I've had a soft spot for lake vacations since I was a teenager on visits to Austin, Texas, to see my grandparents, who would take me to Lake Travis.
Many years later, I still have a soft spot for them, and even though these days, as a professional travel writer, my lake vacations take me to Switzerland's Lake Geneva and New Zealand's Lake Wakatipu, I enjoy spending time at lakes closer to home.
Imagine an idyllic weekend spent lazing in an inner tube, a cold one in hand (if you're driving the boat, make sure the cold one is iced tea), sipping your morning coffee on the deck of your lakeside cabin or playing Beach Blanket Bingo (explain that one to your kids) on a secluded swimming beach. A vacation at the lake is comfortable and reassuring — a nostalgic trip back to a time when summers seemed to last forever and paradise was no farther than a trip to the nearest lake.
Even school starts in just a few weeks, there's plenty of time for a weekend retreat on one of Kentucky's beautiful lakes In fact, keep in mind that they look as lovely in their fall foliage as they do in their summer greenery.
Here are four lakes within a short drive of Lexington that make great weekend getaways.
Cave Run Lake
Just an hour's drive east of Lexington, near Morehead in the Daniel Boone National Forest, is Cave Run's 8,300 acres. The lake resulted from the impoundment of the Licking River in the 1970s.
One of northeastern Kentucky's most popular aquatic playgrounds, it offers everything the water enthusiast could hope for. Cave Run Marina, on the north side of the lake (just off Interstate 64 at Exit 133), has a full stock of marine craft, from paddle boats to houseboats. (While you're waiting for the paperwork to be completed, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at Captain Jack's Boat House at the marina.)
Anglers come to Cave Run for bass, crappie, catfish and trout, but it has become known as the "muskie capital of the South" because the state's record for a muskellunge was set here. The one that didn't get away weighed nearly 45 pounds and was 54½ inches long.
Cave Run has plenty to offer off the lake as well. There are bicycle rentals, horseback riding, ATV trails (White Sulphur Trails) and cliff climbing at nearby Torrent Falls, and there's Eagle Trace Golf Course in Morehead. Non-golfers might enjoy the Old Schoolhouse Antique & Craft Mall).
Camping is one of the best ways to enjoy Cave Run Lake (Twin Knobs and Zilpo Campground, Clear Creek Campground and Outpost RV Park), but cabin rentals are available all around the lake. Whistling Woods on the south shore is one of the most popular (call (859) 428-1733 or go to www.whistling-woods.com; two-night minimum stay at $125 a night Sunday through Thursday and $135 Friday and Saturday).
Cave Run has events scheduled for every season, including the upcoming 10th annual Cave Run Story telling Festival, Sept. 25 and 26.
Near the southern edge of the state is Kentucky's most famous boating and fishing lake, spreading across parts of six counties around Somerset. Only superlatives will do when describing Lake Cumberland. It was formed by the impoundment of the Cumberland River by Wolf Creek Dam in 1928 as part of a federal effort to control flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. At its largest, it has 63,000 acres and 1,255 miles of shoreline. (By comparison, the entire Pacific coast of the continental United States, from Southern California to northern Washington, has 1,293 miles).
Lake Cumberland is unparalleled in its scope of aquatic activities — swimming, sailing, water skiing, Jet Skiing, parasailing, wave running, tubing and of course, fishing. The lake teems with crappie, catfish, and largemouth and white bass, and as they like to say, "when one type isn't cooperating, another is."
Half a dozen marinas and boat docks surround the lake. You'll see a range from modest fishing craft to luxury yachts (if you are between boats, they will be happy to rent you one). Houseboats are particularly popular on Lake Cumberland; the lake often is referred to as "the houseboat capital of the world."
There's plenty to do on land as well. The area boasts three state parks — Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, General Burnside Island State Park and Lake Cumberland State Resort Park — as well as the Daniel Boone National Forest, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail and Cumberland Falls, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It's famous for its moonbow.
Green River Lake
How about a weekend getaway that combines a trip to the lake with a trip to a state park? Green River Lake in south-central Kentucky, just 8 miles from Campbellsville, is the ideal spot. The lake's 8,200 acres includes 33 miles of water and 250 miles of shoreline; the park has 1,331 acres.
Green River Lake is perfect for fishing (primarily muskie, white and black crappie, bluegill, catfish, and largemouth and smallmouth bass), waterskiing, boating, or just relaxing on one of the four swimming beaches. On land, you can hike or bike on 28 miles of multiuse trails, go horseback riding, play miniature golf or view wildlife.
The lake offers 11 boat ramps and three full-service marinas, including Green River Marina and Resort (call (270) 465-2512), which claims to have the only floating cabins in Kentucky. As for other accommodations, there are houseboats, cabins and a 157-site campground, all of which are pet-friendly.
Just a 30-minute drive from Lexington, this lake, which covers portions of Mercer, Boyle and Garrard counties, is Central Kentucky's premier lake recreational area. The lake was created in 1925 by the damming of the Dix River.
The damming of rivers to form lakes is a common thread among Kentucky's lakes, but Herrington is different in that most of the other dams were federal projects. The Dix River dam was built by the private sector, and Kentucky Utilities holds title to the land under the lake.
The 2,335-acre artificial lake has 325 miles of shoreline, and with maximum depths of 249 feet, it is the deepest lake in the commonwealth, perfect for fishing for bluegill, crappie, catfish and several types of bass. Herrington is often described as having the finest reservoir fishing in the state.
With 13 marinas surrounding the lake, it is easy to rent fishing boats, pontoons and tubes for tubing. Herrington is known for the number of cabins available for rent, but it also offers "floatel" rooms ($45 a night Monday through Thursday, $65 on weekends; a two-night minimum is required).