Ah, summer in Kentucky. Bright, sunny days ending in brilliantly colorful sunsets perfect for sipping bourbon or iced tea, swatting away bugs so enormous they look like they could carry your small dog away (we are trying to paint an accurate picture here, okay?), and basking in the rays on a lakeside beach to undo the paleness brought to you by the disproportionately long Kentucky winter. Lucky for you, there are plenty of gorgeous lakes near Louisville to do all these things!
Dipping your toes into cool water or spending time on a boat with your crew are among the best ways to make summertime memories in Kentucky. Whether you seek a tranquil adults-only day trip to clear your mind or a thrilling weekend getaway complete with your brother-in-law getting thrown from an inner tube, these lakes near Louisville offer every type of water activity you may seek this summer.
So pack your floaties and sunscreen, leash up your doggos, and check out some of the best lakes near Louisville, Kentucky this year!
Check out a few of these other posts:
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 17 Best Hikes in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 25 Coolest Things To Do in Louisville in Summer
- The 45 Best Places to Eat in Louisville, Kentucky
Swimming Lakes Near Louisville, Kentucky
For those sweltering summer days in Kentucky where the humidity is really getting to you (because it’s never just the heat, right grandpa?), we gladly dipped our toes first to compile this list of swimming lakes to keep you cool. Whether you are in the mood for a peaceful maritime getaway or a wet and wild adventure, one of these lakes near Louisville, Kentucky may just strike your fancy! Let’s dive in!
Falling Rock Park LaGrange Quarry
Kentucky is known for its enormous cave systems and sweet, limestone-filtered water. And other than bourbon and spelunking, one of the coolest ways to appreciate the geology of Kentucky is to go swimming in a huge, limestone rock quarry like the Falling Rock Park LaGrange Quarry! The water is crystalline, naturally filtered and wonderfully cool on a hot summer’s day and it’s one of the closest lakes near Louisville!
Note that this is a huge, 55+ foot deep, natural swimming hole – not a maintained pool with lifeguards. As such, personal floatation devices are required. So yeah, there are fish (and you can even go snorkeling to see them up close). Also, you must be 18 or over with valid ID – children are not allowed, even with their parents. And child-free doesn’t mean it’s a place to party: no drugs or alcohol are allowed (a vehicle search will be conducted before you enter).
In addition to your kids and party supplies, you’ll want to leave your non-service dogs at home, as well. Though your champion doggy paddler would be a huge fan of the water, the hot, sharp rocks commonly found in the terrain do not bode well for paw safety.
But hey, in exchange for sharing the water with a few marine critters and absolutely no children, you’ll have a TON of space to float, dive, and swim in a gorgeous natural setting!
In addition to the pristine water and serene aquatic atmosphere, you can take a quiet stroll along the sandy beach, play a rousing game of sand volleyball, and even rent a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe at the Surf Shack to amp up your exploration efforts. Take free falling to the next level by utilizing the 3 designated places to jump into the water!
We all know how good a post-swim bite tastes on a sunny summer afternoon, so swing by Heavenly Joe’s Snack Shack on-site or pack your favorite foods to fulfill all of your snacking needs. Throw on your swimsuit, pack some sunscreen and your favorite floaties, and head to LaGrange, about 35 minutes outside of Louisville. Make sure to buy your tickets in advance, because no drive-up admissions are permitted!
Deam Lake has the best and closest beach to Louisville at only 30-minutes away, and makes a fantastic (and quick) summer day trip. The water is warm and perfect for swimming, and the lake is sandy and wonderful. Pack a picnic lunch and a swimsuit, and plan to spend the day!
This 194-acre lake is surrounded on one side by a sandy beach perfect for lounging on warm summer days. The other side of the lake is bordered by green trees that will have you absorbing the beauty of nature as you take a refreshing dip in the roped-off swimming area. Be sure not to let nature completely mesmerize you though, because no lifeguards are on site to keep you safe.
Restrooms, dressing facilities and showers are available throughout the week, and food concessions are available Friday through Sunday, making this facility a one-stop shop for all your lake day needs! The swimming beach is available from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly!
