Birding · Fall Colors · Fishing · Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This route winds up and down wooded hollows as you make your way along the length of the Land Between the Lakes peninsula. The trail wanders between the coast of Kentucky Lake to the west and the Trace scenic highway to the east. A few road walks are required, but they are barely used forestry roads and you are not likely to see a soul.
A few highlights include old pre-TVA era cemeteries reminding you of the thriving communities here before the damming of the Cumberland River. Pay special attention as the trail turns at the mouth of Higgins bay and you'll notice a small island with a cemetery. This island is accessible by a small land bridge if the lake is low enough.
Need to Know
Backpacking permits are required if doing primitive camping for free at all of the welcome centers. If you camp at any of the designated "backcountry campsites" you'll need a "backcountry permit" which is good for one year and applies to "backcountry" campsites. Which is any campground without RV hookups.
There are portions that are filled with wet and decomposing leaves that would make for a slip and slide for runners not being careful. Sections of loose rock and mud don't help. Obviously late summer and fall should be drier!
Running this from the North Welcome Station, you exit the parking lot towards the southeast corner and head down an obvious footpath. You'll need to skirt around a gate and continue for a couple of hundred feet. At this point, turn left at the power line clearing and continue south for another 100 or so feet where you'll join up with the established trail. There may be easier ways to join the trail from the parking lot, but this is the only way I have done it. Keep in mind that we have only done this trip as a three-day backpacking trip and it will be described as such!
From here, the trail is clearly marked with white blazes for the main trail and yellow for spur trails that lead to springs or shelters. Continue along the main trail and the trail eases down toward a small inlet of the lake called Nickell Cove and on toward a section that runs along the main body of the lake. Continuing south and away from the lake, you'll find the turn off for Brown Spring and a couple of mile stretch of going up and down hollows. Most of the climbs are gentle and rolling, but elevation adds up by the end of the day. The next major water sighting will be Pisgah Bay. Keep an eye out for an empty picnic table and grab a spot for some lunch. Continuing on and away from the lake has you finally reach the area just inland of Smith Bay. Cross the first creek (no bridge) and continue through the open field to the next substantial bridge crossing. This is a good site for camping the first night.
The second day continues the same pattern of water/woods/water/woods. After leaving Smith Creek, the next bay you'll encounter will be Duncan Bay, then Sugar Bay and finally Higgins Bay. If the water in the lake is low enough to expose the sand beach, Higgins Bay should provide a good campsite for the second day. If not, continue on and there are a couple of good options shortly after. We end up at a previously used campsite just to the north of Rhodes Bay.
Day three has you continuing south past Rhodes Bay, a small inlet named Savells Branch, and finally Vickers Bay (this will be the last time you see the lake for this portion of the N-S trail). After turning inland from Vickers, you continue through what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the trail as you wind through the woods, criss-crossing Barnett Creek and its feeders. Eventually, you split away from the creek and you begin to hear road noise from the more boring tourists cruising down the Trace scenic highway. The trail then turns south for one last climb before spitting you out onto the Trace south of the bison/elk viewing area and highway 68. Follow the Trace under highway 68 and end at the Golden Pond Visitor Center. Grab a pop from the vending machine or maybe a show at the planetarium while you wait for your ride!
Flora & Fauna
Pretty much typical for the area with the exception of the small percentage chance to spot a fallow deer. Oh, and LBL is notorious for ticks of all shapes and sizes - bring DEET or permethrin!
History & Background
Land Between the Lakes was formed after the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River were dammed up as a result of one of FDR's New Deal project in the '40's. You can see the remains of the old towns and farms in the area in the form of cemeteries and crumbling foundations of farmhouses.
Shared By: Brandon L