Lake Property Vacation Homes in Kentucky

When it comes to owning lake front property for retirement or as a vacation home, Kentucky is a hidden gem.  I say this based on our personal experience.  We have owned our lake house in Kentucky for six years and are very happy with the decision that we made.  I thought I would write a little more about it, thinking that it might help other baby boomers who are considering buying a lakefront home.

Why Choose Kentucky for your Lakefront Vacation Home?

To understand some of our logic in choosing a waterfront house in Kentucky as our vacation home, you might want to first read what we consider to be the benefits of a pre-retirement vacation home, why we chose lake front living over oceanfront, and then the criteria we used in selecting our lake house.

Now, these are the reasons we chose Kentucky as a retirement destination (or at least part-time retirement):

1.  Proximity and Ease of Travel.  Kentucky is an easy drive from many populated areas in the mid-south and mid-west.   A lot of the prime lakefront property is in western Kentucky with easy access from I-24.  It is not as easy to get to western Kentucky by commercial airline.  The airport in Nashville is used by many travelers.  It is 60-120 minutes by car from a lot of the western Kentucky lakes.

2.  Availability of Affordable Lake Property.  Because Kentucky has so much undeveloped lakefront property, you can still get a great deal compared to many other locations.  Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in western Kentucky are enormous lakes.  Lake Barkley (where our home is located) covers 58,000 acres with over 1,000 miles of shoreline.  Kentucky Lake is even larger.  Just from our personal observation and exploration, there are many miles of shoreline that remain open to development.  This keeps the lot and home prices down.

3.  Low Cost of Living.  Kentucky is still primarily a rural state which helps to keep the overall cost of living down.  According to data from Sperling’s Best Places, cities and towns in Kentucky have an overall cost of living index ranging from 70 to 78 on a scale of 100, where 100 is the national average.

4.  Carefully Managed Lake Property.  What is unique about lake property in Kentucky compared to many other states is that so much of it is carefully regulated either by the Army Corps of Engineers or by the Tennessee Valley Authority.  This is particularly important when it comes to shoreline management.   All docks require permits, shoreline vegetation must be maintained, and best of all, not all of the shoreline can be developed.  This helps to preserve a peaceful, low impact environment compared to the anything goes, circus-like atmosphere you find on some other lakes.

5.  Moderate Weather.  Yes, Kentucky can get some nasty ice storms now and then but overall, the weather is quite moderate, particularly when compared to what some of you upper mid-westerners experience.  The key is that the water (which is why we are there after all) can be used for 8-9 months of the year.

Finding Lake and Vacation Property in Kentucky

If buying a lake front home or lot in Kentucky is something you would consider, I suggest you start looking at three of the largest lakes, Kentucky Lake, Lake Barkley, and Lake Cumberland.

Kentucky Lake was formed when the Tennessee River was dammed up.  It runs parallel to Lake Barkley which similarly is part of the Cumberland River system.  The two lakes are separated by the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which is a fantastic facility in its own right.  This federally-controlled area will help to maintain the natural character of the lakes. 

Kentucky Lake is deeper and wider than Lake Barkley but we prefer Barkley because it is easier to access from the main highways.  We also believe that the housing options are better and that more dock permits are available.  On both of these lakes, you generally cannot build a dock on the main lake channels- only in the bays and inlets (of which there are many).   Both are great fishing and boating lakes.  Kentucky Lake is a better sailing lake.  (The photo was taken on Kentucky Lake.)

Just a word of warning – you will find housing and developments of all kinds around these lakes, from shacks and trailers to multi-million dollar mansions.  I suggest that you work with a skilled real estate agent who knows the area well.  

It is equally important to understand the year-round water conditions in front of the lake lot you are considering.  These lakes are part of a flood control system which means that their levels are dropped in the winter.  You don’t want to have a mud-front property in winter if you can avoid it.  Finally, be sure that the lot you are considering is eligible for a dock permit.

A smart thing to do before making any lake home purchase is to spend some time on that lake and in that area as a tourist.

The Army Corps of Engineers has a Lake Barkley web site with lots of useful information.  The Lake Barkley Tourism site also has useful links for the newcomer.

For information on Kentucky Lake, visit the Kentucky Lake Tourism site and the TVA site.

Lake Cumberland is also part of the Cumberland River system.  For more information, try the Army Corp’s Lake Cumberland web site and the Lake Cumberland Tourism site.

Here is a real estate relocation video I found for Lake Cumberland:

I hope you are successful in your search for lake property.  Let me know how it turns out.

By the way, if you are interested in vacation home property in other states, check out this site which has mountain and lake retirement property for sale.

Photo credit:  Lincoln Purvis

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