15 Best Lakes in Kentucky

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Famous for its bourbon, horse racing, tobacco, fried chicken and bluegrass music, Kentucky is a state that is filled with culture and all things related to it. It is known as the ‘Bluegrass State’ because of its unique smooth meadow-grass, but it also has loads of geographical diversity.

Kentucky boasts a plethora of natural attractions and scenery that includes mountains, rivers, parks and caves. In fact, it is home to world’s longest known cave system and has more navigable kilometres of water than any other state apart from Alaksa! There are natural and artificial lakes spread all across the state, but there are some that are better than others.

These are the best lakes in Kentucky:

1. Kentucky Lake; Calloway, Marshall & Livingston Counties

Kentucky LakeSource: NerdPhoto / shutterstock
Kentucky Lake

The largest lake east of the Mississippi, Kentucky Lake sits along the Tennessee River and is shared with neighbouring Tennessee. The 64,900 hectare lake boasts a 3,322 kilometre shoreline that is dotted with marinas, cabins and campgrounds.

The lake is known for its superb fishing, particularly white bass, buffalo carp and yellow perch. It is also a great place for boating and other water sports.

There are two state parks along the lake; Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park and Kenlake State Resort Park. The former is one of the most popular state parks in Kentucky, while the later hosts the Hot August Blues Festival.

2. Lake Barkley; Livingston, Lyon & Trigg Counties

Lake BarkleySource: wbrentprice / Flickr
Lake Barkley

The only thing that separates this lake from the Kentucky Lake is the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The lake was created upon the completion of the Barkley Dam, with both being named after Kentucky native Vice President Alben Barkley.

Lake Barkley features a 1,616 kilometres shoreline, with the Lake Barkley State Resort Park sitting on its eastern shore. The 6,900 hectare park is known for its fantastic recreational activities, which include swimming, sailing, boating and fishing, as well as horseback riding, hiking and golf.

The lake is also home to a few attractions, like a Civil War Monument, wildlife refuges, water parks and historical sites. There is also a wide variety of accommodation and dining options either right on the shoreline or just a few steps away from it.

3. Lake Cumberland; Clinton, Laurel, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell & Wayne counties

Lake Cumberland, KentuckySource: Anne T. Campbell / shutterstock
Lake Cumberland

Kentucky’s largest lake in terms of volume, Lake Cumberland has a 2,025 kilometre shoreline that stretches across six counties! The large lake is a major tourist spot, drawing over four million visitors each year.

Rowing, kayaking and rafting are all popular activities enjoyed on the lake. Or if you really want to get your heart rate going, try wakeboarding, water skiing or white water rafting.

Lake Cumberland is also a known fishing spot, with numerous places offering fishing tours around the lake. Lake Cumberland State Resort Park sits along the northern shore of the lake and offers numerous activities, including swimming, hiking and horseback riding.

4. Barren River Lake; Allen, Barren & Monroe Counties

Barren River LakeSource: LouisvilleUSACE / Flickr
Barren River Lake

Created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the construction of the Barren River Lake Dam, today Barren River Lake is a popular recreational destination. And you can even stay overnight!

The Barren River Lake State Resort Park is stretched across 227 kilometres of the lake’s shoreline. Fishing is the park’s main attraction, though boating and water skiing are also offered.

Those that would prefer to enjoy the lake without getting wet can go hiking, biking or horseback riding along the Lewis Hill Trail. There is also a golf course, picnic areas and a few playgrounds around the lake.

5. Laurel River Lake; Laurel & Whitley counties

Laurel River Lake, KentuckySource: Patrick Jennings / shutterstock
Laurel River Lake

Laurel River Lake sits along the Laurel River in the magnificent Daniel Boone National Forest. Thousands of visitors come each year to enjoy the lake and its stunning natural surroundings.

The 2,300 hectare lake is a popular place for boating, boasting seven ramps at various spots around the lake. Fishing for rainbow trout, walleye, black bass, crappie and catfish is also quite common.

Visitors that prefer not to fish can go swimming, water skiing or even scuba diving in the lake. In fact, the lake’s 85 metres of water is some of the cleanest in all of Kentucky.

6. Green River Lake; Adair, Taylor & Casey counties

Green River Lake, KentuckySource: LouisvilleUSACE / Wikimedia
Green River Lake

Although Green River Lake was originally built for flood control, today it is a major attraction. The 3,000 hectare lake is said to have has prevented over €100 million in flood damages since it was built in 1969.

Green River Lake State Park is the main point of interest for the thousands of tourists that visit the lake each year. The 539 hectare park is home to 157 campsites, 200 boat slips and a network of 45 kilometres of trails.

There are also a number of other recreational areas around the lake that have fishing piers, boat ramps, picnic areas and beaches. Largemouth bass, channel catfish, muskellunge and white crappie fishing are all excellent here.

7. Cave Run Lake; Rowan, Morgan, Menifee & Bath Counties

Cave Run LakeSource: Irina Mos / shutterstock
Cave Run Lake

Cave Run Lake is located at the north end of the Daniel Boone National Forest. It was built to provide flood control for the lower Licking River valley.

The water flow within the lake ensures excellent fishing, particularly bass, trout, walleye, catfish and panfish. There are also plenty of other activities to enjoy here, including sailing, canoeing, swimming and jet skiing.

In addition to water based activities, Cave Run Lake also has numerous trials around it that are great for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. There are also picnic areas, camping grounds and boat ramps around the 3,300 hectare lake.

8. Rough River Lake; Breckinridge, Hardin & Grayson Counties

Rough River Lake, KentuckySource: Patrick Jennings / shutterstock
Rough River Lake

This 2,100 hectare lake is spread across three counties in south central Kentucky. Rough River Lake’s primary draw is the Rough River Dam State Resort Park that sits on the western shores of the lake.

