Everything You Need to Know About Camping at Land Between the Lakes

Developed and basic campgrounds, camping areas, dispersed camping, there are lots of ways to enjoy some great Land Between the Lakes camping.

Written by

Jason Barnette

on

August 17, 2019

The options for Land Between the Lakes camping are some of the most diverse of any recreational park I have visited. Reserve a site at a developed campground, take your chance with a basic campground, or make your own campsite with the dispersed camping option! It’s really all up to what you want to do.

When I traveled to the Land Between the Lakes I was in my trusty camper van (sadly no longer with me). I picked up the three-night pass for basic/dispersed camping, staked out a basic campsite each night, and even forked over the additional cash for a developed campground my final night. Here is what I discovered about each campground during my visit, tips about which one to choose, and information about each.

Developed Campgrounds

There are four developed campgrounds Land Between the Lakes camping. These campgrounds features sites for tents and RVs with full hookups, restroom and shower facilities, and campground amenities.

Rates in the developed campgrounds ranges from $12-$40 per night for campsites depending on hookups and $50-$75 per night for cabins.

Only the Piney Campground and Wranglers Campground are open all year; the other two are open seasonally March – November.

A shaded campsite with picnic table and fire ring at the Piney Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
One of the many lake front campsites at Piney Campground.

Piney Campground

With 384 campsites Piney Campground is just so ever slightly bigger than Hillman Ferry, making it the largest campground at Land Between the Lakes. It’s the southern-most developed campground and located about fifteen minutes from the South Welcome Station on the shore of Kentucky Lake.

READ MORE: 7 Exciting Trails for Hiking at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

I loved the shower facilities at this campground! There were multiple shower units with exterior doors located on the backside of the restrooms. The units were just large enough to put your clothes, toiletry kit, and pull a shower curtain to keep them dry.

The campground store is located right in the middle near the entrance. The store had all the usual campground items along with some groceries and, my favorite part, ice!

I spent my first morning at Land Between the Lakes at the fishing pier in the campground. It was so peaceful there and the perfect place to enjoy my coffee. There was also a large, sandy beach in a small cove on the lake that looked perfect for swimming.

Why stay here? This campground is perfect for Tennessee weekenders, hikers on the North-South Trail or Fort Henry Trail, and for day trips to Homeplace 1850s Living Farm or the South Bison Range.

Wranglers Campground

Wranglers Campground is the perfect place for horseback riders to stay at Land Between the Lakes, although it’s not limited to just them. With 220 campsites there is plenty of room for anyone wanting an escape in the recreation area. It’s located near the middle of Land Between the Lakes just south of the Golden Pond Visitor Center on a narrow forest service road.

You might’ve already guessed it but this was my second shower and purchase of ice while at Land Between the Lakes. The shower facilities here were also top-notch and the campground store was right in the middle of everything. The store had a few equestrian supplies along with basic camping gear and groceries.

The enormous campsites have plenty of room for both RVs and horse trails are a single site, but there is also overflow parking just in case you need it. There are horse stalls for rent and washing facilities.

Why stay here? This is the only campground at Land Between the Lakes that allows horses and provides easy access to the horse trails.

A concrete picnic table and fire ring at a campsite at the Energy Lake Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
One of the defined lake front sites at Energy Lake Campground.

Energy Lake Campground

The Energy Lake Campground was the most heavily wooded and secluded campground at Land Between the Lakes. With only 35 campsites it’s also the smallest developed campground. It’s located well off the beaten path on the shore of an inland lake.

This campground is an excellent place for families to stay and enjoy kayaking or canoeing on the lake. With an earthen dam separating the lake from Lake Barkley you never have to worry about motorboat traffic. There is also a very nice fishing pier on Lake Barkley at a small parking area just outside the campground.

While this campground includes shower facilities and restrooms it does not have a campground store. There are a few covered shelters and a small beach with swimming on Energy Lake. Potable water at this campground is not guaranteed.

