Unhurried on a houseboat

Published May/June 2006

A weekend cruise in western Kentucky’s Lakes and Rivers region offers a relaxing getaway with plenty of swimming, sightseeing and quality time.
By Dennis R. Heinze

With the sun slowly rising above the treetops and a delicate mist clinging to the lake, the day unfolded in a quiet cove on western Kentucky’s Lake Barkley in unhurried languor, the stillness broken only by the calling of a Great Blue Heron on the hunt for breakfast.

As the rest of our group aboard the houseboat rose one by one to greet the day with mugs of coffee, we watched the lake come alive with speedboats, jet skis, all manner of houseboats and even massive barges slowly churning their way through the lake, which is part of a river system that includes the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Gradually as traffic picked up on the lake, the calm waters gave way to gentle waves that rocked the houseboat, encouraging us to join the parade of craft exploring western Kentucky’s Lakes and Rivers Region.

The region is a popular destination for houseboating, which our group of friends and family had decided to sample for a relaxing weekend getaway. Our group of landlubbers included seven adults and four children, none of whom had been on a houseboat before but were eager for the experience.

A floating house

We rented a luxury houseboat through WaterWay Adventures, which operates out of Green Turtle Bay Marina on the northern end of the lake. Located not far from the Illinois/Kentucky border, the marina is about two hours from Evansville, Ind., and about three hours from St. Louis. Boats that accommodate from eight to 12 people are available.

If you’ve forgotten something for the trip, stop off in the quaint town of Grand Rivers less than a mile from the marina. In addition to a grocery store, there are souvenir shops, restaurants offering homestyle meals and a miniature golf course. It’s worth a stop to stretch your legs before you board the boat.

But once on the boat, you still can stretch your legs. There was plenty of room aboard our 80-foot vessel, which was more like a house than a boat. With six bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, living room, a full kitchen, a deck and a spacious bar area topside, we never felt crowded. Our boat even had a hot tub near the bar that offered a great spot to relax and take in the views of the lake and wooded shoreline.

After we boarded and stowed our gear and food, a member of the WaterWay Adventures staff gave us a tour of the boat and explained its amenities. Then he spent another 15 minutes instructing us how to start and stop the engines, how to anchor the boat and some general boating regulations and tips.

The WaterWay Adventures staff piloted us out of the marina, and when we returned, we called them on a radio and another staff member was ferried out to us and he steered us back. However, if you stop at other marinas, you must dock the boat yourself.

While on the lake, piloting the massive boat was relatively easy. Unlike driving a car, you don’t have to steer very far in either direction to make the boat turn. Following a few simple directions, starting the boat was as easy as starting a car, and we didn’t need any fancy navigational tools to operate the boat.

Living in a floating house was thrilling for the children and restful and rejuvenating for the adults. There’s something about water that is captivating, especially when you have a 360-degree view of it from your house. We would often gaze as if spellbound across the olive-colored water as tiny waves rippled toward the cove-studded shoreline.

A leisurely pace

Shortly after we began our houseboat adventure, it didn’t take long to settle into the laid-back rhythm of life on the lake. Within the first hour of the trip, I turned off my cell phone and took off my watch and put them on the nightstand, where they stayed for the duration of the trip.

Throughout the trip, we never felt rushed. We didn’t feel like we had to wake up by a certain time to take in a list of attractions or sights. Spending quality time with friends and family, we talked, laughed, played games, swam, read and enjoyed leisurely meals away from the hassles of everyday life.

After breakfast, we would pull up the anchors, but not without some effort. An anchor is set at the front and back of the boat so the boat doesn’t spin during the night, but once the anchors catch on brush or rocks at the bottom, they can be difficult to retrieve. In fact, we broke the rope on a couple anchors, which we were told is relatively common.

Within minutes of calling into the marina about the anchors, a WaterWay Adventures speedboat would be dispatched to us on the lake to deliver a new anchor. Such fast and friendly service was the rule during our trip, not the exception. For instance, when the DVD player acted up during the trip, they replaced it immediately.

