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Backpacker Magazine – November 2012

Rip & Go: North-South Trail, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Kentucky/Tennessee

Snake along hidden inlets as you follow the shore of America's largest inland peninsula.

by: Stuart Peck

Do it
Late fall is the perfect time to explore this woodland oasis sandwiched between two of the East’s largest reservoirs. But don’t worry about crowds now that summer’s heat and ticks have died down: The area mainly attracts boaters, meaning you’ll likely have the trail to yourself on this 30-mile, two-night point-to-point. Begin behind the North Welcome Station (1) and follow white blazes through oak, short-leaf pine, and hickory. Gradually climb 100 feet to your first of many lake views, then begin roller-coastering over small hills as you follow the ragged shoreline of Kentucky Lake. At mile 3.4, the trail turns east (inland) (2).

Hike another 3.3 miles through mostly flat, low-lying terrain to the vast Pisgah Bay, the largest inlet along your trek, and take in the unobstructed views (3) of the lake just beyond the mouth of the bay. Stop for the night at Pisgah Creek at mile 8.6 (4). The at-large camping here is primitive, with occasional stone fire pits. Next day, rise early to watch bass and bluegill jump during their hunt for breakfast, then start your longest stretch of inland hiking, 2.2 miles to Smith Creek (5). In another .5 mile, you’ll reach Gray Cemetery (6), with weather-worn headstones dating back to the early 1800s, when settlers lived in these bottomlands. Follow gravel FR 130 for .3 mile before reentering the woods. In another 2.6 miles, look for fallow deer (with broad, shovel-shaped antlers) or foxes in the adjacent field as you tank up at Duncan Creek (7). Hike around the south side of Sugar Bay at mile 17 (8). Don’t let the rocky shoreline campsites here tempt you; keep going 4.3 easy miles to an even better site along Higgins Bay (9).

Set up camp on a little peninsula jutting into the water, and watch the sunset across Kentucky Lake paint the bay and forest deep orange. (Don’t camp in any cemetery; they’re one of the few places you can’t pitch a tent in LBL.) On day three, continue alternating between views of the water and the woods as you come to Rhodes Bay (10) at mile 22.9. Hike along the north side of Vickers Bay (11) and take in the view one last time near mile 27.5 before your final turn inland (12). At mile 29.8, climb 100 feet up a steep, grassy hill, the last big push to the end. Find your shuttle car at the Jenny Ridge Picnic Area (13).

Get there Shuttle car: From Nashville, go 73 miles on I-24 W. Take US 68 W 21 miles, then go right on KY 453. Park in a mile. Trailhead: Continue north 17 miles to the North Welcome Station.

Gear up Dick’s Sporting Goods, 2801 Wilma Rudolph Blvd., Clarksville, TN; (931) 645-2255;

Contact (270) 924-2000;

Permit Free from North Welcome Station

Trip data


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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star
Keith Wadley
Sep 27, 2013

Backpacker left out the second part of the North/South Trail. The trail is 60 miles total from tip to tip. Your article only covers the North Trail. The South Trail leads you further inland for the remainder of the journey. You will hike past the Elk and Bison Prairie where I had a huge protective Bison faux charge me while I was circumnavigating the fence that separated me from the trail that went around them. It was intense and awesome. There is a ranger station about half-way through that is not manned, but there is a shelter on the trail at that point as well as a water refill spicket. This trail doesn't have a lot of elevation gain/loss, but it is amazing during the Fall and with proper planning you can fish and/or hunt while enjoying your time backpacking. See for more information and help in planning your trip. Clarksville, TN is a great stop over as well, with numerous Greenways and even a Blueway in the works.


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