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Cave Run’s 200 miles of lush green forested shoreline circle nearly 8,300 acres of crystal-clear water. The sprawling man-made lake, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the late ’60s, offers plenty of room to spread out and find your own little piece of nature in northeastern Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. Make use of the rolling hills surrounding it for hiking, mountain biking, or ATVing, or get out on the water for a variety of boating experiences. Anglers find all kinds of fish lurking under the lake’s smooth surface, but Cave Run is particularly famous for its large and plentiful muskie population.
The natural playground of Cave Run Lake lets you choose to watch the outdoors serenely from a comfortable perch on a porch, enjoy it as you gently paddle across the water, or watch it whiz by as you speed down dirt trails. But no matter your flavor of daytime activity, you’ll be awed by the incredible, colorful sunsets that cap most days.
The closest city to Cave Run Lake is Lexington, Kentucky, about 72 miles west away. Small Blue Grass Airport (LEX) serves only a limited number of cities, mostly around the eastern United States. An extra hour of driving gets you to Cave Run from Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, both of which have much larger airports that serve more U.S. cities and international destinations. Renting a car is essential for accessing the region’s spread-out hiking trails, marinas, and other activities, as well as the restaurants and shops in the various small towns surrounding the lake.
Muskie fishing season heats up in March, attracting the largest number of anglers to Cave Run Lake in the spring, though fishing here is a year-round activity. The weather follows a pretty typical seasonal pattern, with hot summers and chilly winters. The humidity and precipitation remain steady all year, making late spring and early fall pleasant times to visit. Because so much of the lake’s appeal comes from spending time outdoors, the crowds descend in summer, including daytrippers from nearby towns as well as campers and RVers from around the region. The below-freezing winter low temperatures and occasional snowfall drive away many people in the off-season, except diehard anglers, who still come to see what’s biting.
This 11-mile National Forest Scenic Byway stretches west from the Zilpo Recreation Area on the lake’s southwest shore and winds through the eastern hardwood forest. Though the drive straight through only takes about 20 minutes, plan to stop often, and be sure to visit the historic Clear Creek iron furnace.
One of the country’s largest freshwater fish hatcheries, this sprawling facility on the northern tip of Cave Run Lake rears four million sport fish each year. The hatchery’s more than 100 ponds are open to visitors year-round to wander and observe, while in summer you can go inside for a tour of the operation.
While boats can enjoy the entire Cave Run Lake, only two spots boast swimming areas. The sandy beach at Twin Knobs provides safe, swimmable waters roped off from the fast-moving boats — and with a nice view. A pleasant shoreline trail stretches north from the beach, and as part of the campground area it’s also home to an amphitheater, boat ramp, and volleyball courts.