Why stay here? It’s the most secluded developed campground at Land Between the Lakes, offers peaceful activities on Energy Lake, and is a great place for day trips to the Golden Pond Visitor Center & Planetarium, Elk & Bison Prairie, and Woodlands Nature Station.

Warm colors across a cool sky during sunrise behind the silhouette of a single tree in the lake at the Hillman Ferry Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
This sunrise view was literally steps from my campsite at Hillman Ferry Campground.

Hillman Ferry Campground

Without any hesitation Hillman Ferry Campground is my favorite campground at Land Between the Lakes. With 374 campsites it’s just slightly smaller than Piney Campground but I feel the lakefront sites and wooded areas make this campground more beautiful and enjoyable. It’s located near the North Welcome Station.

Although I had a basic/dispersed camping permit and spent the first three nights at basic campgrounds I opted to throw down some money to spend my last night at this campground. I will never forget the peacefulness and sunrise beauty at Site 27 in Area B.

This campground also had some rather nice showers but the restrooms were a bit outdated. The campground store was in the middle near the entrance. The campground has has a boat ramp and swimming beach.

Why stay here? Besides the fact it is my favorite campground at Land Between the Lakes it is also the easiest developed campground to access. People with large RVs, travel trailers, and tow behinds might enjoy the convenience of this campground.

Basic Campgrounds

There are eight basic campgrounds for Land Between the Lakes camping. The basic campgrounds feature defined campsites with a fire ring and picnic table, a pit toilet restroom facility, but no hookups, showers, or other amenities.

Guests at basic campgrounds are required to purchase either a three-night permit for $7 or an annual permit for $30. Sites are first-come, first served.

Sunset over the loosely defined campstites at Boswell Landing Basic Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Watching sunset over Kentucky Lake is a great end to a day at Boswell Landing Basic Campground.

Boswell Landing Basic Campground

I spent my very first night at Land Between the Lakes sleeping in my campervan at Boswell Landing Basic Campground. It was my introduction to camping in the recreation area and could not have been more amazing.

Boswell Landing is built around a simple boat ramp. It’s a very simple campground with a single pit toilet near the center and several defined campsites. Some of the campsites were down on the lakefront overlooking Kentucky Lake.

Why stay here? It’s just minutes away from Piney Campground and makes a great alternative just in case that campground is at capacity or just too crowded for your desire. Then, you can still use the shower facilities and campground store in Piney.

A warm sunset over Kentucky Lake seen from the campsite at the Redd Hollow Basic Campground at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
This view is brought to you by me while hanging between trees from a hammock at my campsite at Redd Hollow Basic Campground.

Redd Hollow Basic Campground

The Redd Hollow Basic Campground is in a fantastic location for exploring all of Land Between the Lakes. It’s just a few miles from the Golden Pond Visitor Center, Elk & Bison Prairie, and a little bit further away from Homeplace 1850s Living Farm.

The dirt road from Woodlands Trace to the campground can be a little bit rutty at times so be careful with RVs and trailers. The campground is completely wooded with plenty of shade on the shore of Kentucky Lake. Some of the campsites are lakefront while others offer a view of the lake.

READ MORE: The Magnificent Elk & Bison Prairie at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

I claimed a lakefront campsite but it was high above the lake, probably about 20’ above the rocky beach. But it was the perfect place for me to string up my hammock and fall asleep watching the sunset across Kentucky Lake.

The campground includes a boat ramp and pit toilets.

Why stay here? It’s the most centrally-located basic campground at Land Between the Lakes and just minutes away from the intersection of Woodlands Trace and US Highway 68, making it easily accessible and a great place to explore the entire recreation area.

Taylor Bay Basic Campground

Taylor Bay Basic Campground was my home away from home my second night at Land Between the Lakes. It was so incredibly peaceful but that could also have been because I had the entire campground to myself. It’s off the beaten path from Woodlands Trace but only minutes from Woodlands Nature Station and Energy Lake Campground (where I got my shower and ice the next morning).

