritualistic teenage cult, which ended with Rick sadistically murdering the parents of fourteen-year-old Heather Wendorf, one of his cult members. He was sentenced to death, but his death sentence was commuted to life without parole. As of 2023, Ferrell is incarcerated in the Northwest Florida Reception Center Annex.
Other tales float around that Civil War soldiers from the Battle of Fort Henry (Feb, 6, 1862) haunt LBL. The Union lost 40 soldiers, and the Confederate lost 80. It is said that herds of white-tailed deer are there to warn visitors to LBL of danger, and visitors should run in the opposite direction when they see a herd of deer on LBL. Just ask a local when you visit LBL.
Attractions and Campgrounds Open Year-Round
- The Golden Pond Visitor Center & Golden Pond Planetarium
- Elk & Bison Prairie
- Turkey Bay Off-Highway Vehicle Area
- Wranglers Campground, self-guided tours
- Brandon Spring Group Center: self service and basic and dispersed camping areas operate year-round
Attractions and Campgrounds Open Seasonally
- The Woodlands Nature Station
- Homeplace 1850s Working Farm
- North and South Welcome Stations
- Piney Campground
- Hillman Ferry Campground
- Energy Lake Campground are open seasonally
Land Between The Lakes Things To Do
Canal Loop Trailhead at Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive
An 11-mile loop trail with four connectors that consists of another three miles of trail. It offers a variety of loops ranging from a little over 1-mile to the full 11-mile outer loop. The Canal Loop Trail can be accessed from the North Welcome Station and Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive.
Elk & Bison Prairie
The Elk & Bison Prairie is a gated 700-acre preserve featuring elk and bison and can be viewed from the safety of your vehicle. The elk and bison are usually out at dawn and dusk. Wild turkeys and deer are common sightings, along with beautiful native grasses, wooded areas, small streams, and the land as it looked hundreds of years ago.
Golden Pond Visitor Center & Planetarium
The Golden Pond Visitor Center serves as an information center for the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which welcomes 1.5 million visitors a year. It offers a variety of brochures, recreational maps, trail maps, and state maps are available. It provides restrooms, vending machines, a gift shop, a children’s play area, a pavilion, trail heads, a recycling center, and other amenities.
The Golden Pond Planetarium features a variety of entertaining and educational programs presented with a new RSA COSMOS/Konica Minolta SkyExplorer Digital Planetarium Software combined with a 2K Hi-Resolution Laser Projection system by Barco, which displays the laser shows on its 40-foot dome in the theater.
Homeplace 1850s Working Farm
The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum represents a two-generation farm. Interpreters in period clothing go about their daily chores. Visitors find a blend of artifacts, restored historic structures, and traditional seasonal activities that steps back in time to relive history before the Civil War. Its livestock includes rare and endangered breeds. The farm cultivates numerous varieties of garden vegetables and field crops. Most of the plants are grown from heirloom seeds dating back before the Civil War. Visitors can purchase these heirloom seeds in the gift shop.
The Iron Furnace
The Iron Furnace only operated for two years, beginning in 1854. The preservation of this furnace is in such good condition, probably due to its limited use. During the 1850s, the Land Between the Lakes area supported short-term iron production industries. Eight furnaces operated in today’s Land Between the Lakes at that time. Two of those eight have survived, and one is the Great Western Iron Furnace.
Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive
This is a short, three-mile drive located in the northern end of LBL near the canal. Accessible via The Trace, Kentucky Lake Drive will take you to several overlooks on Kentucky Lake. Picnic areas and hiking and biking trails are available. The drive is a must-see for anyone driving through the Kentucky Lakes Area.
Turkey Bay Off-Highway Vehicle Area
Turkey Bay OHV Area provides designated OHV and primitive trails for OHV camping. Turkey Bay provides approximately 100 miles of primary, secondary, and tertiary trails for many different OHV riding experiences.
U.S. Forest Service National Recreation Area (NTA)
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL) is a 170,000-acre outdoorsmen’s paradise between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in western Kentucky and Tennessee. The NRA features vast forests, open lands and streams. Adventurers will discover attractions, camping, trails, wildlife and historical exhibits, Like the Woodlands Nature area and the Homeplace 1850s. Visitors enjoy boating, dining and soaking in the sun.
Woodlands Nature Station
The Woodlands Nature Station in LBL is a place to learn about the wildlife commonly found in western Kentucky. Numerous exhibits of live animals educate folks about creeping and crawling animals, their nature, and habitats. Visitors will learn about owls, turtles, and snakes at this nature station.
People will also find American Bald Eagles, endangered red wolves, and other wildlife like coyotes, groundhogs, bobcats, and deer. The Wildlife Nature Station holds programs throughout the day with kid-friendly activities and interactive presentations. Visiting the Nature Station is budget-friendly. A family of four can enjoy the Nature Station for $10.