If you dream of boating during your day at Deam Lake, rowboat and kayak rentals are available from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend Friday through Sunday!
In the cooler months, this area is a wonderful place to go hiking. Trails range from an easy 0.6 mile path through a Virginia Pine-dominated forest to a picturesque 6-mile loop available to hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians alike!
Feel free to grab your kids and adventure-loving pups to join in the aquatic fun, but make sure to closely supervise and clean up after them to preserve the integrity of this beautiful landscape. Recharge for the week ahead by staying in a rental cabin on-site or take a day-long break from the hustle and bustle to one of the closest lakes near Louisville in Carr Township, Indiana.
Hardy Lake, located only 45 minutes outside of Louisville, can be found in nearby Scottsburg, Indiana. Surrounded on all sides by limestone and rocky bluffs, Hardy Lake is unique in that it is the only state reservoir not created for flood control. The water level of the lake remains stable all year long, which positively impacts the wildlife in the area.
Speaking of wildlife, Hardy Lake is home to the Dwight Chamberlain Raptor Center, which cares for injured and orphaned hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons and takes great pride in educating visitors about these majestic birds of prey!
For the chance to see these winged wonders in action, saunter on over to the 741-acre swimming lake located adjacent to the sandy beach and several caves perfect for exploring. Ambitious swimmers- do not get too excited about exploring the ENTIRE acreage of the lake, because there is a roped-off swimming section for your safety.
Make sure to occasionally shift your attention from the sky to the ground, because you are likely to find fossils near the lake. Bring your kiddos (who must be supervised by someone 16 years+ due to the swim at your own risk policy) to disguise an educational opportunity as a fun-filled day featuring all the best water activities!
A day at Hardy Lake comes with all the amenities an adventurer could need, including restrooms, bathhouses, picnic areas, and several shelters. Pets are welcome, but be sure to check the algae levels before heading over to ensure the water is safe that day.
If you’d prefer a more dry, quiet activity after taking a dip in the lake, Hardy Lake State Park offers a variety of other activities, including an archery range, lawn games, and five hiking trails with stunning views. Pack a picnic lunch and don’t forget your camera when you head to Hardy Lake for an educational and super exciting summer day.
Nolin Lake State Park
If you are in the mood for a swim with some finely finned friends, take a day trip to Nolin Lake State Park located approximately an hour and a half outside of Louisville in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. This 5,795-acre lake is home to an abundance of fish, including bass, catfish, crappie, and walleye.
Fenced in by a forested wonderland and a yellow sandy beach, the water at Nolin Lake is the perfect place to take in the scenery while cooling off this summer. Sunbathe on the beach or take a dip in the roped-off swimming area of this gigantic lake filled to the brim with prize catches.
While your pets will not be able to make any of these catches as they are not permitted in the beach area, kids are permitted with parent supervision to swim and fish at the lake. You’ll want to bring your own boat and supplies, but a launching ramp is available to drop your favorite water toys. Amenities of the park include shower facilities, restrooms, a playground, and picnic areas featuring grills you can use to make a delicious meal before settling in at your campsite.
With a variety of other outdoor activities to enjoy, including 9.2 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails featuring a small waterfall, Nolin Lake State Park is the perfect place to unwind on a scalding hot summer day.
Grab some friends and SPF 30+ and head to Nolin Lake State Park where you’ll just want to keep swimming all day long at one of the nicest lakes near Louisville.
Laurel River Lake
You deserve to get away for the weekend and boy, do we have the perfect place for you. After taking in the breathtaking scenery that comprises the area surrounding Laurel River Lake, you will undoubtedly return to Louisville feeling completely refreshed and ready to tackle the week. Located about 2 and a half hours outside of Louisville in London, Kentucky, Laurel River Lake makes the perfect spot for a relaxing weekend getaway.
Nestled among the pristine beauty of Daniel Boone National Forest, you will find Laurel River Lake surrounded by a multitude of quiet coves and tall cliffs. Attempt to wash away your cares and worries in the swimming area available at the spillway of Laurel River Lake dam. Stated to be one of the deepest and cleanest lakes in Kentucky with a diameter of a whopping 5,600 acres, you will certainly find a moment of solace somewhere along the shore.
