Land Between the Lakes: A Family Day of Adventure

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, is known as a 170,000 acre playground. Located between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, the northern end of the area is in Kentucky, and the southern end is in Tennessee. There is so much to do and explore you can easily spend a weekend or more camping, boating, and swimming.

If you only have a day, stop at the four main attractions – the Woodlands Nature Center, the Planetarium, the Elk and Bison Prairie, and the 1850s Homeplace.

If you are traveling from the north heading south, plan to visit the attractions in the order below. If you are traveling north, reverse the order. This prevents you from having to back track.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Have a full tank of gas, there are no gas stations in the Land Between the Lakes
  • Bring some snacks or pack a lunch. There are no restaurants available, but there are vending machines and a few snacks in the attraction gift stores.
  • Download maps to your phone, or print them out. There were several spots where we did not have cell service (T-mobile and Sprint).
  • Each attraction has a small fee. You can purchase a discount package that includes a pass to each for $15 (adults), $10 (ages 5 – 12). They are available at both the Nature Station and the Homeplace so you can get one no matter where you start.
  • The facilities are open year round, so you can visit during any season.

Woodlands Nature Station

Woodlands Nature Station

The Woodlands Nature Station is a great place to start exploring the Land between the Lakes. You can start your adventure by learning about the animals you may see in the area.

Small Mammals and Reptiles

Inside the building are small mammals and reptiles in aquariums and cages. They can all be found in the wild in the Land between the Lakes.

Live Cottonmouth snake in a log in an aquarium

You can see above, the closest I have ever been to a cottonmouth. There is also a Copperhead and a few other area snakes. As much as I am not a fan of snakes, it was nice to be able to see one up close, so I can easily identify one in the wild.

The Nature Station offers classes most days that visitors can attend and learn more about an animal, local habitat, or area. These include topics like “The Awesome Opossum” and “Dinnertime for Bald Eagle.” Check the Nature Station’s website for a full calendar of events.

Classroom with chairs and taxidermy animals at the Nature Station in the Land between the Lakes

Hummingbirds and Butterfly Gardens

Behind the building are gardens and trails with more local wildlife on display. The gardens were full of Hummingbirds during our visit in late August. In addition to the many hummingbird feeders, the plants in the garden also attracted the birds as well as butterflies.

Hummingbirds drinking out of four hummingbird feeders.

The trails lead to a menagerie of birds and mammals, including owls, raptors, turkey, and deer.

Red Wolves

At the bottom of the trail, past the owls, are red wolves. The Red Wolf is on of the most endangered mammals in the U.S. The Nature Station has been a part of the Red Wolf Recovery Program since 1991. This captive breeding program is hosted in 40 zoos and nature centers across the country.

Red Wolf at the Nature Station in the Land Between the Lakes

If you go at the right time, you may be able to see some pups.

Your family can easily spend an hour exploring the Nature Station. If you opt to attend one of the daily classes, budget some additional time.

There is a small gift store to browse and bathrooms, if the need arises.

Woodland Nature Station

Address: 3146 Silver Trail Rd, Cadiz, KY 42211

Check the website below for current hours, prices, and special events.

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Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory

The outside of Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory in the Land Between the Lakes

The Golden Pond Visitors Center is a 25 minute drive (13 miles) south of the Nature Station.


The planetarium can be a great indoor break from all the outdoor activities at Land Between the Lakes. The shows are projected on a 40 foot dome in the theater. There are several different shows on their schedule, and most of them are astronomy related. They also offer laser shows throughout the summer.

Inside the Planetarium dome at the Golden Pond Visitors Center in the Land Between the Lakes

We visited on a Sunday morning in August and we were the only visitors in the Planetarium. The staff member that was in charge of the showing gave us a choice of movies, instead of watching the one that was scheduled, since we were the only viewers.

Visitors Center

In addition to being home to the Planetarium, Golden Pond is also the main visitor center for the Land between the Lakes national recreation area. There is a gift shop and a large display to walk through and learn more about the area and all the attractions and activities available to enjoy.

Walk through exhibit covering the history of Land between the lakes.

You can also find brochures about area attractions, trail maps, and additional information about things to do. There is a staffed information desk to ask questions. This is also where you can purchase a card to enter the Elk and Bison Prairie (read more below).

Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory

Address: 238 Visitor Center Dr, Golden Pond, KY 42211

Click the link below for hours, prices, planetarium show times, and special events.