There were only a few define campsites around a large open field in the middle of the campground. I took a site on the lakefront beside the boat ramp; all the campsites were either lakefront or had a view of Lake Barkley. The campground also had a single pit toilet near the entrance.

Why stay here? It’s in a great location for exploring Honker Lake, Hematite Lake, and Woodlands Nature Station.

Sugar Bay Basic Campground

The Sugar Bay Basic Campground was probably the smallest basic campground at Land Between the Lakes. The road loops around the campground to a boat ramp and unofficial beach on Kentucky Lake.

The campsites are wooded, each offering a view of the lake from inside a narrow cove. The campground included a pit toilet.

Why stay here? Because you don’t have anywhere else to go at Land Between the Lakes.

Smith Bay Basic Campground

I think Smith Bay Basic Campground must be a local secret (that I’m about to ruin). When I drove through the campground I found it taken over by about twenty campers with pontoon boats, trailers, and RVs. They were having a blast with a party in the campground, swimming in the lake, and drinking on the boats!

The very small basic campground is quite a bit secluded off a forest service road. The Birmingham Ferry Basic Campground uses the same road.

Why stay here? It’s secluded, tucked away on a cove on Kentucky Lake, and looked like one of the more charming basic campgrounds.

READ MORE: 10 Awesome Things to Do at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Birmingham Ferry Basic Campground

The Birmingham Ferry Basic Campground was one of the neatest basic campgrounds at Land Between the Lakes. The campground is located on the shore of Kentucky Lake in a cove inside a cove, completely secluded and hidden away.

There weren’t many defined campsites that I saw, but the ones I could find all had some pretty amazing views. The boat ramp was somewhat primitive but despite that there were five boat trailers parked nearby.

Why stay here? I think it’s location inside a hidden cove on Kentucky Lake makes this campground pretty secluded and probably peaceful all the time.

Twin Lakes Basic Campground

The Twin Lakes Basic Campground is the easiest basic campground to access at Land Between the Lakes. It’s just minutes from the North Welcome Station and located just off Woodlands Trace.

There is an unofficial beach area beside the boat ramp (keeping in mind you can’t swim near boat ramps). The define campsites were located around a small open field in the middle. The campsites were “lakefront” but it was the end of a cove so the water was very shallow.

Why stay here? If you’ve been driving all day just to reach Land Between the Lakes this would be an excellent place to send the night.

Nickell Branch Basic Campground

Nickell Branch Basic Campground is the northern-most and one of the largest basic campgrounds at Land Between the Lakes. There were several campsites, all lakefront with gorgeous views, around a large open field. There was a boat ramp as well.

Why stay here? With Hillman Ferry Campground nearby for showers and the campground store, Nickell Branch would be the perfect place to stay on the cheap with gorgeous views.

Favorite Campgrounds at Land Between the Lakes

Although many campgrounds share amenities and features, there are a few that stood out. Hillman Ferry Campground is my favorite front country developed campground. I’m also very fond of the Redd Hollow Basic Campground.

Self-Service Campgrounds

There are three self-service campgrounds for Land Between the Lakes camping. These campgrounds feature defined sites with picnic tables and fire rings, pit toilets, and a boat ramp. None of these campgrounds features showers or any hookups.

Guests at self-service campgrounds pay the “Iron Ranger” on the honor system. Rates are $9/night and must be paid in cash.

Beautiful view of lush green trees and deep blue water at Gatlin Point Day Use Area at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
Beautiful view of Lake Barkley at the Gatlin Point Day Use Area.

Gatlin Point Self-Service Campground

The Gatlin Point Self-Service Campground is one of my favorite places for camping at Land Between the Lakes. The very small campground is located between Bards Lake and Lake Barkley on a dead-end forest service road.

The campground only has a few defined campsites. Each site comes with a fire ring and picnic table. There is access to drinking water, though not at the individual campsites. Although none of the campsites are lake front they all have a view of the lakes.

Why stay here? It’s secluded, peaceful, and beautiful. Across the earthen dam creating Bard Lake is the Gatlin Point Day Use Area, a gorgeous little place for putting a boat into the water or just hanging out for the day.

