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9 Fantastic Lakes near Bowling Green, KY

Bowling Green may not have the largest selection of lakes, but the options here are large and diverse, with hardly any recreational restrictions. Most of the lakes allow swimming, waterskiing, and camping, just to name a few.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Bowling Green, KY

The choice of lakes near Bowling Green isn’t large, but most of the options here are fun lakes with hardly any restrictions on recreation.

Some reservoirs nearby are quiet fishing spots that not many know about. But most have developed parks that are buzzing with activities like swimming, waterskiing, and kayaking.

Whether you’re looking for lakeside camping, trophy fishing, or a jet ski mecca, there are excellent options on the list.

Check out what Bowling Green has to offer!

Lakes near Bowling Green:

  1. Basil Griffin Park
  2. Barren River Lake
  3. Shanty Hollow Lake
  4. Nolin River Lake
  5. Lake Malone
  6. Spa Lake
  7. Rough River Lake
  8. City Lake
  9. Old Hickory Lake
Lakes near Bowling Green Kentucky Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Basil Griffin Park

Canoe on a lake during fall
Source: pexels
  • Website: Basil Griffin Park
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 6 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking

A popular Warren County family-friendly spot in southeastern Bowling Green, Basil W. Griffin, Jr. Park offers a variety of recreation activities. 

The county acquired this 111-acre tract with a 33-acre lake in 1977. Originally known as Three Springs Park, officials renamed the park in honor of a former county executive judge in 1987. 

Numerous activities cover the interests of most citizens. An inline hockey rink, amphitheater, disc golf course, basketball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds, trails, and other amenities are found here. Recreation fields include 3 youth football fields and 10 softball and baseball fields.

The lake includes a boat ramp for those who wish to launch boats with trolling motors. Kayaks and canoes are also permitted, though no swimming is allowed in the lake. Ducks often mingle in close company with people who visit the park.

2. Barren River Lake

  • Website: Barren River Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 36 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A little more than 35 miles southeast of Bowling Green, Barren River Lake is a substantial reservoir that covers 10,000 surface areas. The US Army Corps of Engineers impounded a section of the Barren River in 1964 with an earthen dam. 

The state entered into a lease on some lakefront land to create the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. Facilities at this park include a lodge that overlooks the lake, campgrounds, a golf course, and hiking and biking trails. 

After the valley flooded as the reservoir took shape, a few areas with higher elevation became islands that are scattered throughout the lake. 

A marina and boat launch sites provide access to the Barren River Lake. The park has open slips available for those who bring their vessels, as well as boats available for rent. 

Many guests at this park come here to fish. This location even has a few free loaner fishing kits available for those who do not have their own equipment. 

Commonly caught fish include black and white crappie, bluegill, bass, catfish, and sunfish. A state-record 20 lb., 8 oz. hybrid striped bass was caught by Mark Wilson in this lake’s tailwaters in April 1991.

3. Shanty Hollow Lake

Shanty Hollow Lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Shanty Hollow Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 18 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking

A little more than 18 miles north of Bowling Green, Shanty Hollow Lake has a variety of rock and cliff formations that have attracted visitors for generations. 

This 135-acre lake came into being after workers created an earthen dam along Clay Lick in 1951. The dam sits at the northwest corner of the lake. 

A short walk on the southwest section offers a view of a waterfall where water from Clay Lick drops into a mini-canyon and flows into the lake. 

Parking spaces and a primitive launch site are found along the western shoreline. Much of the lakefront remains in private hands. Swimming is permitted. 

With places to hike, canoe, boat, and kayak, Shanty Hollow is a popular destination. Those planning to come to this area should note the lack of restrooms and facilities. 

Graffiti and litter have become challenges in this largely unmaintained site. Anglers who come to this destination have reported ample hauls of white crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass. 

4. Nolin River Lake

Nolin River Lake
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Nolin River Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 42 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Nolin River Lake is a 42-mile drive northeast of the city, a short distance north of Mammoth Cave National Park

The 5,795-acre lake formed in low-lying valleys after the US Army Corps of Engineers erected a dam along the Nolin River in 1963. 

Although residential properties border many sections of the lake, the state opened the 333-acre Nolin Lake State Park in 1996 to guarantee public access to the lake and provide camping and recreation opportunities. 

The park is open year-round, with camping available much of the year, as well. Hiking and biking trails, a mini-waterfall, a seasonal swimming beach, and a natural center offer guests different experiences. 

