Paddle Boating Gains Popularity at Land Between the Lakes

Jun 23, 2020

The Land Between the Lakes area stretches across 170,000 acres of western Kentucky and Tennessee, providing opportunities for hiking, camping, boating, wildlife viewing, and more. Lead naturalist at the Woodlands Nature Station, John Pollpeter, speaks with Tracy Ross about the growing paddling trend at Land Between the Lakes. 

"Paddling" refers to a group of watersports that require a paddle to propel or steer the vessel through the water. This includes kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Due to its low-impact nature and ready accessibility, more local residents and travelers alike are visiting Land Between the Lakes to enjoy a paddling trip on the water. 

"Paddling at Land Between the Lakes is not only a growing trend, but it is a popular trend as it is now," Pollpeter begins. "More and more people are requesting opportunities to go kayaking, paddleboarding...[and] canoeing. Land Between the Lakes just instituted its new partnership with Tennessee River Water Trails. We have 300 miles of water trails to go around Land Between the Lakes. On our website, you can find [information about] each different stretch of river. That's a good source of information for people who are interested in this."

"The greatest resource of Land Between the Lakes is it has 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline," Pollpeter continues. "That's particularly hard to find, especially in the South along these reservoirs where you have a lot of different housing and resorts and activity going along. [It's uncommon] to be able to be alone in a bay on the water in a secluded place. The only sound you hear might be a spooked heron, maybe an eagle cackling, the slap of a beaver's tail."

Different forms of paddling work better in specific areas of Land Between the Lakes. "Kayaks give you individuality," Pollpeter explains. "You can go out with friends. It's a great way to social distance. It allows you to get into more shallow places. [With] kayaking, you can handle the main part of the lake if you go into the waves at a certain angle. That's important."

"Canoeing allows a family to go out. Or, say you're going camping, and you have a lot of gear, so you can haul things out -- canoes tend to deal a little bit better with the wave conditions you get on the main lakes from the wind or other boats. They have a longer keel, so they can handle things a little bit better."

For paddleboarding, Pollpeter warns, "there's going to be some stability issues." He suggests staying on calmer, flat water as opposed to the main lakes. "Some of the back bays are real good for [paddleboarding]," Pollpeter adds.

While beginners and advanced paddlers can enjoy the watersport, Pollpeter suggests receiving basic instructions before going out onto the water. "We sometimes rent canoes at the Nature Station, and you can just see people getting frustrated trying to figure it out on their own. It does help when you can take it out for an hour and see how much you like it. You have a better time and a quicker time enjoying the sport if you do get some instruction."

With 170,000 acres to explore, 200 wildlife watering holes, and 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline, it can be a daunting task finding the right place to enjoy a day on the water. Pollpeter suggests the following areas. 

"Number one is Honker Lake. Honker Lake is the best wildlife viewing lake that there is. It used to be part of a wildlife refuge system from the '30s to the '60s. You can easily see beavers, eagles, [and] osprey. Here in about a week, the lake is going to be in full bloom [with] the largest wildflower, called the American Lotus. They're like water lilies. They have a six-inch, yellowish-white flower. They're going to be in full bloom. That's always neat to see."

"I also recommend the very back of Energy Lake," Pollpeter continues. "It's filled with islands and channels. It kind of reminds me of the Everglades. You can definitely see a lot of wildlife back there."

"The last one is Taylor Bay, which is right off the main lake of Barkley near the Nature Station. It has a lot of islands [where] a lot of birds -- including eagles, herons, egrets, and sometimes pelicans at the right time of year -- rest."

"I think [paddling] is a sport that almost anybody can enjoy. It's a great way to get out and enjoy the resources that are around you and experience nature in its fullest. Sunsets, sunrises, and believe it or not, stargazing is really good in one of these bays because you're not dealing with light pollution from some of these local cities. I'm sure coming up on Fourth of July, there's going to be some paddlers out there that are going to watch the fireworks. There's a lot of great opportunities out here at Land Between the Lakes on those water trails to enjoy a good paddle," Pollpeter concludes. 

For more information on western Kentucky and Tennessee's "170,000-acre playground," visit the Land Between the Lakes website