The Kentucky Lake Lock and Dam is part of the collaborative work of the Tennessee Valley Authority (aka TVA) which manage several Dams along the Tennessee River valley. According to the TVA, it was implemented by the Tennessee Valley Authority Act signed in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The project included a building a series of dams to manage the impact of flooding in the region, provide better water traffic navigation, offer a stream of new employment opportunities to help recover from the great depression and use the power of the river to provide power to the people. Today, the Tennessee River Authority provides hydroelectric power to local power companies which serve electricity to seven surrounding states including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Dam is rich in history, from construction and engineering to the role it plays in the management of the wildlife and recreational areas that sprout from the Kentucky Lake Reservoir and the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area. It’s a really inspirational story about how this area came to life and the vitality that continues to grow through recreation and tourism.
We typically recommend taking “The Trace” or the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway (KY 453 going North) through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Region to the Kentucky Lake Dam, but you can also take Route 641 up around Benton, KY. Either way, it is about an hour’s drive, but simply a much prettier ride being surrounded by the trees on the scenic route. Keep in mind that, depending on the range of your cell phone carrier, you may lose cell phone signal and data access while taking the scenic route, but if you have a built-in GPS or a GPS app, you should be covered. While the kids may be disappointed in not being connected to text messages or their favorite apps for the journey, you could challenge them with the idea of counting the number of critters or bird species they see on the way!
If you have bikes, you might want to load them up to take along. There is a bike path across the Dam that provides an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the view of the Kentucky Reservoir. If you’re into fishing, bring your rod and tackle box too. You can stand along the shore and fish or fish from handicap accessible pier just down the road from the Visitor Center. It’s a neat place to help kids build some confidence around water because the walkway offers a sturdy foundation and has metal rails helping them feel protected as they get closer to the water. When the gates are open, the fish are flowing in from the Kentucky Reservoir. Just standing along the pathway near the gates you will likely see some fish pouring into the Tennessee River. There are piers and loading docks available just upstream on the Tennessee River side as well for the more experienced fishermen.
Once there, it’s hard to not be dazzled by the impressive overview you’ll have on the Kentucky Reservoir. As you approach the Dam, you’ll find a lane for a car, bike and foot traffic. We personally recommend parking the car and taking a walk or ride your bike to fully enjoy the view, especially in the fall when the shores are lined with an array of colors. Once to the other side, you’ll find the Visitors Center which not only shares information about the rich history on the construction of the Dam and hydroelectricity but it also highlights the impact this effort made for water transportation in our nation. The really cool feature is that you can see through the glass wall into the control room where the TVA employees are operating the Dam. Often times, one of the TVA employees will come out and speak with guests to answer questions and explain what their job is at the Dam, which can be a neat experience for kids of all ages.
Outside the Visitor Center, there is a handicap accessible concrete pier that extends out over the water. Going out on this walkway will give you a great view of the complete dam (for photo opportunities), and makes a safe location to stand and fish. Across the parking lot from the walkway, if you stand on the bank, you are likely to see an up-close view of barges and tugboats that are working their way through the Locks to continue upstream. It’s a slow process, but really interesting to see how the water transportation navigates these obstacles. Often times the boat captains will wave at visitors along the side or even honk their horns which makes it extra special for little kids (or the kid at heart).
We recommend packing a picnic lunch and stopping at the Kentucky Lake Drive and Picnic Area at Land Between the Lakes. (It’s just back over the Barkley Canal on the Scenic Trace Road in Grand Rivers, KY). If weather becomes a challenge to be outdoors, there are several dining options in the nearby Grand Rivers, Culvert City, and Benton communities.
If you’re already a guest at The Villa’s, we hope you find this information helpful in planning fun things to do while you’re here. Please be sure to leave any tips or comments for others below or in our Guest Book on the Gallery page to help make the trip for other families more fun.
If you’re finding this information as you plan your trip to the Kentucky Dam, Kentucky Lake or Land Between the Lakes area, we’d love to have you stay with us! We’re about an hour drive up the Tennessee River from the Kentucky Dam but we have been told it’s well worth the drive. We invite you to browse around our site to explore our property and then use the button at the top of our page to check availability for the dates you’re considering to visit. We’re pet-friendly, only 15 minutes outside downtown Murray, KY and make a great place to host your family reunion.