Hey, if peaceful reflection is not your thing and you’d prefer to blow off some steam, Laurel River Lake can accommodate that, too. Two marinas, Grove Marina and Holly Bay Marina, are available with all the equipment you need to get wet and wild. Allow yourself to be jostled about on a tube or water ski propelled forward by a boat rented on site. Snorkel in the clear waters in pursuit of bass, rainbow trout, bluegill, and catfish. Go crazy- but not too crazy, because lifeguards are not provided. So supervise your kiddos, leash your pets, and enjoy yourself!
We know what you are thinking- two and a half hours is a little far for a day trip, but fear not, aquatic adventurers! Holly Bay Campground and Grove Campground are located right next to Laurel River Lake and offer multiple options from cabins to RVs for you to rest your weary heads.
If you do camp and take that much-needed weekend away, you can check out the ample hiking trails with lakeshore views, take your pick of 12 trails for mountain biking, and bear witness to the abundant wildlife native to the area.
Whether you are looking for a quiet place to unwind or a fun place to get wet and wild, throw on a bathing suit and some sunscreen and go see what Laurel River Lake has to offer!
Barren River Lake
The Bluegrass State has no shortage of places to get your feet wet in the stifling summer heat, but there is certainly something unique about this next lake.
Barren River Lake is located nearly two hours from downtown Louisville in Lucas, Kentucky, but don’t turn your nose up at the long drive! Barren River Lake State Resort Park is home to the Louie B. Nunn Lodge, which offers a swimming pool and dozens of rooms overlooking the beautiful reservoir.
Barren River Lake is a massive 10,100-acre reservoir featuring 141 miles of sunny shoreline. The sandy beach with a gorgeous view of the clear water and lush forest is a delightful place to spend your day. The vastness of the sandy shore and clear water might just fool you into thinking you are on a tropical vacation! Splish and splash your day away knowing that lifeguards are on duty to keep you and your little ones (wearing their highly recommended life vests) safe. Pack a picnic lunch and prepare to make some cherished memories in the bright summer sun.
Round out your weekend at Barren Lake State Park by biking a two-and-a-half-mile loop, enjoying a game of golf on their award-winning 18-hole golf course, and taking advantage of multiple hiking trails available to view fragrant wildflowers and native wildlife. Oh, and if you are feeling really frisky, a shuffleboard court is located near the lodge!
Pack your glamping bag and leash up your adventure-loving pup (who is allowed in designated areas) and check Barren River Lake off of your best lakes near Louisville summer bucket list!
- Pro tip: Visit the beach on a weekday or in late spring/early fall! The beach can get crowded on warm summer weekends, and visiting during these times might land you a beach all to yourself.
About an hour outside of downtown Louisville in southern Indiana, you can find a gorgeous, 145-acre lake so calm that the tree lines are reflected pristinely in the warm water. As if that description wasn’t already giving you major Bob Ross painting vibes, bald eagles can easily be found gliding majestically over the lake and forest at Starve-Hollow State Recreation Area.
A gorgeous sandy beach surrounds the huge lake patrolled by lifeguards for your safety. Explore the lake however you prefer by swimming in the wonderfully calm lake or by renting your own canoe, kayak, or rowboat! The recreation area surrounding the beach features dressing rooms with showers, restrooms, and food concessions for all your mid-swim snacking needs.
Rumored to have some of the best camping at any of the lakes near Louisville, make a weekend of your visit up to Southern Indiana! Starve-Hollow State Recreation Area offers numerous activities to make your visit exciting, including 11 miles of hiking trails, playgrounds, and mountain biking. Spend some time in the Nature Center with your kiddos learning about conservation and wildlife. Bring your pets along for the weekend, but keep in mind that they are not permitted in indoor park buildings.
For a totally gram-worthy experience that you won’t soon forget, take the scenic drive to Starve Hollow Lake this summer!
