Mudfoot’s Meanderings Visit Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley and all the land between


Carrie “Mudfoot” Stambaugh

The Ashland Beacon


   Some of the best, and easiest to access, flatwater paddling in “middle America” can be found in southwestern Kentucky and northwest Tennessee. The massive sibling lakes of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley were created by damming the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which both enter the Ohio River upriver of Paducah.  Between the two lakes lies a stretch of public woodlands and prairie known as the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The region is a must-see destination for anyone who loves being on the water and it is a special treat for bird enthusiasts.

   To explore the area for my (almost completed) paddling book, I recruited my longtime adventure partners-in-crime, my beloved aunt and uncle Bev and Dave Braun. I’ve been traveling with them long before I was Mudfoot. My mom was pregnant with me when my father and her accompanied them on their Florida honeymoon in the fall of 1982. (Tuesday is their 36th anniversary. I’ll be 36 in February.)

   As a child, we shared many trips. On camping trips during the walks across a dark campground to the restroom, my “Uncle Davey” used to terrify me by telling me I’d have to take a tomato shower if I got sprayed by a skunk. (I now know as an adult that a tomato shower is the least bad part about the experience…)

   Bev and Dave accompanied me on a recent trip to the region known as the Land Between the Lakes, or LBL. We stayed in the Kentucky Lake Cottages beside the lake in Aurora, Kentucky. The town, also home to Kenlake State Park, is centrally located just minutes away from both lakes, along with the Little River, which enters Lake Barkley downstream of Cadiz, Kentucky. 

   The location was perfect: Right smack dab in the middle of a region that has more than two dozen public boat ramps to choose from on lakes, rivers, bays, and creeks. There are carrydown ramps and full-service marinas to pick from.

   I prefer to paddle from small public launches that are in more “remote” and quiet locations in order to avoid as much motorized boat traffic as possible – or, at the very least, the smallest crafts possible. I chose the Sugar Bay ramp for Kentucky Lake along with the Honker Bay ramp on Lake Barkley. We saw a handful of recreational and commercial boats on both paddles on our shoulder-season weekday paddles.

   We also launched from the marina at Lake Barkley State Park, which is near the mouth of the Little River on a Saturday. It was surprisingly quiet when we launched and on our paddle.  But when we returned to the marina, there was plenty of traffic because a fishing tournament was wrapping up. 

   Without question the paddling was as great as I had been hoping. After all, you shouldn’t take anyone – much less two of your favorite people - on a trip that has a below average chance of being awesome. I mean they did change my diapers, teach me to play poker when I was three and have always supported all my crazy dreams and every other life happening. 

   Dave paddled with me while Bev went on her own adventures with Ziva, their Dutch shepherd. From lakeshore hikes and taking some great pics of the landscape and wildlife (a few of which I plan to publish in my book) to exploring the other attractions – nature centers, a drive-through bison and elk prairie, and furnace ruins, she had plenty to do for the three hours we paddled each day. 

   The LBL region was truly relaxing, easy paddling.  I love not having to micromanage my paddles – you never know what water or weather conditions may be on any given day in a place you don’t paddle often, so the best low-stress paddle locations offer options for a wider range of conditions. LBL has so many, you could spend years paddling and rarely ever have the same experience twice. I bet there are people who try… 

   As I mentioned earlier, the birding was also fantastic. I love catching glimpses of birds – in a beautiful quiet lake bay makes it all the more fun. The highlight of this trip? A pair of bald eagles eating fish on a beach. But I also enjoyed the geese, cormorants, ducks, loons, herons, egrets, osprey, and the other bald eagle we saw…  Deer were also plentiful. We spotted four one afternoon – a six-point buck, two does and a small baby. Dave also spotted several turtles on shore and swimming in the lake.

   It was truly an adventure to remember and one that will now always live on in my book. That makes it extra special because Bev is also an author; the first I ever met, and I always wanted to be like her…