In October 2020, in the midst of a lul in the pandemic surge in our region, Mark and I, with two of our friends, Michael and Kyle, embarked on a trip to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky. This is an annual “Man Camp” trip that is typically spent at a family property in southern Wisconsin, but since 2020 was so unique, we thought ‘why not?’.
The seven hour drive from our homes in suburban Chicago was stretching the limits of my preference for a three night trip, but the prospects of some new terrain was exciting, particularly for a location with abundant dispersed camping - which is not easy to come by in our home state. Michael and Kyle are not avid campers (or campers at all), so the choice to bring them to unimproved sites for their first adult outing made for some not-so-adult humor leading up to the trip regarding the bathroom situation.
Upon arriving at the recreation area mid-day on a Thursday, we immediately started looking for the ideal campsite. Mark had scouted a few sites on his way back from a business trip a month prior, but it quickly became apparent to us that this was a popular destination to establish a semi-permanent residence (despite two week limitations on camping). After reviewing several of Mark’s first choices, only to find them occupied, we ultimately found a spot on the northern portion of the recreation area on Davenport Bay, just off of the Cumberland River. The site was private, shaded, and while we weren’t directly on the water, we had views of the bay. It was ideal.
We set up camp and settled in.
Now, while our camping experience and prowess varies, all four of us share an affinity for good eats, and this trip did not disappoint. The menu for the first evening consisted of shrimp and chorizo tacos followed by a dutch oven cobbler. Needless to say, we all slept well.
On Friday, our first full day of camp, we had high expectations. We kicked the day off with biscuits and gravy and, as biscuits and gravy tend to do...we slowed down. Our great ambition of exploration turned into a day of sourcing firewood, throwing around a frisbee, cooking more great food, and burning the aforementioned wood. While not as planned, it turned out to be just what we all needed, escaping from a season of COVID-19 lockdowns and trying to balance work and homelife during an unprecedented year.
Saturday picked up the pace from a lazy Friday. We did some windshield exploring of the recreation area. We didn’t see everything, but we got a good flavor for what the Land Between the Lakes had to offer. We also embarked on two hikes. We got off the beaten path from the Canal Loop Trail trail and ended up walking the shoreline shale, admiring the sailboats in the distance and soaking up the last of the summer sun. Then we walked the brief jaunt to the “Hotel California”. While the graffiti was disappointing, the presence of the structure itself in the middle of the forest was inspiring, and led to further research of the area and creation of the designated national recreation area.
As day turned to night, the focus transitioned yet again to consumption (I love camping). We made a dutch oven beef stew and baked potatoes right in the fire. That was followed by...more cobbler. While Mark and I cooked and Michael made the cocktails, Kyle tended to what can only be described as an epic campfire. We toasted a successful tip adieu in T shirts and shorts on a brisk October evening.
If you’re going to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, go in with a plan. If possible, scout out the sites you’ll be targeting in advance, either in person or online. That made all the difference to us finding a great site as opposed to settling somewhere in the woods. The recreation area offers so many opportunities to enjoy nature, from boating, to shooting sports, to mountain biking, to off-roading, to hiking. There’s even an Elk and Bison Prairie and an 1850s working farm/living history museum.
We had cell service from our site. Although, it was nice to leave them plugged in by the solar generator and just enjoy some time disconnected.
Land Between the Lakes really is a great place to bring the family or go to hangout with the guys (or gals). I, personally, can’t wait to go back.
Thanks for tuning in.