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If you were lucky enough to grow up in Southern Indiana or Kentucky, you’ve no doubt heard of Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. 

These huge lakes are a favorite weekend destination and people regularly pilgrimage hours, even making the trip every weekend during the warmer months, to enjoy the vast expanse these lakes afford for boating, socializing, and towed water sports.

Barkley and Kentucky Lake are two of the best lakes in Kentucky for boating, but the state is home to 45 lakes and reservoirs that provide spectacular views, fishing, and opportunities to enjoy watersports. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the lesser known lakes of Kentucky and explain why they, too, are some of the best lakes to get out on the boat and enjoy Kentucky’s warm summer weather.

Rules for boating in Kentucky

In Kentucky, you must be 12 year of age or older to operate a motobot or personal watercraft with 10 horsepower or more on Kentucky public waters. 

Children between the ages of 12-17 are required to obtain a Kentucky Safe Boating Certificate Card indicating successful completion of a NASBLA approved boater education course before they can legally operate a boat. 

If your children allow you the occasional opportunity to relive your younger water skiing or wakeboarding days, you’ll want to check out this website for more resources about Kentucky’s Boater Education Program to ensure they carry the necessary certification so you can enjoy the rare opportunity to get behind the boat with peace of mind.

Kentucky mandates that you have certain gear on board at all times to legally operate a boat on Kentucky waters.  This gear includes:

  • Personal flotation devices for each person on board (children under 12 years of age must wear a PFD while in the open part of a boat if it is underway)
  • Type IV throwable PFD (for boats measuring 16 feet or more in length)
  •  Hand portable fire extinguisher
  • Navigation lights

There are some additional regulations pertaining to gear that apply based on the type of boat, motor, and size of your craft.  You can find out more about the boating regulations in Kentucky here.

Best Lakes in Kentucky for Boating

Kentucky and Barkley Lakes  

We wouldn’t be doing Kentucky boating service if we didn’t highlight Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake. 

While the state offers a variety of smaller, less crowded options perfect for summer boating, these two lakes truly are the hotspots of Kentucky – particularly during the hotter months of the year. 

Kentucky Lake is the nation’s 25th largest lake and the 7th largest man-made lake because it spans more than 160,000 acres.  Barkley Lake, connected to Kentucky Lake by a canal,  spans 57,920 acres.

Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake are incredibly popular boating destinations in Kentucky.  These lakes offer a wide range of boating activities that range from fishing to pontooning, kayaking to skiing. 

Those who identify as boaters at heart but don’t yet own a boat will appreciate the many rental options found along both Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, and renting a houseboat is easy at Oprisor Point Resort and Marina or Kentucky Dam Marina.

40 marinas sit conveniently situated near Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.  The many marinas offer amenities such as covered slips, open slips, fishing guide services, 

Lake Malone

Lake Malone is a favorite among boaters because this is one of only two lakes in Kentucky without restrictions on boat motors. 

With a boat dock and marine that offers 72 slips for seasonal rental, a sock store for stocking up on fishing or picnic supplies, and boat rentals, Lake Malone is a destination that caters to boaters.

Spanning 788 acres, this lake promises breath-taking views of 50-foot sandstone bluffs and mysterious hardwood forests.  

This lake is perfect for those interested less in luxurious resort amenities and more in simply enjoying the water. 

Boaters can enjoy towed sports on this lake as well as fishing, and the natural rock walls make this the perfect primitive boating vacation location.

Lake Malone State Park, located in Dunmor, Kentucky,  offers amenities to boaters and families for a well-rounded boating vacation stay. 

There are twenty campsites with electric and water hookups available, as well as more than 100 primitive campsites for boaters looking for more nature during their stay. 

The park is also equipped with showers, laundry facilities, grills, hiking trails, and a sand beach with lifeguards on duty during the summer months.

Lake Beshear

Lake Beshear, like Lake Malone, appeals to boaters because there are no restrictions on motor size when boating on Beshear. 

Located at the center of beautiful Pennyrile Forest State Park, Lake Beshear is known as one of Kentucky’s best fishing holes for bass. 