Boating Lakes Near Louisville, Kentucky
If you are trying to get on The Lonely Island’s level this summer and be able to say “I’m on a boat“, boy do we have a list of lakes near Louisville for you! Maybe you’d like to rent a kayak and experience the serenity that only comes from being in nature. Maybe you’d like to go all out and rent a party barge to get wet and wild with your crew.
No matter what you’d like, each lake offers a full-service marina and a plethora of features making the area unique – cue playful river otters and dutch oven cooking classes, to name a few.
Just remember, if you want to fish in any of these lakes near Louisville, make sure to grab your Indiana or Kentucky Fishing License! Don’t forget you may also need a Kentucky or Indiana boating license to operate some watercraft as well! So grab your towels and tubes and let’s set sail!
Taylorsville Lake is located about an hour outside of Louisville in Spencer County, and is one of the most popular lakes near Louisville. This gigantic 3,050-acre lake with its many twists and turns is surrounded on both sides by enormous trees and makes an ideal spot for testing your sea legs. This is great because at Taylorsville Lake Marina there are plenty of options for renting watercraft!
Sail smoothly through the water on a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak at the Taylorsville Lake Marina, or make it a party with friends on a deluxe pontoon boat complete with a water slide. With those options and everything in between, Taylorsville Lake Marina has plenty of choices to fit the vibe for the day.
The full-service marina has easy access to gas pumps (the price of which is not included in the rental fee), a bait shop, boating, and fishing supplies. Speaking of fishing equipment, Taylorsville Lake is home to a wide variety of fish. You can expect to cast your line to bass, bluegill, and crappie during your fishing excursion.
If boating is not so much your speed, Taylorsville Lake State Park offers a variety of other outdoor activities including 24 miles of biking and hiking trails, horseback riding, and a 3.4 km orienteering course! Two playgrounds are available for your littles, and the equestrian-friendly campground has plenty of space to house your trusty steed for the night.
Taylorsville Lake prides itself on the excellent opportunities for birding throughout the park, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles while you are enjoying some sun on the boat! Make a full day of it to catch a glimpse of the vibrantly colored, beautiful sunsets known to unfold over the water.
Green River Lake State Park
If you are looking for the best of both worlds in terms of swimming AND boating, Green River Lake State Park may be one of the most beautiful lakes near Louisville! Located about an hour and a half away from Louisville in Campbellsville, KY, enjoy both the gentle waves of Green River Lake at the campground beach or make your own waves by renting a boat from the marina!
The breathtaking beauty of Green River Lake will have you reveling in the wonders of nature. Enjoy views of the sun cascading off the clear water onto the tightly-packed treeline surrounding the water, or enjoy the magnificent sunsets known to unfold over the area as you bring your boat ashore for the evening.
Offering everything from houseboats to pontoons to jet skis, Green River Marina has everything to create your version of the perfect summer day – they even have ice cream to cool you off!
Enjoy a peaceful walk along the sandy beach to dry off after a rejuvenating swim in the cool, clear water. Be careful while swimming in the roped-off area, because no lifeguards are on duty, and you’ll want to make sure to brush up on your high school volleyball serve, because sand volleyball is a fan-favorite sport along the beach. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a full afternoon of swimming and sunning.
In addition to boating and swimming, you can go horseback riding or hike on 28 miles of trails, play miniature golf, and even stay overnight at the on-site campground. A snack bar and general store are available at the marina to satiate your post-activity cravings. Restrooms, bathhouses, and picnic facilities with grills are available in the camping area.
If your group is split between a day of swimming or a day on a boat, head to Green River Lake State Park, where options for both abound!
Approximately an hour and a half outside of Louisville in Lancaster, KY lies a maritime gem: Herrington Lake. Herrington Lake canvases 3,600 acres and is the deepest lake in Kentucky at 249 feet. Its vast size and woodland surroundings make it perfect for a day on the water, and the lake is well-stocked with bluegill, catfish, crappie, and several varieties of bass for you to catch to your heart’s content.
At Herrington Lake Marina, you will find all of the supplies you need for a successful day on the water. Rent a tube to pull behind your boat for some exhilarating aquatic shenanigans or grab a kayak for a more quiet pace. And if you foresee a good time in your future, grab some friends and go in on a pontoon boat!
