7 Exciting Hiking Trails at Land Between the Lakes

Enjoy the scenery, wildlife, and sounds of nature on these hiking trails at Land Between the Lakes.

Written by

Jason Barnette

on

August 16, 2019

Did you know there are over 500 miles of hiking trails at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area? Ranging from short jaunts to days-long excursions, these hiking trails offer an escape into the wilderness. With all the trails rated an easy hike it’s really just up to where you want to go.

This list of hiking trails at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area includes details, parking locations, and where to fill up your water bottle or bladder before the hike.

Where to Find Water

It’s incredibly ironic that the Land Between the Lakes, surrounded by water from Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, does not have any dependable water sources on the trails. This can easily lead to dangerous dehydration if you don’t do a little planning ahead.

On average an adult should drink 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. This can vary depending on level of physical fitness and current weather conditions. For each hiking trail below I’ll make some recommendations on where to find the nearest water source, how much you should carry, and what to carry the water in.

Here is a list of all the places to get water at Land Between the Lakes:

  • South Welcome Station
  • Golden Pond Visitor Center
  • North Welcome Station
  • Piney Campground
  • Wranglers Campground
  • Hillman Ferry Campground
  • Woodlands Nature Station
  • Homeplace 1850s Working Farm

You can, of course, fill a water bottle from either Lake Barkley or Kentucky Lake. I highly recommend using a water filter even if just for a single water bottle. The easiest, though somewhat awkward to use, option is the LifeStraw Personal Filter. I always travel with my LifeStraw Go Water Bottle because the filter is built into the straw; just fill the bottle and go. If you want to fill multiple bottles or large containers, I recommend the Katadyn Hiker Pro; it’ll take a little while, but you’ll have some great, fresh water.

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

Fort Henry Trail

Although the Land Between the Lakes is known as a place for outdoor recreation, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives, it’s also a place where action took place during the Civil War. The Fort Henry Trail closely follows the movements of General Grant’s troops as they traversed the terrain between Fort Henry and Fort Donelson (today Fort Donelson National Battlefield).

The Fort Henry Trail System includes 10 trails covering 26 miles near the Piney Campground. However, the best hike is the 5.9-mile Fort Henry Trail. This loop trail has a 600’ total ascent and takes a few hours to complete.

Where to Park The best place to park for this trail is a cul-de-sac at the end of the dirt Road 232, just off Road 230 before reaching Piney Campground. A short hike leads to a crossing on Road 230 to begin the 5.9-mile loop on the trail.

Water Fill up at the South Welcome Station or, if you are a guest, the Piney Campground. For this trail I recommend the CamelBak Thermobak. This 3-liter hydration pack is excellent for staying hydrated on half-day hikes.

A white pebble beach along the shore of Kentucky Lake at the Moss Creek Day Use Area at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
The North-South Trail passes through my FAVORITE destination to visit in the Land Between the Lakes: Moss Creek Day Use Area.

North-South Trail

The 59-mile North-South Trail is the big daddy of all hiking trails at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The trail follows the crest of the ridge through the recreation area, spanning a total of 59 miles between the South Welcome Station and North Welcome Station.

The southern section of the trail quickly ascends the ridge about 300’ and meanders through the wilderness. The trail crosses Woodland Trace near the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.

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

The middle section closely follows along Woodland Trace to the Golden Pond Visitor Center & Planetarium. Here the trail crosses the Central Hardwoods Trail and US Highway 68.

The northern section quickly leaves Woodland Trace behind and winds along the various bays along Kentucky Lake. The trail passes around Hillman Ferry Campground and then right through my favorite spot at Land Between the Lakes at Moss Creek Day Use Area.

Where to Park You can park at the South Welcome Station, Cedar Pond Picnic Area, Golden Pond Visitor Center, Sugar Bay Campground, Hillman Ferry Campground, Moss Creek Day Use Area, or the North Welcome Station. For overnight trips I would recommend the welcome stations or visitor center.

Water Only the welcome stations and visitor center have water along this trail. I recommend hiking with the Platypus Big Zip water bladder with 3 liters of water. As long as you are able to refill at the end of each day I think two of these would be enough.

Bear Creek Loop Trail

The 6.6-mile Bear Creek Loop Trail is a local favorite day hiking option at Land Between the Lakes. The trail connects to the North-South Trail and loops around a dense forest near the South Welcome Station. With a gentle 500’ total ascent it’s a moderate hike.