In addition to bass, anglers enjoy fishing the lake’s sunfish, white crappie, bluegill, and catfish. 

Lake Beshear is located  in the town of Dawson Springs.  It sits on 760 acres and boasts more than 23 miles of shoreline for exploring. 

Redden’s Boat Ramp offers free access and the lake features areas signed for recreational boating and skiing. 

If you’re looking for a place to stay near Lake Beshear, the Pennyrile Forest State Park Resort is a quick 20-minute drive from the lake and sits close to Pennyrile Lake, too, for boaters wanting some variety on their trip.

Lake Cumberland

For boaters in search of monster trophy fish, Lake Cumberland is the lake to visit.  In December of 1985, Roger Foster caught a striped bass out of Lake Cumberland weighing more than 58 pounds and no one, to this day, has yet to top his record catch. 

For anglers driven by a competitive spirit, the promise of such monsters makes Lake Cumberland more than worth the trip.

In addition to tale-worthy catches, Lake Cumberland attracts boaters for skiing and towing sports. 

Powerboat events are hosted throughout the year on Lake Cumberland, with travelers coming from miles around to participate in events such as the Thunder Run and Poker Run. 

This lake is also home to many houseboats, too, for the boaters among us who never want to leave the craft.

Lake Cumberland is located in Jamestown, Kentucky and sits nestled within Lake Cumberland State Park. This lake covers over 63,000 acres and ranks tenth on the list of largest man-made lakes in the country.

The State Park Resort features a 63-room lodge with an indoor pool. 

There are also many cottages, cabins, and campsites available for rent, too. 

For those interested in the most primitive boating vacation experience, Cumberland lake houses several islands that are perfect for camping along the water.

Barren River Lake

Barren River Lake was created during the construction of the Barren River Lake Dam and serves as the Barren River Lake State Resort Park’s star attraction.

Boaters enjoy a variety of activities on Barren River Lake’s more than 10,000 acres. 

In addition to views of some of Kentucky’s most spectacular wildlife, the lake also offers beautiful coves and bays, such as Sunset Beach Cove, for enjoying the breathtaking sunset on the water.

The Barren River Lake State Resort Park offers a 51-room lodge and every room promises a lake-facing balcony equipped with chairs and table for enjoying the lake after a long day of boating. 

The park also offers 22 cabins for rent and a 99-site campground. 

The resort’s restaurant, the Driftwood Restaurant, means you won’t have to stray far from your boat or spend time cooking on your boating trip.

Located in Lucas, Kentucky, the park offers boaters a wide range of activities when the family needs a break from the water, including a nearby par 4 championship golf course. 

Shuffleboard, lighted basketball courts, orienteering courses, hiking, and a gift shop ensure everyone in the family enjoys this boating trip.

Buckhorn Lake

Buckhorn Lake is a popular destination all year long, but boaters flock to this lake from May through October. 

Located between the towns of Buckhorn and Hazard off Kentucky Route 28, this lake is a 1,230 acre reservoir. 

Located in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky and along the edge of Daniel Boone National Forest, the lake and accompanying Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park appeal to nature-lovers and boaters alike. 

Buckhorn Lake State Park Marina provides boaters with everything they need for a great day on the water, offering a boat ramp, boat launch, field, as well as other sundries and supplies. 

The marina offers 94 slips for seasonal rental with rental pontoon boats and fishing boats available, too.

Accommodations are available at the Resort’s lodge, with 36 rooms, as well as 2- and 3-bedroom cottage rentals.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the Bowlington Country Kitchen lodge dining room.

This lake is a great boating vacation destination because it, too, offers a wide range of family activities for time on dry land. 

Visitors enjoy a sandy beach with a bathhouse complex for swimming as well as the lodge’s swimming pool, a challenging 18-hole miniature golf course, hiking, birding, basketball and horseshoes.  

When you consider the lakes Kentucky has to offer, it is easy to see why boaters flock to this state for trophy fishing and family vacations. 

The state resort parks found alongside many of Kentucky’s lakes offer easy accommodations with access to a wide range of activities and entertainment to ensure everyone on the trip has fun.

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