In addition to swimming, many Kentucky lakes feature largemouth bass fishing. (Photo: Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images )
While the landlocked state of Kentucky doesn’t have an ocean or gulf coast beaches, it has many lakes. Kentucky’s park system operates eight state parks that feature public beaches where swimming is allowed. Many of these parks also feature recreational pools and camping facilities. Resort-style parks offer additional lodging, dining and recreation activities, giving families plenty to do after leaving the beach.
Barren River Lake State Resort Park (parks.ky.gov), located near the south-central Kentucky town of Lucas, features a public lake-front beach. The sandy shores offer many opportunities for swimming, sunbathing and building sand castles. Also at Barren River Lake, guests will find a large marina and boat dock and plenty of fishing, as the lake features largemouth bass, striped bass, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie and rough fish. Make your stay on the shore of Barren River Lake an overnight stay by pitching a tent in the park’s 99-site seasonal campground, renting an on-site cottage or booking a room in the park’s lodge. After a day of swimming, grab a bite to eat in the Driftwood Restaurant, specializing in fresh-caught fish dishes and burgers.
In Eastern Kentucky, swimmers and sunbathers flock to the Buckthorn Lake State Park (parks.ky.gov) beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Guests wishing to take a dip in the lake may make use of the lakeside bathhouse, changing rooms and shower areas. Other recreation opportunities include pontoon boat and fishing boat rentals, as well as a guest-use marina open from April through October. For overnight accommodations, Buckhorn Lake features a handful of rental cabins and rooms in the park lodge. Guests staying in the Lodge or renting a cabin also have access to the exclusive park pool, providing a swimming escape when the beach becomes too crowded. Grab breakfast, lunch or dinner from the Bowlington Country Kitchen. The restaurant specializing in homestyle country cooking.
Lake Barkley State Park (parks.ky.gov), in southern Kentucky, sits along the eastern shore of Lake Barkley, Kentucky’s largest man-made lake. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, guests flock to the public beach for lake swimming and recreation. At this beach, guests have access to a bathhouse for cleaning up and showering after a day of splashing around in the lake. Challenge each other to game of beach volleyball on the available courts. Take a tour of the 52,000 acre lake by renting an available pontoon, fishing or ski boats. Host a fish fry after catching largemouth bass, bluegill, white bass and Kentucky bass. Extend a day-trip into a family vacation by booking a room in the Lake Barkley Lodge or renting a cabin. The park also features a campsite welcoming both RV and tent camping.
The Rough River Dam State Park (parks.ky.gov) sits along the shores of a 5,000-acre lake, in western Kentucky. During the summer vacation season, the park staff opens up the public Rough River Dam beach for swimming. Guests to the beach may use the public bathhouse for changing. Despite its moniker, Rough River is an ideal beach for family swimming, as the water remains fairly gentle. Winds blow in gentle waves. After swimming head to the Grayson Landing Restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant specializes in local Kentucky dishes such as ham and catfish. Extend your stay at Rough River by booking a stay in the lodge or renting a lakeside cottage. From mid-March through November, guests may also bring an RV and camp in the 74-site campground. Cottage and lodge guests also have access to the swimming pool, which overlooks the beach.
Pennyrile Forest State Park (parks.ky.gov) offers a public beach for swimming in the western Kentucky town of Dawson Springs. The public beach sits on the shores of the Pennyrile Lake, offers swimming in gentle waters, featuring small waves. The sandy beach sits adjacent to the lake’s boat dock, which offers paddle boats, row boats, canoes and trolling motor boats. Enjoy some lake fishing, catching bluegill, channel catfish, crappie and largemouth bass. At Pennyroyal, like other Kentucky state parks, guests may rent rooms in the lodge or rental cottages. Lodge and cottage guests also have access to the park’s swimming pool. A full service campground features addition accommodations with 68 sites. Enjoy a meal at the Clifty Creek Restaurant when swimming makes the family work up an appetite. The restaurant features country, Kentucky favorites such as catfish, fried chicken and baby back ribs.
Carr Creek State Park sits in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, offering a marsh eco-system fairly unique to the area. Guests may enjoy this alpine Kentucky marsh park, which features a number of recreational activities. In the summer, guests flock to the sandy beach, which is the longest of any in the Kentucky state park system. Fishing opportunities abound at Carr Creek with bass, crappie and walleye being the most commonly caught fish. Guests interested in exploring more of the 750-acre lake may rent pontoon or fishing boats at the nearby marina. Take advantage of this park’s rustic setting by camping in the 39-site campground. This beach has no no bathhouses or restaurants.
In central Kentucky, Green River State Park provides an excellent opportunity for beach side camping and lake swimming. On the shores of a 8,200 lake, guests will find public beach access in front of the Green River park’s campground. Open seasonally, the park’s beach features a volleyball sand court, which commonly hosts pick-up games throughout the summer. Guests will find gentle waves along the beach and calm waters for swimming. Bring along the family boat for bass, crappie, bluegill and muskie. From March through November, camp along the shores, with 157 sites. The campground features a grocery store, shower room, bathhouses and guest laundry.
Lake Malone State Park, in western Kentucky, offers guests access to a 788-acre lake. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Lake Malone features public beach access. Ideal for swimming and playing, the beach features several amenities to help guests enjoy their stay. During the summer season, Lake Malone offers a bathhouse with showers and vending machines. Plan a family camping trip and bring along a fishing boat. Lake Malone offers a public boat ramp and the lake features channel catfish, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and redear sunfish. Camp accommodations include 30 sites for tent camping and 25 RV hookups. Laundry, showers and restrooms are also available for campers.
A freelance writer for various online publications, Erin Maurer covers travel destinations, gardening and home decorating projects. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies from Widener University in Chester, Pa.
Swimming Beaches in Kentucky | USA Today