And did we mention that this full-service marina also has an amazing restaurant? You heard that right. Herrington Lake Marina is home to Idler’s Cove Restaurant, which serves up everything from delectable breakfast sandwiches to start your day off right, to their highly recommended hand-breaded, white cod filet sandwiches complete with fries, slaw, and bread.
For a fun-filled day on the water complete with a meal you won’t soon forget, rustle up a crew to head to Herrington Lake this summer!
You would not be hard-pressed to find something unique about any of the lakes near Louisville on this list, but what makes Patoka Lake special is the vast array of wildlife that call the surrounding area home. Patoka Lake lies an hour and ten-ish minutes outside of Louisville in the appropriately named town of Birdseye, Indiana.
The 8,800-acre lake provides a habitat for freshwater jellyfish, bald eagle nesting sites, river otters, osprey, and dozens of fish species. The clear water is perfect for locating all types of marine species! Take a Wildlife Cruise for a guided search for these majestic creatures, or visit the Patoka Lake Raptor Center for a more educational experience.
The Patoka Lake Marina offers a number of services to accommodate any aquatic activities you might be feeling that day. We’re not kidding. At the marina, you can rent anything from a houseboat for a nice weekend getaway to a pontoon for a quiet day on the water.
If quiet pontooning is not your thing and you want to let off some steam, you can even rent a Fun and Play Toon equipped with a slide and prepared for tubing. OR if you are feeling REALLY frisky, grab some friends and rent a Party Barge. Yes, Party Barge. Enough said.
Patoka Lake has so much to do on land, as well – and we mean SO much. Go for a relaxing hike or bike ride, challenge your friends to a game of disc golf, go fishing, or learn something in one of the many recreational programs such as dutch oven cooking, kayaking, or general outdoor skills. Sign us up!
Make your trip to Patoka Lake a weekend excursion by choosing one of the numerous lodging options available on site. With all of the available choices for outdoor merrymaking, the risks of analysis paralysis are inevitable. Rest assured, you cannot go wrong with any choice you may make at Patoka Lake!
Indiana’s largest land-bound body of water, Lake Monroe, offers literally all of the things you may want to do this summer. Literally – boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking – what more could you want? Located two hours from downtown Louisville in Bloomington, Indiana and set across 11,000 acres, Lake Monroe offers ample space for outdoor recreation.
While exploring all that acreage, you will certainly not struggle to find some bit of scenery to leave you feeling awe-struck, with bright yellow sand and clear water comprising the roped-off swimming beach, jet skis zipping by in pursuit of one another, and fluffy white clouds extending the length of the sunny sky. Lake Monroe is definitely giving idyllic summer day vibes!
Easily bring your own boat and launch using one of the nine ramps available. Or, visit Lake Monroe Boat Rental, which offers an array of pontoons, fishing boats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. Challenge your partner to a race across the lake on the jet skis available for rent! All of the watersport accessories you can possibly imagine are available for rent, and you can even take kayaking and windsurfing lessons on site.
Lake Monroe is home to the largest selection of fish in Monroe County, including bluegill, bass, and catfish, to name a few! If dry land is more your speed, Lake Monroe offers three public beaches and numerous nearby hiking trails to explore. Indiana’s only national forest, Hoosier National Forest, surrounds a large portion of Lake Monroe, so dock your boat, leash up your dogs, and get exploring!
Make the most of your trip by choosing one of many camping and lodging options available nearby. If you are looking for the perfect place to unplug and spend time outside this summer, Lake Monroe is the perfect place for you!
About the Authors: Husband and wife duo Shelby and Ascher Taylor-Schroeder are Southern Indiana natives who fell in love with Louisville when graduate school brought them to the area. Dog parents and enthusiasts of all things outdoorsy, the pair can frequently be found exploring trails with their beloved lab mix, Ella.
Which of these lakes near Louisville do you want to visit first? What questions can we answer? Drop us a comment below!
Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 17 Best Hikes in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 25 Coolest Things To Do in Louisville in Summer
- The 45 Best Places to Eat in Louisville, Kentucky
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