A few hours south of St. Louis, Missouri and just over an hour north of Nashville, lays a peninsula between two lakes: Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. The area between the two rivers is known as Land Between The Lakes and it is a national recreational area. The location made and ease of access made this a perfect pit-stop on our epic adventure.
We selected to stay at Hillman Ferry Campground as they have full service sites. We used the online reservation system to reserve our sites as we were traveling near a federal holiday and wanted no surprises. The online reservations were easy to make and eased our concern of finding a full campground. In hindsight, we did not need advanced reservations. We pulled in to find a huge campground with many different loops and lots of vacancies. We learned from talking to locals that the majority of sites are first come first serve and that a small percentage of their campgrounds are reserve-able. We also learned that each year they hold a lottery to give some people long term access.
We arrived at Land Between The Lakes from the Lake Barkley taking The Trace up to Hillman Ferry. The Trace is a divided highway running north and south and appears to be the main path to get around Land Between The Lakes. The check in process was easy and soon we were on our way to campground number 4. Our site was a pull through with near a stream with the Todd’s literally right across the road from us. We were surrounded by tall pines and we felt the weight of the humidity.
The morning after we arrived we met a local man who gave me a tour of the park in his golf cart. He told us about some activities to think about participating in during our short time in this area. After breakfast, we loaded up and headed to the visitor center. The staff at the center were helpful in giving us options. Land Between The Lakes has an Elk and Bison Prairie that is a 700 acre prairie restoration project that visitors can drive through and watch out for elk and bison. We were advised to do this activity early in the morning or late in the evening for the best chances of seeing the animals.
Land Between The Lakes also has a Nature Center where many animals who historically live in this area can be seen. They also have programs and hikes available. There is also a historical town called Homeplace 1850 which is a working 19th Century farm. In period clothing staff run this farm with task that residents from 1850 would have done; sheep sheering, planting a garden, bringing in the harvest, or even just playing music.
We selected to visit Golden Pond Planetarium and catch a Night Sky show. While we waited for the show to begin we wondered through the museum of how Land Between The Lakes came to be. The government used imminent domain to claim this land from the people who lived there (not once or twice but actually four different times) until the families who had lived in this area were all removed.
As we lingered in the museum waiting for the show to start, our phones alerted us to severe weather moving into our area. We realized we had left the awning out on the campers so the men decided to take a quick drive back to the campground to make sure we were secure. By the time they reached the campground a fast moving, intense storm had hit. The campground looked like a battle zone! The stream behind our camper filled, tree limbs were everywhere, and campers suffered damage to awnings. Our own awning was spared as I had grabbed the side of it that morning and lowered one corner. This allowed all the water to run off one side and not pool in the middle.
The mom’s, little girls, and teen boys all attended the Night Sky show at the Planetarium. It was informative and inspired us to star watch the rest of the trip. After the show we rejoined the dads and we did a little geocaching and then headed off to find lunch. By the time we found a restaurant with wifi (one of the teen boys is taking an online college course) we were in the middle of a storm. On our way back to the campground we noticed leaves, limbs, and whole trees scattered all over the roads. We even spied birds perched on trees drying out their wings.
Upon arriving back to the campground we found that the storm had knocked all power out. The kids took off exploring on bicycles and the adults took off exploring by foot. We enjoyed meeting several other campers as we all bonded over the lack of utilities and how lucky we were to not have received damage in the storm. By the time we finished our walk, we still had no power. We had to make alternative arrangements for dinner because we had planned a crock pot meal that night.
A short drive from Land Between The Lakes national recreational area is a small town of Grand River, which is home to Patti’s 1880 Settlement Restaurant. We were able to get late reservations for dinner. While we wondered if our electricity was back on we dined on fried catfish, 2 inch thick pork chops, pasta, bread cooked in a flower pot, and some of the most amazing pie!
We thought our luck had turned with this storm, by the time we got back from dinner the power was on. We went to bed happy to be on vacation and thankful we survived the days storms without any incident. An hour or so after we turned the lights out, Wayne woke me and announced that the power was out again. We went the entire night, temperatures in the high 80’s, oppressive humidity, in a tin can (you may call it a camper) with no air conditioning.
The next morning we learned the power was out to all of Land Between The Lakes area. This meant not only did we not have electricity to make coffee but we were also could not use water, or dump out tanks down the sewer lines. Despite having had plans to linger for the morning, we packed up and headed out.
I thought the Land Between the Lakes was beautiful. I wish we had been able to enjoy the swimming area. We never made it to the Elk and Bison Prairie. If we had water toys this might be a spot I would desire to return to. The locals, who were all so very nice to us, love this area and the campgrounds and spend a lot of time camping at Land Between the Lakes.