Golden Pond Visitor Center:
238 Visitor Center Drive, Golden Pond, KY 42211
Things to Do Around Land Between the Lakes
Fort Henry National Battlefield · Tennessee
Fort Henry is on the Cumberland River with a view and has a National Cemetery with Civil War veterans and U.S. veterans since, the Surrender House where Confederate General Buckner surrendered to General Grant at the end of the Civil War, and the Cumberland River Batteries, built by Confederates. They built these upper and lower river batteries to defend the transportation and supply routes of the Confederate Army.
The LBL NRA manages Ft. Henry. To get to the site, you drive from U.S. 79 north to Fort Henry Road, which leads to the Ft. Henry Parking area. Remnants of the Confederate outer defenses are visible in the woods near the parking lot, and there are hiking trails, but the fort is not yet open to the public.
Janice Mason Art Museum · 71 Main St, Cadiz, Kentucky
The Cadiz Community Arts Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit community arts center which serves as the umbrella organization for the Janice Mason Art Museum and Southern Kentucky Independent Theatre. Its focus is to bring quality art in all forms to its community. The center features 8 to 10 exhibits each year by local artists in the LBL region and beyond, which represents a wide array of media and genre. It offers classes and workshops in several disciplines and one or two theatrical productions per year.
Rosehill Museum · Water Street, Eddyville, Kentucky.
The Rosehill Museum is next to the “Castle on the Cumberland” State Penitentiary. It features historical items and displays from Lyon County and the abandoned river towns of Eddyville and Kuttawa. It dedicates its “Between the Rivers” generations of families in the land between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers before the creation of the two lakes.
Venture River Water Park · 280 FunWay Drive, Eddyville, Kentucky.
Ride the Amanzi Falls and Turboa, two maximum body slides with exciting drops, the WIPEOUT, a huge slide house with five levels, three tunnel body slides, a multi-lane slide, a crazy cruise slide, two flushing buckets, and other water interactive activities. Its Waloopas “IT’S LIT” LED lights and sound experience strobe to tunes on its Waloopas slides, and there are more activities.
Land Between the Lakes Cabins
All four campgrounds at the Land Between the Lakes NRA offer cabins, Energy Lake, Hillman Ferry, Piney, and Wranglers-the equestrian campground, but you need to bring your own linens, towels, pillows, etc.
Land Between the Lakes Lodging
There are no hotels, lodges, or other accommodations except for campgrounds and cabins on LBL, but there are plenty of motels, hotels, lodges, and rental homes on the shores of the lakes and in the communities adjacent to LBL.
Land Between The Lakes Camping
U.S. Forest Service’s LBL NRA offers four vast campgrounds, Energy Lake Campground, Hillman Ferry Campground, Piney Campground, and Wranglers Campground, an equestrian camp, with a total of 985 campsites, on LBL. These are the only campgrounds on LBL.
Energy Lake Campground · 5501 Energy Lake Drive, Golden Pond, Kentucky
Energy Lake Campground offers 13 cabins and 35 well-defined sites in a wooded area with 33 electrical hookups for of tents and RVs. Campers have access to a swimming beach, a playground, an activity field, canoe and kayak rentals in season, and hiking trails. Energy Lake is a favorite camping group camp for scout troops, school groups, reunions, and team building.
Campers also have the option of making group reservations. Cabins offer one full-size bed and four bunk beds, table, chairs, heating and air conditioning, a covered porch with a nearby picnic table, and a fire ring. Bring your own linens, pillows, etc. for the cabins. Energy Lake Campground does not have a boat ramp, but there are ramps at the nearby Energy Dam Day Use Area.
Hillman Ferry Campground · 820 Hillman Ferry Road, Grand Rivers, Kentucky
Hillman Ferry Campground offers 368 lakefront and wooded sites for tents to large RVs with basic, electric, water, and sewer sites and eight-person cabin rentals. Campers have access to a large swimming area, archery range, ball field, hiking and biking trails, a campfire amphitheater, two boat ramps, a fishing dock, picnic tables, disc golf, and fire rings. During the summer season, this campground offers family recreation programs.
Piney Campground · 621 Fort Henry Road, Dover, Tennessee
Piney Campground is open March through November and offers 384 lakefront and wooded sites with 283 electrical hookup sites, 44 sites with electric, water, and sewer, and 57 primitive sites. Most sites accommodate tents and RVs. Piney also has 19 primitive cabins. Campers have access to a swimming beach, archery range, ball field, hiking and biking trails, a campfire amphitheater, two boat ramps, a fishing pier, and weekend family recreation programs in the summer season.
Wrangler Campground · 5100 Laura Furnace Road, Golden Pond, Kentucky
Wranglers Campground provides year-round horseback riding and wagon driving trails. It offers 198 campsites. Some offer electrical hookups, sites with electric, water, and sewer, primitive sites, and 12 rustic cabins. Most sites accommodate large motor homes and horse trailers. Campers have access to horse stalls, 100 miles of horse trails, an activity court, and farrier and blacksmith services on weekends from April through November. Guided trail rides and riding stables are available from April through October. Horses have the right-of-way at this campground.