Family Friendly Things to Do at Land Between the Lakes

This post is about family friendly things to do at Land Between the Lakes. Land Between the Lakes is a natural reserve area nestled between two different lakes -Lake Barkley and Lake Kentucky, covering around 170,000 acres.

Image of Elk at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky.

If you enjoy being outdoors or just want to make a quick day trip, then Land Between the Lakes is an ideal spot for the entire family. I first heard about this place from a colleague who had camped there and it did not fail to surprise. My wife and I made a quick day trip to this area with our toddler son and were pleasantly amazed by the number of things to do. It truly is a local gem!

There are over 500 miles of trails and an almost equal miles of undeveloped shorelines which makes for a really wonderful activity filled day. If you’re visiting Land Between the Lakes from the south like Nashville or Memphis, then here’s my recommendation on the things to do.

Golden Pond Visitors Center and Planetarium

The Golden Pond Visitor’s Center is a great place to stop after a long drive. It houses a gift shop, ticket kiosk and a great exhibit display about Land Between the Lakes. Kids would definitely enjoy reading about the history of the place and the taxidermy displays of an Elk and the Bison head.

Image of toddler boy standing next to a taxidermy elk.
Golden Pond Visitors Center Exhibit

The visitors center also houses a 360-degree 40-foot domed indoor planetarium. The Golden Pond Planetarium plays shows every hour which usually last about 45 minutes and includes a presentation on constellations and stars.

Admission is $6 for anyone age 13 and up, $3.50 for anyone between 5-12, and free for kids 4 and under.

I personally recommend stopping at the visitor’s center first because it has a gift shop, vending machines and toilets with diaper changing stations. It also gives you a great opportunity to meet with the staff and find out if any attraction is temporarily closed.

Planetarium at Golden Pond Visitors Center in Land Between the Lakes.
Golden Pond Visitors Center and Planetarium

Homeplace 1850s Farm

About a 20-minute drive from the Golden Pond Visitors Center is the Homeplace 1850s farm. The entrance to the farm is quite deceiving because you have to enter through the modern underground museum to see the main attractions – early settler houses! The entire experience is designed to take you back hundreds of years and visualize how the early settlers lived off the land. People are dressed in pre- Civil War period clothing and engage in actual activities like knitting quilts, tending to animals and so on.

If you have a budding gardener (noticed that pun?) in your household, then the gift shop even sells seeds for them to try planting at home.

Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for anyone between 5-17, and free for kids 4 and under.

Elk and Bison Prairie

This is easily the crowd favorite attraction at Land Between the Lakes after the planetarium show. The Elk and Bison Prairie is a 700-acre enclosed area that houses bison, elk and other wildlife like coyote, wild turkeys and bobcats.

Image of elk yearlings at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky.
Elk grazing at the Elk and Bison Prairie.

Visitors need to purchase a one-time entry pass at the Golden Pond visitor’s center to access the Elk and Bison Prairie area. Upon entering the prairie, you can drive around a 3.5 mile loop as many times as you wish to see the bison and elk up close. The only major requirement is that no one is allowed to step out of their vehicle when an animal is within 200 feet.

The Elk and Bison Prairie began as a cooperative project in 1996 and has since been able to enable native prairie grasses to flourish in their former habitats. Apparently, vast herd of Elk and Bison inhabited this part of the country and this was a popular hunting ground for Native Americans. The increase of European settlements and absence of extensive grazing allowed other vegetation to take over.

Admission is $5 per vehicle and motorcycles are not allowed. The best time to visit is when the wildlife is most active, before sunrise or before sunset.

Woodlands Nature Station

The Woodlands Nature Station offers educational programs for kids of all ages. The main attraction at the nature station is the hummingbird feeding stations and the Backyard Exhibit enclosures for wildlife like snakes, turkey and red wolves. In the summer, the Nature station even rents canoes and kayaks with lifeguards included.

Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for anyone between 5-17, and free for kids 4 and under.

Fish, Kayak or Play in the Lakes

 Land Between the Lakes has almost 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline which makes it an excellent area for fishing, kayaking or just for your kids to engage in some water play. Both the lakes – Lake Kentucky and Lake Barkley combined offer about 200,000 surface acres of water which is prime with carp, bass, catfish and bluegill.

Image of toddler boy holding up sticks by a lake.
Kayak or Play in the lakes.

My toddler had a lot of fun just throwing rocks or sticks into the water. This was a refreshing break from otherwise an activity filled day and a great way to tire kids for the return drive home.

According to Land Between the Lakes website, all anglers 16 and older in Kentucky, and 13 and older in Tennessee, must possess a valid fishing license for the state in which they are fishing.

Places to Eat

If you’re driving from Nashville, the best eating options are when you exit off I-24 to get on to State Route 68. This exit had many fast-food (drive through and dine in) options but also some local restaurants like Harper House and Triplets BBQ and No Way Jose Taqueria.

I did not see any gas stations after the exit, so please fill up before heading to the Golden Pond visitors center.

Camping Options

There is actually more family friendly things to do at Land Between the Lakes if you plan to make it longer than a day trip. There are plenty of camping options at Land Between the Lakes which includes full hookup campsites and also basic sites with grilling rings and boat ramps.

Camping rates are $10 per person over 18 years for a three-night permit. Anyone 17 years and younger is free when accompanied with an adult. Developed campground rates can range from $10 per night to $12 per night. If you wish to relax with more than basic amenities there are quite a few lodging options like cabins and hotels.

Other Nearby Attractions

Land Between the Lakes offers plenty of self-guided activities like the Iron Industry Ruins and Scenic Drives. Visitors can also practice target shooting for free at the Golden Pond Target Range while 4 wheel enthusiasts can have a fun day at the Turkey Bay Off Highway Vehicle area.  

Exhibit at Land between the Lakes in Kentucky.
Exhibit at Golden Pond Visitors Center

Other attractions that are also worth visiting are Fort Donelson National Battlefield, Paris Landing State Park, Kentucky Shores Family Fun Center and the Jefferson Davis Monument.

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