On the Waterfront
in KY's Wilderness
Kentucky's waterways deliver superb outdoor recreation - everything from quiet fishing with the girls (above) on Green Lake to an exhilerating jet ski outing (above right) on Cumberland Lake.*
By Craig Lancto
Great fishing, wilderness canoeing, 90,000 miles of streams, and miles of unspoiled countryside offer travelers weary of crowds an unforgettable vacation experience in Kentucky.
Kentucky is literally awash in waterways. It’s bounded on three sides by rivers -- the Mississippi to the west, the Ohio to the north and Tug Fork and the Big Sandy River to the east.
It also lays claim to two of the largest man-made lakes in the country.
Cumberland Lake (shown at right*) is the largest in volume.
Kentucky Lake is the largest in surface area. Three happy anglers are shown below with their catches from the lake.*
And with 90,000 miles of streams, Kentucky boasts more miles of navigable waters than any other "Lower 48" state.
Following are gleanings from a three-day trip I took to the region earlier this year.
A Stroll through Shaker Village
One popular attraction in the area just 25 miles southwest of Lexington is the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill (800-734-5611 or 859-734-5411 or www.shakervillageky.org).
This village is the largest restored Shaker community in the country.
This living history museum celebrates the role the Shakers played in 1700s and 1800s American religious history.
They developed a communal society founded on the principles of tranquility, peacefulness and love.
Take time to browse through the 34 restored buildings and soak in the beauty of 3,000 acres of preserved farmland.
One distinctive feature? The village has more than 25 miles of striking rock fences.
If you want to stay on site, the Inn at Shaker Village offers 81 guest rooms, suites and private cottages. They’re spread among 15 restored 19th century buildings.
Interiors feature Shaker reproduction furniture, hardwood flooring and private baths. Rates range from $79 to $225, varying by accommodations and dates of travel.
Cruising on Dixie Belle
The Inn at Shaker Village also operates Dixie Belle Riverboat Rides (800-734-5611 or www.shakervillageky.org/activities_recreation/dixie_belle_riverboat) from nearby Shaker Landing in Harrodsburg.
As the tour on the Kentucky River begins, the sternwheeler Dixie Belle passes under the 280-foot High Bridge, the first cantilever bridge in America and once the highest bridge on the continent.
Initially, passengers will view a few houses built on stilts to avoid the flood waters of the Kentucky River. But soon those man-made sights give way to views of limestone palisades and pristine wooded scenery.
On our Dixie Belle narrated tour, the captain was a cornucopia of knowledge. He pointed out natural phenomena of the region. He also talked about the abundance of local wildlife -- from heron and egrets to bobcats, rabbits and wild turkeys.
Because the limestone palisades preclude access to the river, you won’t find the usual boat docks and gas pumps along this 30-mile stretch of the Kentucky River. Instead, you’ll discover a quiet river often used by canoers and kayakers.
If you’re an angler, the Kentucky River is fertile ground. It boasts 230 varieties of fish, including the prehistoric-looking paddlefish. That catch -- prized for its caviar – can grow to nearly six feet.
The Dix River also enters the Kentucky along this stretch of water. It flows from the depths of Lake Herrington. The cold water of the Dix (prior to its entry into the Kentucky) is excellent for trout fishing. For regional fishing information, contact the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources at http://fw.ky.gov.
On our second day, we headed for the 8,200-acre Green River Lake.
At Holmes Bend Marina Resort (800-801-8154 or www.holmesbendresort.com/houseboats.html), Columbia, KY, we rented a houseboat for a cruise along the 30-mile-long lake.
At left, the fleet of Holmes Bend Marina houseboats awaits, while above, one of the boats cruises across the lake.*
Blessed by natural beauty, Green River Lake seems uncluttered by civilization.
It was created when the Green River was dammed as a flood control project in 1969. The lake area and its shoreline are sparsely populated.
Above, a young boy shows off his catch at the Holmes Bend marina.*
Holmes Bend offers lovely rental cabins facing the lake’s beach (see photo above*); they rent from $105 to $185 nightly, depending on whether it's a two- or three-bedroom unit and the time of year.
Elsewhere, Emerald Isle Resort and Marina (888-815-2000 or www.emeraldisleresort.com), Campbellsville, KY, features luxurious two- and three-bedroom condominiums.
The condos rent from $90 to $185 daily, depending on the unit size and time of year.
Added perks? Emerald Isle Marina offers hearty and delicious breakfast and lunch at very affordable prices. See warming trays at right.*
And if you head for this lakeside area, at times you may see deer and wild turkeys alongside rural roadways.
Our favorite part of the three-day adventure was a 12-mile canoe trip along the Green River. At $25 a person, this day trip is a bargain. Canoers are shown getting an operational and safety demonstration below.*
When we pulled into the parking lot to meet Mike Daugherty, who owns Green River Canoes (207-798-2956 or www.campbellsville.com/grcanoes), Campbellsville, and Mike Mills, Greensburg’s director of development, an angler was pulling a good-sized muskie out of the water.
The lucky (or skilled) fisherman shouted to ask us whether we wanted his catch! But when we told him that we had brought a picnic lunch, he released the fish to swim another day.
The Green River between Mammoth Cave and Green River Lake was low, the result of a drought that seriously affected much of the Southeastern U.S. this year. As a result, we frequently had to haul our hefty selves up and out of the boats to walk around rocks in the river bed. Mills told us that he had lived in Greenburg all his life and had never seen the water level so low.
Once paddling again along the serene waterway, civilization seemed a world away. During our six-hour trip, we sighted just one family swimming, one man fishing and two men working along the shore.
Near the end of the trip, we stopped again along the shore to meet with Dr. Richie Kessler, project director for the Green River Bioreserve, which consists of the Green River, tributaries and portions of Mammoth Cave National Park.
Dr. Kessler explained that 71 of the 103 varieties of mussels found in the state live in the Green River. Indeed the stream bed was peppered with them wherever we looked.
Kentucky’s reputation for horses and bluegrass is certainly appropriate. But the wild beauty of its waterways (Kentucky Lake is shown at right)* also deserves a place of honor among the commonwealth’s many tourism attractions.
For More Information
Kentucky Department of Travel: www.kentuckytourism.com
Kentucky State Parks: http://parks.ky.gov
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources: http://fw.ky.gov.
Craig Lancto is an Alexandria, Virginia-based travel writer who specializes in history and culture.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Travel, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department, the Holmes Bend Resort and Marina, the Emerald Isle Resort and Marina, other local tourism authorities, and Craig Lancto. All rights reserved. Please do not copy nor link to these photos. Thank you.