Since we live near Kentucky Lake, we do not necessarily consider it a vacation destination. Living in this area is like always being on vacation! When we do leave town, our two favorite places to visit are the Smoky Mountains and the beaches of the Gulf Coast.
But we recently discovered a place that is a microcosm of both of our favorite vacation spots to relax – Pennyrile Forest State Park near Dawson Springs, Ky.
This state park, no doubt a hidden gem, features beautiful forests among sandstone cliffs, a small, yet clean sandy beach at Pennyrile Lake, and even a 12-foot waterfall spilling over rock outcroppings. The small park does remind me of both the beach and the mountains.
Our visit to Pennyrile Forest State Park featured two short hikes. The first hike, the Clifty Creek Trail, featured a quarter-mile path across the dam and the creek downstream. Some of the sandstone rocks stick out over the creek bed here, creating a beautiful landscape along the trail.
The dam was constructed in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers as part of the recovery efforts from the Great Depression. The dam, which creates the small Pennyrile Lake, can be walked across and provides some interesting photo opportunities. Maybe even a selfie or two!
If you’re planning to visit Pennyrile, you have to check out the short Indian Bluff Trail. It is a relatively easy, quarter-mile trail that features many sandstone bluffs which early Native Americans used for shelter. In fact, as many as 8-12 persons as recently as the early 1700s used these natural shelters as their home.
Also on the trail is the park’s largest natural arch known as “Indian Willow”. Although not as large as Mantle Rock in nearby Livingston County, it is still impressive – and photos never quite do the natural wonder justice.
The popular Lake Trail features a 10 to 12-foot waterfall right near the trailhead, which is located at the beach. This small waterfall and the sandstone rocks around it really does remind you of something from the Smokies. The geology might be different, but the result is quite similar.
The waterfall does not have a name that we are aware of and is not mentioned on the park’s brochure, but it is quite easy to get to and requires little effort to access. You can even the let the cold water spill over you if you’re brave enough!
The Beach & Lake
Based on our visit to Pennyrile, I would say the beach is the most popular attraction at the state park. It is free and open to the public and features clean sand with a very gentle slope to the water. Pennyrile Lake’s swimming area is roped off for safety and is perfect for kids to enjoy. The beach is usually open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, effective July 1, 2021, the beach will be closed to non-overnight guests on the weekends. The beach will remain open to everyone on weekdays.
Pennyrile Lake also has paddle boat, canoe and kayak rentals. You can even rent a small fishing boat with a trolling motor. The boats are quite affordable, so we decided to rent a kayak and a canoe with our boys – the first time we’d ever done something like that. Needless to say – it was a blast.
Other Facilities at Pennyrille Forest State Park
The park has lodge rooms, cabin rentals, a campground and a nice restaurant for guests to enjoy. We had lunch there, but due to COVID-19, the menu was quite reduced. Regardless of the limited selections, the food was great. We had burgers and buffalo chicken fingers that were quite tasty.
Overnight guests can also enjoy the outdoor swimming pool. Basketball and tennis courts are also on site as well as a mini-golf course. Speaking of the links – serious golfers can enjoy the 18-hole golf course, too.
If you’re looking for a quick day trip like what we did, or even a nice, relaxing overnight stay, Pennyrile Forest State Park can provide a beautiful setting for you and your family to enjoy.