Click for Website

Elk and Bison Prairie

The Elk and Bison Prairie is about a mile north of the Planetarium, so you do pass it to go to the Planetarium first. Trust me – this will make sense in a minute.

Purchase a Car Pass

It is five dollars per car to access the 3.5 mile paved loop road. You can pay at a machine at the Prairie entrance with a credit card. It is just like the machines you use to exit a parking garage. However, if you purchase your pass at the Golden Pond Visitor Center and you have more than one car in your group, you can get a bulk discount.

The passes at the Visitor Center, (and welcome stations or any day-use facility) are 3 cards for $10, 5 cards for $15, and 50 cents per passenger in a bus or commercial van.

Once you have your card, drive back to the entry gate and insert your card in the machine to open the first gate. The second gate is motion activated and does swing toward your car. As you drive forward you will pass over a cattle grate which does make a lot of noise, so prepare your kids.

A car using the ticket card machine to enter the gate at the Elk and Bison Prairie at Land between the Lakes

Drive Slow and Watch for Animals

Once you are in the Prairie, drive slow and watch for animals. We saw several large groups of turkey and then lots and lots and lots of tall prairie grass. And no buffalo (or elk)…..

Four large turkey in tall grass by a line of trees in the Elk and Buffalo Prairie in the Land between the Lakes

As we started to give up hope of spotting any of the big animals, we came around a bend and low and behold, down a hill we spotted a huge heard of buffalo!

A car on a road with buffalo within 15 feet on the left side grazing on grass


The buffalo are not scared of vehicles and we were able to get within fifteen feet of several including cows and calves.

A large herd of buffalo grazing on green grass next to a line of trees

One of the calves very slowly meandered across the road in front of us. He even stopped, taking his time, ignoring our running car.

A buffalo calf crossing the road in front of our car in the Elk and Buffalo Prairie in the Land between the Lakes

After our first encounter, we saw several other smaller groups of buffalo. Sadly, we did not see a single elk. It was a warm afternoon so I’m sure they were hiding in the trees enjoying the shade.

Once you reach the end of the loop, you can drive it around it again. If you are finished with your experience, you can exit the area the way you came in. Just remember, if you proceed through the gates, you will have to pay again to re-enter.

The exit gate at the Elk and Bison Prairie at the Land between the Lakes

Elk and Bison Prairie

Address: Elk & Bison Prairie Rd, Golden Pond, KY 42211

See the website below for current hours and admission prices.

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Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum

Entrance to the Homeplace 1880s Interpretive Center
Entrance to the Homeplace 1850s Interpretive Center

The Homeplace farm is 12 miles, or about a 20 minute drive south of the Elk and Bison Prairie. When we pulled up to our last stop, I was a little confused. This did not look like an 1850s farm. However, once you walk through the welcome center and exit through the doors behind the building, the world changes.

Small barns for animals on a grassy field.

Working Farm

The Homeplace is truly a working farm. The interpreters raise animals, grow gardens, and even grow and harvest tobacco.

The place was buzzing with activity during our visit. There were women working on a quilt by hand on the front porch of the main homestead house.

A woman hand stitching a quilt on the front porch of a cabin.

There were men tending to the tobacco crop. You can just see their hats in the picture below.

A field of tobacco being tended to by men in large straw hats.

Everyone there were dressed in period clothing using tools that were used in the 1850s. It really makes you appreciate modern technology!

We saw sheep, chickens, and large cattle with horns.

Sheep eating grass in a small field.

There was even a pair of horseshoe pits, if your group has time for a game.

horseshoe pitch to play a game of horseshoes

Through the year, there are different activities including sheep shearing, blacksmithing, and live music. The full schedule of events is available on the Homeplace website.

Homeplace 1850s Working Farm

Address: 4512 The Trace, Dover, TN 37058

Click the link below to see current hours, prices, and events.

Click for Website

Next time your family is looking for a weekend adventure, consider a day driving through the Land Between the Lakes. In addition to the attractions we visited, you can go fishing, camping, and hiking. There are self guided scenic drives, and spots to walk and catch a glimpse of the numerous species of animals that call the Land between the Lakes home.

There is definitely something for everyone to enjoy a beautiful day within a two hour drive of Nashville.

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Lauren is a transplant from Texas and has become a local tourist exploring the area with her two children. She loves to discover new places in Nashville to share with others.

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