We typically spent the morning and early afternoon exploring the region. Although we started on Lake Barkley, we also ventured into Kentucky Lake, which is connected by a large free-flowing canal that is located near the dam on each lake.

The lakes run parallel courses for about 50 miles with the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area located between them. The largest inland peninsula in the United States, the area features 170,000 acres of undeveloped wilderness and 300 miles of natural shoreline where you won’t find any hotels, resorts or towns.

In the recreation area, campers can choose from more than 1,500 campsites in four developed campgrounds, and hikers will find more than 200 miles of trails. It is inhabited by more than 280 different species of birds and mammals. One morning we watched as a heron flew overhead with a fish in its talons, and another night a whitetail deer and its two fawn pranced along the shoreline before plunging into the forest canopy.

While cruising around the Land Between the Lakes in the morning, we would begin searching for the perfect cove with nice scenery to enjoy and where there were few if any other boats. It was easy finding a host of enchanting coves, because Kentucky Lake is 184 miles long and has nearly 2,400 miles of shoreline, and Lake Barkley is 134 miles long with 1,000 miles of shoreline.

With a peaceful cove selected, we would drop anchor and spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and barbecuing. The houseboat had a tube slide that curled from the top deck into the lake, which our children–and some of the adults–enjoyed. We outfitted the children with ski vests we had brought from home that kept them floating while they tossed around beach balls and footballs.

Lounging in a tube or swimming around the boat, you could feel the stress float away with the rhythmic waves.

Evenings were devoted to big meals, and the full kitchen had everything we needed to prepare them. We typically ate around a large table on deck that offered scenic views, and then relaxed or played games until the sun dipped below the trees and the bugs chased us inside.

Some members of our group never slept better than on board the boat, with the soothing waves cradling the craft. And then we would arise with the sun and do it all over again.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of the AAA Midwest Traveler magazine.

Above: At 80 feet in length, larger houseboats offer plenty of room for several families to enjoy.

Below: Houseboats are more like houses than boats with all the amenities of home, including large dining rooms, living rooms and kitchens. WaterWay Adventures photos

Bounty of Boats
By Dennis R. Heinze

With fantastic lakes and rivers, Kentucky is often called the “Houseboating Capital of the World,” but there are plenty of other places you can drop anchor and call the water home for a week or weekend.

Hundreds of houseboat companies can be found across the country. What follows are just a few examples. To find more, visit online at www.houseboatmagazine.com. The site features a list of states and the names of houseboat rental companies, including links to their Web sites.


In the Natural State with dozens of beautiful lakes, outdoor enthusiasts have plenty of choices for houseboating. In the north, houseboats are available for rent on Bull Shoals Lake and Norfork, as well as on Greers Ferry Lake in north-central Arkansas. In central Arkansas, there are even more options with boats available at DeGray Lake. At Lake Ouachita, which has been called one of cleanest lakes in America, there are four different rental companies from which to choose to explore the 40,000-acre lake with 975 miles of shoreline.

For details on all the houseboat rental companies in Arkansas, visit online at www.arkansas.com/places-to-stay/house boats. The site features links to each rental company.


With 1,150 miles of cove-studded shoreline and covering 54,000 acres, the Lake of the Ozarks is a shimmering jewel in mid-Missouri that is teeming with dozens of different types of watercraft, including houseboats. Forever Resorts rents houseboats at 11 marinas nationwide, including the Lake of the Ozarks Marina. For details, visit www.lakeoftheozarksmarina.com.
Farther south in Missouri, Tri-Lakes Houseboat Rentals operates on Table Rock Lake at the Port of Kimberling with several different-sized boats. For details, visit www.tri-lakeshouseboat.com online.


In southern Indiana, Patoka Lake is a 26,000-acre gem of unspoiled beauty. Visitors can rent several different styles of houseboats from two different marinas. For details, visit www.patokalakemarina.com or www.hoosierhillsmarina.com.

Families enjoying a houseboat on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

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