Cumberland Lake Kentucky, beautiful lake.

Kentucky's Most Charming Beach Towns

Kentucky is home to rolling bluegrass hills, lovely mountain terrain, and some of the nation’s favorite distilleries, but when people think of Kentucky, beaches rarely come to mind. For many, the word beach only applies to sandy spots on the shores bordering huge bodies of water such as the ocean or Great Lakes. As a narrow definition, Kentucky may not meet this mark, but the state is home to many communities that lie along waterfronts with beach access. Visit a few of these beach towns and decide for yourself if the title applies. After all, all that a beach needs is a waterfront, and Kentucky has plenty of that.


Sailboat marina on the bank of the Ohio River, Paducah, Kentucky
Ohio River, Paducah, Kentucky. Image credit Angela N Perryman via Shutterstock

A distinct spirit of creativity lives in this thriving Ohio River port town, that, in many ways, champions a culture of artistic expression and immerses all who visit in rich heritage. In every corner of Paducah, you will find fascinating displays of how the townsfolk show town pride through creativity and passion. Start your day taking in the sun and fun on the sandy shores of the many beaches in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, such as Moss Creek Day Use Area.

Take a stroll to the Paducah Mural Experience, visit the National Quilt Museum, and take in some of the many art galleries that pepper the town, all within a short walk from each other. In the evenings, enchant your senses at the Carson Center, where the Paducah Symphony Orchestra holds residence. 


Aerial View of the Ohio River and Adjacent Cincinnati Ohio and Newport Kentucky
Ohio River and adjacent Cincinnati, Ohio, and Newport, Kentucky.

When the good people of Cincinnati need to get away from the big city bustle, Newport is happy to welcome them. Sitting just across from the metropolis on the Ohio River, the town of Newport is home to historic houses, The World Peace Bell, and lots of interesting and fun walking tours, including the Newport Gangster tour and Haunted Tour.

The water is accessible by boat or via what is cleverly known as The Purple People Bridge. As with much of Kentucky, plenty of distilleries and microbreweries abound for enthusiasts of fine craft beverages of an adult nature, but enjoy in moderation, for The Newport Aquarium awaits. Wish for a dip in the river? Beaches abound and offer views of the brilliant Cincinnati skyline. 


Aerial photo Kuttawa, Kentucky
Kuttawa, Kentucky with Lake Barkley in the background.

On Lake Barkley in the western part of Kentucky, Kuttawa offers a much slower path to contentment with a very relaxed community lifestyle at Kuttawa Recreation Area. Although, if you came on vacation to be active and explore, Kuttawa will not disappoint. Water activities are a big attraction in Kuttawa, but that is not all it offers.

Have an afternoon picnic on the beach at Lake Barkley State Resort Park, play a few holes at Mineral Mounds Golf Course, or take a short hop to Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. Or, if you want to cool down in the water but have concerns about lake boating, swimming, and the like, splash around at Venture River Water Park.


The Kentucky River meanders along framing the downtown urban core of Frankfort Kentucky
The Kentucky River runs through downtown Frankfort, Kentucky.

Despite being the capital of Kentucky, Frankfort has a modest population of about 28,000 and radiates small-town charm. Resting on the shores of the Kentucky River, Frankfort also provides a beach-town vibe. Frankfort has much to see and do, and every second spent in this historic town will enrich the senses and warm your heart. From Bourbon and History Walking Tours to a yummy respite at the Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory, you will witness a legacy of wonder in every step here. Frankfort is also famous for many distilleries, including Buffalo Trace, distilled in Frankfort for over 200 years. 

Elkhorn City

Deep, cold waters of the Russell Fork.
The rushing waters of the Russell Fork.

Nestled on the banks of The Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River, Elkhorn City is the place to be if your adventure includes cultural tourism. Visit the many parks, churches, and museums scattered throughout the town, then enjoy a delicious meal at a local eatery you will not find anywhere else.