Where to Park There is a large parking lot on Woodlands Trace across the road from the South Welcome Station.

Water Fill up at the South Welcome Station before heading out on this trail. I recommend the CamelBak Thermobak. This 3-liter hydration pack is excellent for staying hydrated on half-day hikes.

Central Hardwoods Trail

The 11-mile Central Hardwoods Trail is one of the easiest trails at Land Between the Lakes. The trail parallels US Highway 68 and is easily accessed from the Golden Pond Visitor Center.

The 2.5-mile eastern section of the trail is a wide, paved path that is handicap accessible and easy to walk. This section offers pretty spectacular views of Lake Barkley with pedestrian bridges crossing the water at a few points (the trail ends at the bridge crossing the lake).

READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Land Between the Lakes Camping

The 8.5-mile middle and western sections of the trail are covered in the shade of the forest. The trail meanders close to US Highway 68 and ends at the Fenton Basic Campground. This section of the trail is packed surface which still makes it an easy walk but is not entirely handicap accessible.

Where to Park There are three places to park for accessing sections of this trail. The Golden Pond Visitor Center is near the middle of the trail for hiking in either direction. Parking is available at the Fenton Basic Campground for reaching the western section. The best way to reach the paved eastern section is a small parking area near the Devil’s Elbow Day Use Area.

Water Fill up at the Golden Pond Visitor Center. If you want to hike the entire section I recommend the CamelBak Thermobak 3-liter water bladder. For shorter sections, such as the eastern section I hiked, I recommend the CamelBak Chute.

A gravel trail crosses an earthen dam toward a dense forest at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
The Honker Lake Trail circles the lake on the left and crosses over this earthen dam at the Honker Bay Day Use Area.
A gravel trail crosses an earthen dam toward a dense forest at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
The Honker Lake Trail circles the lake on the left and crosses over this earthen dam at the Honker Bay Day Use Area.

Honker Lake Trail

I discovered the 5.4-mile Honker Lake Trail quite by accident and it turned out to be one of my favorite hikes at Land Between the Lakes. I decided to have lunch at the Honker Bay Day Use Area and noticed what looked like a trail crossing an earthen dam. I crossed over and just kept hiking, though I turned around without finishing it.

If I had finished the trail I would have come to the Woodlands Nature Station. The trail circles around Honker Lake in the forest, past the nature station, and along the shore of the lake to the day use area. It’s a pleasant and easy hike.

Where to Park The easiest place to access this trail is to park at the Woodlands Nature Station. But my favorite place is the Honker Bay Day Use Area. There are several places to park at the day use area.

Water Fill up at Woodlands Nature Station before your hike. I recommend the CamelBak Thermobak 3-liter water bladder or, if you have your own day pack, the Platypus Big Zip 3-liter water bladder.

The calm waters of Hematite Lake at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
View of Hematite Lake from the beginning of the loop trail.
The calm waters of Hematite Lake at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
View of Hematite Lake from the beginning of the loop trail.

Hematite Lake Trail

Without having to think on it for a single moment the 2.4-mile Hematite Lake Trail was my favorite hiking trail at Land Between the Lakes. It’s one of the easiest and most scenic hikes in the recreation area and utterly, completely peaceful.

On my way to the trailhead near a small concrete dam I saw a massive herd of deer cross the road. I know that may not be an everyday experience but it was my experience and it was cool. The small lake was covered with hundreds of lily pads in full bloom!

Where to Park There is a small parking area just beyond the Hematite Lake Picnic Area.

Water Fill up at the Woodlands Nature Station. For this short, easy hike I recommend a single CamelBak Chute water bottle.

Canal Loop Trail

The 10-mile Canal Loop Trail is perhaps the most rugged trail at Land Between the Lakes. But it also offers some of the best scenery of the lakes. The trail follows the shoreline along Lake Barkley, past the Nickell Branch Basic Campground, beneath the bridge leading to Grand Rapids, and along the ridge just above the Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive.

Where to Park Though there are a few places to access this trail, the best place to park is the North Welcome Station.

Water Fill up at the North Welcome Station. I recommend the CamelBak Thermobak 3-liter water bladder or, if you have your own day pack, the Platypus Big Zip 3-liter water bladder.

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