Land Between the Lakes

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a long strip of land that sits between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake in western Kentucky and Tennessee.  Outdoor recreation opportunities abound here and there seems to be a little something for everyone!

We will get to all that, but let’s start with where we stayed.  There are tons of campgrounds in LBL, but only four accept reservations, and since we had never been here we weren’t sure how competitive the first come, first served campgrounds would be.  With it being Easter week and Spring Break week, we didn’t want to risk arrival without a reservation, so we reserved a spot at Wrangler’s Campground.  When making our reservations, two of the main campgrounds were already booked, and of the two that were left, one was in the way southern end of the recreation area, so Wrangler’s was in a much better location.  We knew that Wrangler’s allows horses but thought it might be cool to have some horses around!  Since horses are permitted, but not required, we went on and booked the stay.  Upon arrival, though, we discovered that we were one of only 4 or 5 rigs in this HUGE campground that hadn’t brought horses along.  In all honesty, we felt a bit out of place and slightly uncomfortable.  It was a nice place, and no one was unkind, but we also didn’t necessarily feel welcomed.  For this reason, we probably wouldn’t stay here again.  If you have horses and want to camp with them and get some trail riding in, though, this would be a great place to do it!  There are stalls you can rent as well as places in each campsite that you can hitch up horses, and a huge network of trails you can ride. 

Since this is our first visit to the area, we decided to do some of the touristy things that are offered.  The first is the Homeplace 1850s Farm.  This is a farm that is set up as it would have been in the 1850s for a middle class family.  The buildings are not reconstructions.  While not all are original to this particular farm, they are all original buildings to the time-period, some were just moved from other nearby farms.  To add to the authenticity, there are people dressed in period costume who demonstrate skills that would have been utilized on the farm, and there are animals that would have been raised then, too.  This was a fun way to spend a half day.  We especially enjoyed the animals and trying to imagine what it would have been like to live on such a farm so long ago.

On our second full day in LBL, we decided to check out the Woodlands Nature Station.  This is a small place that houses some of the animals native to the area so people can see them up close.  Inside is the small animals area, with the larger animals and birds being housed outside.  We enjoyed seeing the snakes and some of the raptors, but none of the larger animals showed themselves while we were there.  We were really looking forward to seeing the red wolves and fallow deer, but they were nowhere to be found.  We totally understand and are glad that the animals have a place they can go to get out of the public eye when they don’t wish to be on display, but we were disappointed not to see them.  We also missed seeing the bobcat, opossum, coyote, and white tail deer.  If we are being truthful, we would probably pass on the Nature Station next time.  It was small and there really wasn’t a lot to do, especially with so many of the animals choosing to remain hidden the day we were there.

Since we only spent about an hour in the Nature Station, we had some extra time and decided to hike the Honker Trail.  This is a 4.6 mile loop trail that travels around Honker Lake, and across the dam between Honker Lake and Lake Barkley.  This was a nice trail through the forest with periodic views of the lakes and the walk across the dam.  It was pretty easy hiking on a wide trail with only a small amount of elevation gain/loss.  We love hikes and this one was a great way to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.  

Strangely, Land Between the Lakes has its own planetarium located inside the Golden Pond Visitor Center.  We found it an odd location for a planetarium, but couldn’t resist taking in a show.  One neat thing about this planetarium is that they have seven different shows per day, so you can choose what sounds the most interesting to you.  We went to one called “Discover the Stars.”  Learning about the different kinds of stars and the imagery that went with it was very interesting.  In addition,  each show is followed up with an image of what the night sky will look like that night with an explanation of the constellations that will be visible.  We found it to all to be very entertaining!  It has been years since either of us have visited a planetarium, so it was a welcome change of pace for us!

South Bison Range

Our final activity in LBL was a visit to the Elk and Bison Prairie.  This is a 650 acre enclosure where the park houses some elk and bison.  As we understand it, this area used to be mostly prairie and not the forest that it is today.  In the 1970s, some biologists in the area noticed that there were still small patches of the native prairie grasses in the area of the Elk and Bison Prairie, so they started working to restore this area to prairie land.  Over the years, this has included adding back the elk and bison that would have inhabited the land when it thrived as prairie.  While this is still a work in progress and will take many more years for it to return to grasslands in full, the area is open for visitors to observe the transformation.  There is a three and a half mile loop drive through that you can take in hopes of seeing some of the residents.  On our visit, we saw several elk, but no bison.  We weren’t too disappointed, though, since a few days before, on our way to the Homeplace 1850s Farm, we passed by the South Bison Range where we saw a sizable herd along the side of the road.  It is so neat to see these animals that once ruled the land being returned to thrive once again.

We have one tip if you are hoping to take in the same activities that we completed.  Be sure to ask about the LBL discount package.  The discount package gets you one planetarium show, one visit to the Woodlands Nature Station, and one visit to the Homeplace 1850s farm.  During our visit in spring of 2024, these three activities would cost $21 total per person if paid separately, but the discount package reduces that to just $15 per person, and the package is good for 7 days from the date of purchase, so you can spread the activities out over multiple days.  We could all use to save a little money, right?

We were able to squeeze a lot of activities into three days in this area, yet there are still so many recreational opportunities here!  There is an OHV area for folks who enjoy riding ATVs and side-by-sides; the lakes offer a multitude of water activities such as boating, fishing, kayaking, and swimming; there is an entire network of mountain biking trails; several scenic drives allow beautiful views without ever leaving the comfort of your car; hundreds of miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty offer a hike to people of all fitness levels; there are all the horseback riding opportunities that we mentioned earlier; there is even a target range for those hoping to get some practice shooting.  LBL really does have something for everyone.  That said, since we aren’t into horseback riding, mountain biking, water sports, etc. we completed the activities that were of interest to us and don’t feel the need to rush back.  We recommend everyone come once, though, to find the activity that appeals to them.  If you have been to LBL and there is something we missed, or you have a favorite activity from those mentioned, let us know in the comments!

Until next time!

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