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Photo courtesy of Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission / Lake Cumberland is the nation's ninth-largest reservoir and known as the Houseboat Capital of the World.

Editor's note: This is part of a series on small towns within driving distance of Chattanooga that are big on charm and amenities while still offering space to spread out.

Filled with friendly locals and overloaded with charm, small towns make the perfect getaway for those looking for a change of pace, a place to ditch city life for just a bit. And during the pandemic, they've become popular with travelers looking for a way to escape.

According to Airbnb's 2021 U.S. Travel Report, 51% of respondents said they are "more interested in being isolated beyond major tourist areas than they are in being surrounded by people and energy (24%)." Sixty-two percent said they wanted to vacation within driving distance of home.

Vrbo, another short-term rental site for homeowners around the globe, also notes that its customers are preferring to escape to destinations closer to home, seeking nature-oriented experiences when they do.

JAMESTOWN, KENTUCKY

Drive time from Chattanooga: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Known as the Houseboat Capital of the World, Russell County is said to be home to the largest fleet of rental houseboats in the United States. So it should be no surprise that water activities reign supreme in the area. With Lake Cumberland — the nation's ninth-largest reservoir — as its centerpiece, Jamestown and the surrounding area offer wet and wild adventure.

What to Do

Lake Cumberland Resort State Park

5465 State Park Road

270-343-3111

parks.ky.gov/jamestown/parks/resort/lake-cumberland-state-resort-park

The namesake lake may anchor this park, but there's more to do than casting a line or dipping a toe or paddle. Several relatively short but steep trails will grant you panoramas of the lake, while a disc golf course takes full advantage of the wooded setting. Near one section of the waterfront, you'll find Creelsboro Natural Arch, a 300-million-year-old limestone structure that served as both shelter and a burial area for Native Americans. Among the park's modern amenities, which include the 63-room Lure Lodge and pet-friendly cabins, is an 18-hole miniature golf course. There's also an indoor pool complex with a hot tub and game room, though the pool (open to overnight guests only) was closed at the time of publication.

Photo Gallery

Lake Cumberland, Kentucky

 

Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery

50 Kendall Road

270-343-3797

fws.gov/southeast/wolf-creek

A favorite among the things to do in Jamestown, this federal fishery stocks over 100 prime public angling spots — including the hatchery's creek — with the approximately 1 million brown, brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout produced there each year. Guests of all ages love feeding the fish. Bags of food are available for purchase on-site. Inside, you can take a tour through the Environmental Education Center and Hatchery Building, and outside there are picnic areas and a nature trail to explore. The hatchery is located at the base of Wolf Creek Dam, one of the largest in the country and a great spot for selfies.

 

SomerSplash Water Park

1030 Hwy. 2227, Somerset, Ky.

606-679-7946

facebook.com/somersplashwaterpark

"Kentucky's best waterpark" is located about 30 minutes from Jamestown in Somerset. Lounge in a private cabana, relax in the winding lazy river, ride 4-foot waves in the 298,000-gallon wave pool or take your heart rate even higher on the 40-foot-tall Speed Slide. Amid the other adrenaline-pumping slides is a Kiddie Play Area with interactive elements to keep young ones safely entertained.

*** If you only do one thing

Fishing is a big deal on Lake Cumberland, which has yielded many of the state's record catches — trout, bass, sturgeon — and the Wolfe Creek Trout Stream is the perfect place to try your hand at fly fishing. No matter what you're angling for, with 50,250 acres of waterways, it's recommended you hire a guide for at least the first day. If need be, Lake Cumberland Resort State Park's Country Store offers rental fishing equipment.

Where to Dine

Coe's Steak House

2281 Lakeway Drive, Russell Springs, Ky.

270-866-9980

facebook.com/fishplace72

Steak may be touted in the name, but this is the place to fill up on fish. Alongside country sides are hand-breaded delicacies like frog legs, fried oysters and catfish, served in a casual, cafeteria-like setting. Russell Springs is just a few minutes from Jamestown.

 

La Fonda Yummilicious Taqueria

3171 Hwy. 127, Russell Springs, Ky.

270-866-7534

facebook.com/La-Fonda-Yummilicious-Taqueria-106207087451805

Bright colors and fresh flavors define the food at this unassuming eatery, which focuses on authentic Mexican food. Nearly every single reviewer calls it the best they've ever had.

 

Fishtales

782 Island Ramp Road, Nancy, Ky.

270-866-3437

wolfcreekmarina.com/restaurant

At Wolf Creek Marina, you'll find one of the area's more popular waterside dining spots. This laid-back restaurant is located about 30 minutes from Jamestown, though you may feel like you've traveled to Key West. Amid the mostly American menu, the mahi tacos and crab cakes get high marks. You can also try a "Lake Cumberland" cocktail on the floating open-air patio.

Where to Stay

State Dock Marina

6365 State Park Road

270-344-5253

statedock.com

Offering rentals ranging from paddleboards to pontoons and ski boats to houseboats — many of which have onboard hot tubs — this marina is at the center of the action. Located on the main channel near Lake Cumberland Resort State Park, the marina itself is a hotspot of activity between the annual Lake Cumberland Raft Up party (Aug. 7 this year) and regular poker runs, including one considered among the top five in the country. The modern on-site store offers everything you could need, and the new Boat Yard Bar & Grill means you'll never have to leave if you don't want to.

 

Lake Cumberland Marina

2108 State Hwy. 1383, Russell Springs, Ky.

270-866-6616

lakecumberlandmarina.com

In addition to houseboats and daily fishing boat and pontoon rentals, this newly updated marina offers floating cabins, lakeside cabins, hilltop cabins, and lakeside campsites near a nice beach area. The Gator Grill offers bar-type fare, while the sprawling "ship store" is a great place to pick up souvenirs. Located off the main waterway, it's known to be one of the best fishing spots in the area.

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