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Laurel River Lake in Kentucky

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Bald Eagles: Laurel River Lakes best kept secret

Ive been on Laurel Lake a few times in different places over the years and thought it was a pretty neat place. But it wasnt till this past fall that I decided I had to paddle the whole shoreline of the lake.

An old college buddy, Ron, found me on the classmates web site. I hadnt seen Ron in over twenty years. He was from Corbin, but had been in Florida as a teacher since college. When he contacted me, I went down to his neck of the woods to meet up with him. We spent the day circling Laurel Lake by car; with him showing me all the neat places he used to play as a kid. I thought that if there was that many neat places by car, how many more there must be by paddle. That was when the dream of paddling the whole lake was born.

The shoreline is around 210 miles, so I figured with an average of 15 miles a day, I could do it in 14 days. It took me 12. Some days were fewer miles when I paddled with my cousin and his pregnant girlfriend who had never paddled before. Some days were many more miles when I paddled with my wife who has paddled the Everglades with me. I did more miles also with my friend Curtis who has paddled no less than 500 miles with me over the last year. While Im at it -- I would like to give thanks to all those that gave me some company during different parts of the paddle on Laurel Lake. My cousin Brett, cousin Tim and girlfriend, wife Deborah, friend Curtis, son Lange and his friend Drew (who also camped with me at a boat in camp ground), and Ron who sparked my interest in the venture to begin with.

Laurel River Lake is made up of two main bodies of waters. One being the Laurel River and the other are Craigs Creek. It is also added to by no less than two dozen feeder creeks such as Cane Branch, Marsh Branch, Stillhouse Creek, Whippoorwill Creek and the likes. Each of these feeder creeks is good for five to ten mile round trip paddle. Cane Branch is blocked off to all motorboat traffic for a Goose breeding area. But the paddleboats are allowed in. There is an unnamed branch to the southwest of the damn that is blocked off to all boat traffic including the paddleboat. This is the nesting area of the Bald Eagle.

I think I was more fortunate than most as I witnessed two females, one male and a nest full of chicks. Everyone I spoke with that was aware of the Eagles has never seen more than one at a time. I assume my witness of the large number was due to approaching in a paddleboat on a week day and hanging out there for a while. It was truly breathtaking and I felt privileged to be a witness to them. It made me feel that there is a chance my grandchildren will be able to see Eagles as a common thing in the wild.

Laurel River Lake is a unique lake in the fact that the geography is mostly sandstone. Most of the shoreline is a gentle slope and you can come ashore almost everywhere. Where there is big rock, most of them are climbable from one end or another. The big rock has unique chisels to them from years of lapping water. Many of them have ledges over the water that makes a perfect kayak garage in inclement weather. I have used more than one, more than once. They also make great diving platforms. And some of the large rock will gently slope out of the water to make a landing ramp and play area.

Where there is not large rock, there are small rock shorelines. Since most of the geography is sandstone, it is fairly common to find a large white sandy beach at the head of most of the feeder creeks. Most of the feeder creeks also are still in dead tree stands at the mouth, which again means no motorboats, just paddle territory. The water visibility is around six to ten feet on the main body and twice that in the feeder creeks. The state owns the land around the lake, so there are no invasive neighborhoods, housings or factories. You can really get the feeling of getting back to nature.

Lake Cumberland is a much larger lake nearby; so there is not a lot of boat traffic on Laurel Lake as most tourists go to Cumberland. Which is another great feature for the paddler. Most of the campgrounds on the lake are boat-in camp ground only. The boat-ins have all the convenience of a drive in, but more private. They also have primitive boat-in campgrounds, one being right across from the Eagle nesting area -- for those that dont mind taking the time to see our national bird.

Laurel Lake is by far one of the best paddles Ive ever done. Im going to rate it the best in Kentucky (so far) and Ive paddled quite a few. It is easy to get to, there is a lot of state access and put in areas, and it is a mighty clean lake. Who could ask for more?!?


State access areas: $3.00 for a day


I-75 southern part of KY, exits 25, 29, or 36

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location