Lakeside fishing is available at the state park, as well as on the lake after launching from the park. Bass, catfish, walleye, and crappie are common catches. 

5. Lake Malone

  • Website: Lake Malone
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 44 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A drive of just under 45 miles west of downtown offers a chance to visit Lake Malone. Named for the family that donated much of the land presently covered by the lake, this 788-acre body of water was created after workers impounded Rocky Creek in 1961.

The 338-acre Lake Malone State Park opened the following year along a northern section of the lake. The park maintains seasonal operating hours from mid-March through mid-November. 

Other commercial boat ramps also have seasonal hours, so wintertime visitors should confirm launch availability if they plan to come after the season has ended.

The park welcomed a new attraction of sorts in the summer of 2021. A “family” of sculpted, 14-foot-high Big Twigs greet visitors. Wooden sculptures such as the lakeside “Bobber Malone” and “Happy Malone” near the campground add character to nearby holly, dogwood, and laurel trees. 

Trails allow visitors to enjoy wildflowers and see birds and wildlife.

Those who enjoy the water may access a swimming area, as well as enjoy skiing, kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, and boating. 

Similar to Barren River Lake, Lake Malone has a fishing loaner program with equipment available to borrow free of charge. 

Channel catfish, bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie, spotted gar, and largemouth bass are frequently caught in the lake. 

6. Spa Lake

Kentucky Lake during summertime
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Spa Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 38 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

Spa Lake is an out-of-the-way fishing spot that is a 38-mile drive west of the city. This body of water became a fishing destination for locals after the impoundment of Wolf Lick Creek on the north side of the current 219-acre lake. 

Located in Logan County, Spa Lake has a shoreline and boat ramp open throughout the year adjacent to the dam. No other facilities exist at this site. 

Boaters who navigate this narrow river-like area will find great coves along the twists and turns. 

With year-round access to the lake, anglers can try to catch bluegill, green sunfish, channel catfish, white crappie, and largemouth bass.

7. Rough River Lake

Rough River Lake Sports Event
Source: flickr/public domain
  • Website: Rough River Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 55 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Fifty-five miles north of Bowling Green, Rough River Lake appeared in the lowlands along the Rough River as the US Army Corps of Engineers completed the construction of a dam in 1960. 

Although most of the lakefront property belongs to private companies or individuals, the western area of this curvy, Y-shaped estuary near the dam serves as the home of Rough River Dam State Resort Park

The park includes playgrounds, picnic areas, tennis and volleyball courts, a disc golf course, hiking trails, and a seasonal swimming pool for guests at the cottages and lodge. Campsites are also available. 

Similar to other larger reservoirs that receive water from sources that experience seasonal fluctuations, the size of this lake can vary from a summertime profile of 5,100 surface acres to a winter water level below 2,500 acres. 

Fish often spotted by anglers include bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

8. City Lake

Lake during sunset in Kentucky
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: City Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 59 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping

Those who travel through Tompkinsville – 60 miles southeast of Bowling Green – may wish to visit City Lake, the focal point of Tompkinsville City Park

Similar to other municipal parks with adjacent lakes in this region, the facilities in Tompkinsville combine traditional recreation activities with those that involve fishing. An earthen dam at the northwest corner of this lake impounds the water from Mill Creek.

The park offers playing fields for baseball and T-ball, an amphitheater for concerts and community gatherings, and a few primitive camping sites. 

Boats that do not have gas motors may enter the lake. Shoreline fishing is also possible at this popular community gathering place.

While in the area, a stop a short distance west of City Lake offers a chance to visit the Old Mulkey Meetinghouse State Historic Site. The freestanding log structure was built in 1804. A pioneer cemetery includes the graves of veterans from the American Revolution, as well as Daniel Boone’s sister, Hannah. Picnic areas and a hiking trail are available. 

9. Old Hickory Lake

Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Old Hickory Lake
  • Distance from Bowling Green: 54 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A drive a little more than 50 miles south into Tennessee offers access to Old Hickory Lake. A section of the Cumberland River in north-central Tennessee, this lake was created after a lock and dam impounded this section of the river in 1954. 

The lake offers camping and fishing options to those in the area, just 25 miles northeast and upstream from downtown Nashville. 

This lake covers approximately 22,500 surface acres, has four marinas, and more than 40 access sites for vessels. There is no shortage of space or recreational opportunities here.

Common fish in this lake include bass, catfish, crappie, warmouth, sauger, bluegill, and sunfish.

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