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Road Tripping: Land Between the Lakes

After years of talking about it, we finally pulled off an epic camping trip to the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. Epic because the trip was great, but also because we came up with the idea before checking the weather.

Springtime in this part of the world is nothing short of unreliable, so while it had been starting to warm up, the week of spring break was shaping up to be unseasonably cold. However, we are stubborn people, so once we decided to camp, there was no turning back. Plus, I think we sort of viewed cold-weather camping as a challenge.

We set off early in the day, making decent enough time that we didn't have to set up camp in the dark (which is unusual for us). The Land Between the Lakes is less than three hours from Memphis, so it's definitely doable on a weekend, although a long weekend would be better because there is so much to do.

Due to its proximity to both the playground and the bathroom, our campsite was actually located in the RV area, and I'm sure we stood out quite a bit in our tent. However, since it was early in the week, there weren't a lot of people camping yet anyway. The campsite was great and had all the usual amenities, including power hook-ups (since it was an RV campground), and the playground also featured a basketball court.

campsite at Land between the Lakes

The only surprise at our campground was an unexpected animal sighting. It's not uncommon to experience raccoons or other critters at night, but this was our first encounter with a skunk.

I had never seen a real skunk in the wild before, but it didn't take long for me to realize that this skunk had the capacity to ruin our camping trip. The kids did great, though, and stopped in their tracks, not making a sound, until the skunk scampered away.

When Jon mentioned our wildlife sighting to the ranger the next day, she said that there were skunks all over the Land between the Lakes, but they were generally harmless unless provoked. So, for the rest of the trip, we were on "skunk watch."

We made it through the cold first night, relatively uneventfully, although we did hear our skunky friend trying to go through the trash (which we had suspended in the air), and I did have keep making sure that the kids weren't suffocating themselves by burrowing down too deeply in their toasty sleeping bags.

Before we started camping semi-regularly, I had always wondered what people do all day while camping. I actually still wonder, but somehow we always manage to fill our days anyway. On this trip, we found plenty of local activities, but we also just spent a lot of time hanging out at the campsite. The kids were pretty good about keeping themselves occupied, and that fire didn't build or tend itself.

On our first full day, we did head out with some fishing poles. It brought back fond memories for me of impatient kids who couldn't help but cast and reel it back in constantly and a dad who spent 90% of his time untangling someone's line. We didn't catch anything, but it was nice to be outside. We rounded out the day with a short hike in the woods and then back for dinner and s'mores.

doing a little fishing by our campsite
It was a little bit warmer the next day, and we managed to leave a little earlier as well. We spent quite a bit of time at the Woodlands Nature Station. It was a cool nature center that had some indoor exhibits, including a play area, but also an outdoor viewing area with many rescue birds and other animals. Our little turkeys fit right in.

We had lots of campfire time that night after another futile attempt at fishing. It rained a little overnight, which brought with it some cooler temperatures again, so we planned some indoor activities--of which there were several--for our last full day.

Our first stop was the Elk & Bison Prairie, a drive-through preserve. We initially resigned ourselves to not seeing any animals and got excited when we glimpsed some bison from afar. But then, as we traveled along the path, we noticed several cars that had stopped in front of us. As we got closer, we realized that they were watching a herd of elk just off the road. So cool!

an elk we sited by Land between the Lakes
Stop #2 was the Golden Pond Planetarium. Not only was the show we watched very interesting, it was also nice to get a break from the chilly wind. Erik took advantage of the cozy dark room and even took a nap! We paused for a picnic lunch before our final tourist destination of the day: the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm.

Since it was St. Patrick's Day, they had set up a scavenger hunt, which encouraged us to check out all the different buildings. It is not surprising, however, that the highlight for us as "urban chicken farmers" was the livestock. We happened to be there toward the end of their day, so the docent invited the kids to help put the animals to bed, which they greatly enjoyed.

putting the chickens to bed
Literally carrying a bucket of chicken

We celebrated our day by having dinner at a restaurant in town, and we were definitely in vacation mode because we agreed to a ridiculous dessert after a filling fish dinner at The Pond restaurant in Aurora, Kentucky.

It was way past time for bed when we returned to the campsite, so we hunkered down for another chilly night, but by this time, we were acclimated to the cold. The only thing left to do the following morning was to pack up our campsite. As we loaded the last items into--and onto--the car, there was a definite feeling of accomplishment and survival. We'd done it! The only thing left to do was celebrate with a giant breakfast at a diner called the 50's Cafe in Calvert City, Kentucky on our way out of town.

We really enjoyed our trip to the Land Between the Lakes and were surprised by how much there was to do, even in the off-season. We are anxious to get back and experience the lakes when the weather warms up enough to do so.

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