Little-Known Fact: Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is home to the largest publicly-owned bison herd in the eastern United States.
Although hiking is not the premier activity amid the park’s deep stands of hardwood, with 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline and generous mix of wildlife, it could be. One of LBL’s most underutilized attractions is the 65-mile North-South Trail that runs the length of the park. This fine path runs from lake shore to ridgeline and is seldom, if ever, crowded. The trail’s accessibility also makes it ideal for a half-day or week-long trip.
But don’t confuse ease of access with trail congestion. Only a fraction of LBL’s visitors (1 to 2 percent by official estimates) venture onto the trail for an overnight excursion. I was hiking the pathway in late September when daytime temperatures had returned to the comfort zone and the westerly breeze carried the first hint of fall. During the two-day trip I met three other people, two of them at a picnic area.
The trail is a continuous route but it traverses two very different sections of LBL. The northern point begins at the Kentucky Lake Drive circular parking lot, about a half-mile north of the entrance station. For about 25 miles this part of the trail roughly follows the Kentucky Lake shore and the bay line (part of the park’s 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline). The lake is fairly accessible for fishing, with white crappie and bass your most likely catch. (A state fishing license is required.) This up-and-down section is moderately difficult with a maximum elevation change of no more than 200 feet.
The Golden Pond Visitor Center marks the unofficial halfway point on the North-South trek. The southern portion of the trail begins and ends here and roughly follows a ridge near the center of the park, offering a nice view of the lake at selected points.
Highway 453, known as “The Trace” within LBL, runs north and south through the park. The North-South Trail crosses this two-lane blacktop road twice. Five quonset-type huts made from large metal culverts are also located along the trail about 12 miles apart.
If you’re looking for something less challenging, LBL also sports several shorter trails, including the Canal Loop Trails and the interconnecting Fort Henry Trail System that traces Civil War troop movements.
Although Land Between the Lakes is better-known for its man-made attractions, those who seek out its natural diversions are rewarded with a feel for what life was like before the dams were built, when folks still lived “‘tween the rivers” in an isolated, independent, and quietly soothing world.