Spending time at the river will make you a local in no time, especially if you have the desire to try white water rafting. Although, if that is too dangerous or disconcerting, the fishing is spectacular. Perhaps plan a riverside picnic on the beach and watch kids fly into the river on rope swings or cheer as anglers reel in the big one. There is plenty to keep the eyes, and tummy, busy in this small waterfront community.


Augusta Kentucky Ferry Launching on the Ohio River
Augusta Kentucky Ferry on the Ohio River.

Another Ohio River waterfront town, the river is only a backdrop for the activities an interested traveler will find in this picturesque area. That doesn’t mean the river doesn’t hold a special place in the town. Riverside Drive is one of the most beautiful places in the state, with pristine beaches where travelers can watch the leaves change in a myriad of lovely hues.

The population of 1,163 happy citizens is only one of the reasons Augusta is quaint and charming. Tour the oldest jail in the state of Kentucky, the aptly named 1811 Augusta Jail, get all your tourism info at the Augusta Welcome Center and Rotary Caboose, and have a blast up high at EarthJOY Treehouse Adventures. Covered bridges to farms, and, distilleries, all await, so plan a long visit.

Grand Rivers

Boats in the harbor at Grand Rivers Kentucky
Harbor at Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Image credit KennStilger47 via Shutterstock

The Village Between the Lakes, Grand Rivers, is the place in Kentucky you want to be if a water paradise is your preferred destination. There are plenty of towns on the water, but none hold a candle to Grand Rivers. This is due to its access to both the Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley and its proximity to Land Between the Lakes, a 170,000-acre national recreation area.

Leaving the sandy beaches, Grand Rivers has so much to offer individuals, couples, and families, the only way to see it all is to make one very long trip or many. There is that much. Visit a working lighthouse at Lighthouse Landing, take a bike trip along many of the paved and unpaved trails, and play mini golf, followed by a scoop of ice cream at Craig’s Dairy. It is a tourist wonderland.

Cave City

Aerial view of Cave City, Kentucky
Downtown Cave City, Kentucky.

Home of the renowned Mammoth Caves, one of the seven wonders of the world, Cave City sits near the banks of Green River, which runs through Mammoth Cave National Park. If you are looking for a relaxing way to cruise down the river, hop aboard the Green River Ferry for a peaceful float, while taking in the lovely beaches and small islands. Perhaps the trip will inspire you to rent a canoe or kayak and visit a few of them after your ferry trip has concluded.

Many tourists will want a more active experience, and they are in luck. Cave City has plenty of adventure above ground, and below, including zip lining, a haunted mansion, Big Mike’s Mystery House, and for the kids, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. It’s ok if you want to take it a little slower, and plenty of antique stores and shopping options await. There is something for everyone in Cave City. 


Buildings on the northern side of W. Main Street (Kentucky Route 179), seen looking east from Myers Street, in downtown Cumberland, Kentucky, United States
Main Street, downtown Cumberland, Kentucky.

Cumberland Falls has been lovingly titled the Niagara Falls of the south, and for good reason. Due to mountain topography, the Cumberland River drops significantly off the falls, and a lucky visitor might see what can only be described as a moonbow. Beaches at the base of the waterfall will always give interested travelers the best view of the anomaly.

That is only part of what makes Cumberland City special. The town is home to many glorious vistas, breathtaking views, and nature trails winding through the Appalachian terrain. It is not uncommon to see a black bear with cubs, as Cumberland City is the Black Bear Capital of Kentucky. Come for the views, stay for the adventure, and learn much about Appalachian culture.

Many rivers flow through Kentucky, and plenty of lakes call it home, but it is the rich history, a legacy of Southern hospitality, and the wonders of the Appalachians that draw visitors to Kentucky every year to call this lovely state home. A simple short visit is not enough to take it all in. It is important to come with an open mind, an open heart, and a desire to try a new way of thinking and living. Kentucky's charming beach towns welcome you.

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