Ducks in the early morning fog on Lake Cumberland

Ducks in the early morning fog on Lake Cumberland

There’s a kind of magic to waking up surrounded by swirling mists that only a houseboater can experience.

Sounds stick in the fog, so the splat of a trout as it jumps outside the bedroom window lasts as long as a crack of thunder. The ducks seem to be quacking right on the deck overhead, while the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the houseboat pulling against the mooring on shore becomes a lullaby luring you back to dreamland.

While I’ve repeated this experience since, my first night on a houseboat on Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland is a memory I treasure.

Setting off on Our Adventure

I don’t think there’s anything better on a hot day than sitting back in a lounge chair, sipping ice cold lemonade while the shore slowly slides by. It made me think of my school days, reading about Huck Finn’s adventures, and how he once found a whole house floating downstream. I’d always longed for that kind of adventure—all but the body—and now, here I was!

We cruised along at around four or five knots, just enjoying the ride, before deciding to moor for a while in Devil’s Cove. While it seemed almost impossible that a heavy rope tied from the boat to the tree would keep us from floating away, it did.
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Because of the lake’s depth, anchors are impractical. Also, since it’s easy to find shelter in the coves, there are lots of safe places to harbor.

The rocky cove was a great place to kick back and drop a fishing rod over the edge of the houseboat. While there are many different species of fish in Lake Cumberland, I had my heart set on pulling a good-sized crappie. The lake is well known for its five types of bass (smallmouth, largemouth, white, Kentucky and rock), along with bluegill, catfish, walleye, and trout.

While I never did get that crappie, I had lots of fun trying!

Wolf Creek Dam, Kentucky

Being a man-made lake like Lake Cumberland can pose challenges that are tough to overcome.

A hidden cove for houseboaters on Lake Cumberland

A hidden cove for houseboaters on Lake Cumberland

Nearly 60 years ago, back in 1952, the United States Army Corps of Engineers created the Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River. Over the years the dam has served four distinct purposes: flood control, the creation of hydro-electric power, releasing stored water to allow navigation on the Lower Cumberland River, and creating the recreational waterbody, Lake Cumberland. At its creation, the lake was 101 miles long, 1.5 miles wide at its widest point, and held over 6 million acre-feet of placid water.

But, time has an effect on all structures, be they manmade or natural. Around 1968, engineers became worried about problems with seepage in the dam, resulting from dissolution or the erosion of limestone in its foundation. While attempts were made to get it under control, in January, 2007, engineers determined the dam had too high a risk of failure, and put a plan in place to make repairs. Wolf Creek Dam’s water levels were lowered, which impacted on the whole Lake Cumberland area.

By 2013 repairs to the dam were complete though, and water levels returned to normal by 2014. Read the story here:

Renting a Houseboat on Lake Cumberland

There are numerous places to rent a houseboat on Lake Cumberland, as you might imagine. They’re spread out the length of the lake, so you can make your home base anywhere from Jamestown or Monticello to Albany, in Clinton County, which is where my group and I started at Grider Hill Dock.

Houseboat at Grider Hill Dock on Lake Cumberland

My houseboat at Grider Hill Dock on Lake Cumberland.

You don’t need a special license to drive a houseboat on Lake Cumberland, especially as there’s training included in your rental. Since getting the boat in and out of dock is the toughest part of the trip, there’s always an experienced staff person around to help with that! When I took my turn at the helm, it was easy to sit back and just relax and enjoy the drive.

Each houseboat is equipped with a marine radio monitored 24 hours a day in case you do need to contact someone. While we didn’t take along any additional boats, we saw several houseboats towing either wave runners or ski boats, for additional fun on the water. The watersports were great for us to watch too, from our upper deck! The houseboat, though, was just like a home away from home anyway, with television, movies, and even air conditioning for those hot summer nights.

Lake Cumberland 2015 Video

The lake’s length is around 100 miles, which provides ample distance to provide houseboaters with lots of places to explore. While the natural shoreline runs for over a thousand miles—you won’t find any industrialization to hamper your view or outdoor experience. To make this mileage, the lake darts in and out of coves, splashes up against rocky outcrops, and laps against slivers of ancient ocean floor more than 480 million years old in the Cumberland Mountains. The southeastern section of the Appalachians, these mountains are covered with amazing forests of oak, maple, cedar, hickory and pine. Simply put, the scenery I encountered was spectacular!
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Visiting Lake Cumberland

Article Updated September 21, 2015.