Rough River Dam State Resort Park provides recreational activities like boating, swimming and hiking. Still, most people come for the fantastic fishing, as the lake is home to a wide variety of bass.

The park offers a variety of accommodation options, as do others areas around the lake. There are also other places where you can go swimming, fishing or hiking.

9. Dale Hollow Reservoir; Cumberland & Clinton Counties

Dale Hollow Reservoir, KentuckySource: dsearls / Flickr
Dale Hollow Reservoir

Although most of the Dale Hollow Reservoir sits in neighbouring Tennessee, the Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park sits on the Kentucky side of the lake.

The park is a major recreational area, offering a plethora of activities that include boating, fishing, swimming and scuba diving. There are also four trails within the park that offer hiking, cycling and horseback riding.

The Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park features 145 campsites as well as a 60-room lodge that overlooks the lake. There is also a golf-course, a driving range and an amphitheatre onsite.

10. Yatesville Lake; Lawrence County

Yatesville Lake, KentuckySource: lyndseys_01 / Flickr
Yatesville Lake

Sitting in the far eastern part of Kentucky, Yatesville Lake is a serpentine reservoir that is best known for the Yatesville Lake State Park. The park sits on a peninsula on the southeast portion of the lake.

Yatesville Lake State Park features an 18-hole golf course, a marina and a camping ground. There are also three trail systems within the park and two boat ramps.

Yatesville Lake is best known for its crappie, bluegill and bass fishing. Please note that a fishing license is required to fish here.

11. Nolin River Lake; Edmonson, Grayson & Hart Counties

Nolin River Lake, KentuckySource: LouisvilleUSACE / Flickr
Nolin River Lake

This reservoir spreads across three counties in central Kentucky. One of the main attractions of the lake are its two large recreational areas that lie on opposite sides of the lake 2,345 hectare lake.

Nolin Lake State Park is a 135 hectare area that offers boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking and hiking. It also has 32 campsites with hook-ups and 27 primitive sites.

On the northern side of the lake is the Moutardier Recreation Area, which also has a campground. Visitors come here to go canoeing, fishing and hiking.

12. Herrington Lake; Mercer, Garrard & Boyle Counties

Herrington Lake, KentuckySource: Joshinatorky at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia
Herrington Lake

Kentucky’s deepest lake has a maximum depth of 76 metres. Plus, at the time the lake was constructed its dam was the largest earth-filled dam in the world!

Today, Herrington Lake is an excellent place for fishing thanks to its abundance of bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish. It is also a beautiful lake, what with its stunning limestone sides and numerous floating houseboats.

The Pete Dye designed Peninsula Golf Resort sits on the northeast edge of the lake. There are also plenty of other places to stay around the lake, as well as numerous marinas.

13. Taylorsville Lake; Spencer County

Taylorsville Lake, KentuckySource: Anne Kitzman / shutterstock
Taylorsville Lake

This 1,200 hectare artificial lake sits along the Salt River. Taylorsville Lake is a popular lake that can get quite busy on the weekends with visitors and locals coming to enjoy a day at the lake.

Fishing is very popular thanks to the abundance bass, crappie, catfish and perch. Water-skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and jet skiing are also popular activities that are enjoyed on the lake.

On the northern shore of the lake is the 486 hectare Taylorsville Lake State Park. Fishing is its major attractions, although the park also boasts over 27 kilometres of hiking trails.

14. Cedar Creek Lake; Lincoln County

Cedar Creek LakeSource: DannyMac at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia
Cedar Creek Lake

The second largest state controlled lake in Kentucky, Cedar Creek Lake is a 317 hectare reservoir that sits along US Highway 150. There is very little development around the lake, making it quite a serene place to spend a day.

There are three boat ramps around the lake, while plans to build a marina are currently in place. Most people visit Cedar Creek Lake to fish for black crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, sunfish and largemouth bass.

The William Whitley House State Historic Site sits on the east side of the lake. The house was built in 1794 and used as a gathering spot.

15. Fishtrap Lake; Pike County

Fishtrap Lake, KentuckySource: Deep.Blue / Flickr
Fishtrap Lake

Dedicated by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Fishtrap Lake was built in 1968 when the 195-foot-high Fishtrap Dam was created. It is just a small lake, at 500 hectares.

The man-made lake is one of eastern Kentucky’s top fishing spots. Fish living in the water include crappie, black bass, stripes bass and catfish.

The Fishtrap Lake State Park sits at the very western edge of the lake. In addition to fishing, the park also offers camping, hiking and horseback riding.


15 Best Lakes in Kentucky:

  • Kentucky Lake; Calloway, Marshall & Livingston Counties
  • Lake Barkley; Livingston, Lyon & Trigg Counties
  • Lake Cumberland; Clinton, Laurel, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell & Wayne counties
  • Barren River Lake; Allen, Barren & Monroe Counties
  • Laurel River Lake; Laurel & Whitley counties
  • Green River Lake; Adair, Taylor & Casey counties
  • Cave Run Lake; Rowan, Morgan, Menifee & Bath Counties
  • Rough River Lake; Breckinridge, Hardin & Grayson Counties
  • Dale Hollow Reservoir; Cumberland & Clinton Counties
  • Yatesville Lake; Lawrence County
  • Nolin River Lake; Edmonson, Grayson & Hart Counties
  • Herrington Lake; Mercer, Garrard & Boyle Counties
  • Taylorsville Lake; Spencer County
  • Cedar Creek Lake; Lincoln County
  • Fishtrap Lake; Pike County