Fenton Self-Service Campground

The Fenton Self-Service Campground is the most peculiar at Land Between the Lakes because it offers the least amount of seclusion. Located on US Highway 68 on the shore of Kentucky Lake there are only a few sites out of view of the highway.

But, that doesn’t meant it can’t be a great place to spend a night. A small peninsula sticks out into the lake with beautiful views, especially during sunset. A small boat ramp is the perfect place for launching fishing or recreation boats.

Why stay here? The boat ramp is nice and access to the Central Hardwoods Trail might be worth it, but really the only reason to stay here is if all the other campgrounds are full for the weekend.

Cravens Bay Self-Service Campground

The secluded Cravens Bay Self-Service Campground looked absolutely charming during my drive through. It is well off the beaten path along the shore of Lake Barkley north of Woodlands Nature Station.

This self-service campground is a step above the amenities at Fenton. Most sites had picnic tables and fire rings and there were pit toilets available for the campers. The campground also featured a boat ramp and small, unofficial beach.

Why stay here? Peaceful seclusion. Several of the campsites were either lakefront or at least had a view of the lake.

Camping Area

There are five camping areas for Land Between the Lakes camping. A camping area is just about as basic as a campground can get. It’s basically just a field with no defined campsites, picnic tables, or fire rings. The camping areas do include a pit toilet restroom facility but otherwise no amenities.

Guests at camping areas are required to purchase either a three-night permit for $7 or an annual permit for $30. The areas are first-come, first-served, but do try to show some basic camping etiquette when it comes to parking and claiming your spot for the night.

Why stay here? The basic camping areas are just one step above dispersed camping. With a three-night pass it can cost just a little over $2/night to camp in basic areas. This is great if you have a full RV or travel trailer, especially with solar power, so you’ll have your own restrooms and power. I would not recommend these areas for tents for more than one night at a time.

Gray’s Landing Camping Area

Gray’s Landing Camping Area is located off US Highway 79 at the very south end of Land Between the Lakes. The very basic camping area on Kentucky Lake has some pretty nice views, but it’s near the highway.

Neville Bay Camping Area

Neville Bay Camping Area provides no shade whatsoever. The camping area is an open field beside a boat ramp. It’s located on a cove just off Lake Barkley so it does provide a bit of seclusion.

Ginger Bay Camping Area

Just the opposite of Neville Bay, Ginger Bay Camping Area provides lots of shade. There is a large dirt parking area near the boat ramp and plenty of room to make your own campsite around the campground. It’s located on a large cove, Ginger Bay, off Kentucky Lake.

Demumbers Bay Camping Area

Demumbers Bay Camping Area is another large, open field along the water. It’s located on a large cove near the northern edge of Lake Barkley.

Kuttawa Landing Camping Area

Kuttawa Landing Camping Area is the single most remote place to camp at Land Between the Lakes. It’s located on the northeastern tip of Land Between the Lakes in the bend of Lake Barkley. There are a few trees for shade at this camping area and a boat ramp.

Dispersed Camping

Ah, the lifeblood of van lifers across the Midwest and Rockies. Dispersed camping is the option to turn anywhere you park your vehicle into a campsite for the night. No amenities whatsoever, no reservations allowed, and usually not used for more than a single night at a time.

The benefit of dispersed camping is that you usually have the entire place to yourself. Dispersed camping is allowed at the ends of any of the forest service roads and along the lake shore at Land Between the Lakes. Dispersed camping is not allowed in day use areas, picnic areas, or within 200 yards of US Highway 68, Woodlands Trace, Mulberry Flat, Silver Trail, Kentucky Lake Drive, or Fort Henry Road.

Guests wanting to take full advantage of dispersed camping need to buy a three-night permit for $7 or an annual permit for $30. Additionally, guests can pay $4 per vehicle to enter any of the developed campgrounds to take a shower, visit the campground store, or make use of the amenities.

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