Wildlife Viewing

Wildlife Viewing Hotspots

Bobcat at Woodlands Nature StationLocation: Northeast section of LBL between Road 133-135

Best Time to Visit: year-round, Dawn and dusk for best viewing

Access: Hiking, Paddling, Vehicles, Accessible trail is available.

Highlights: Hematite Lake Trail, Honker Lake & Trail, Empire Point, Woodlands Nature Station

Commonly Seen: Birds of prey, songbirds, wading birds, waterfowl, beavers, exotic fallow deer, wildflowers, reptiles and amphibians

Around 6,800 acres, the Woodlands Nature Watch Area encompasses some of the best wildlife-viewing in Land Between the Lakes. Once the core of one of the first national wildlife refuges, the area hosts thick forested upland ridges that gently drop down into beaver marshes and bottomlands teeming with wildlife. You will find the hub of the area, Woodlands Nature Station, nestled between Honker and Hematite Lakes. There you can jump on a trail or find a great place to explore paddling.


Location: 1 mile north on the Trace from Highway 68/80

Best Time of Year: Year-round, 1 hour prior to dusk, May during bison calving, Sept.-Nov. for elk rut.

Access: Enclosed vehicles only, $5 per vehicle

Commonly Seen: Elk, Bison, wild turkey, egrets, songbirds like blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings, summer tanagers, prairie warblers

Step back in time and explore an ecosystem once commonly found in Land Between the Lakes - the barrens: a intermix of tallgrass prairie and oak woodlands. It is a land shaped by movements of its dominant residents, the elk and the American bison. Both died out in the early 1800's. Search for the wallows and rubs (or the great beasts themselves), but don't forget to slow down for the vivid songbirds, butterflies, wild turkey, and egrets who call this diverse habitat home.

Cattle Egret, Photo by Ron Kruger

Location: North of Highway 68/80 near the Lake Barkley Bridge and Energy Lake Road

Best Time to See: Spring and Fall Migration, Winter

Access: Vehicle only

Commonly Seen: Eagles, neotropical migrants, beavers, winter waterfowl

Note: Long Creek restricts some access during Nov. 1-Mar.16

A well-known "must stop" secret for birders, Long Creek Wildlife Refuge, is a grassy wetland with several managed pools, attracting a myriad of migrating songbirds, wading birds, raptors, and waterfowl year-round. If there is something unusual in LBL, most likely, it stopped by Long Creek.

Bison at the South Bison Range

Location: 1 mile south of the Kentucky/Tennessee border, across from the Homeplace

Best Time to See: Year-round, May is calving season, August is the bison rut

Access: Vehicle only

Commonly Seen: American bison, bluebirds, hawks, sparrows, summer butterflies

This open grassland gives an expansive view of the large herds of bison that dominate prairie.  Watch for the social interactions as these national symbols act as they have for thousands of years. Look for butterflies, summer/fall wildflowers, and grassland songbirds amongst the herds.

Cayak at Energy Lake

Location: Energy Lake Road, Road 136

Best Time to See: April -

Access: Vehicle, Paddling

Highlights: Crooked Creek (western section of lake), main lake for sunsets, stargazing, dam for fishing, winter birding

Commonly Seen: Bald eagle, osprey, beavers, summer songbirds, wildflowers

Note: Western section of lake closes Nov. 1-Mar. 16 as a wildlife refuge

Crooked Creek winds around the hills and hollows of Land Between the Lakes emptying into the 300-acre Energy Lake.  Known for great fishing, its best trait is for paddling. At the back of the lake the creek combines with the large Ferguson Spring, creating a giant beaver marsh with a labyrinth of shifting pathways, flooded forests, islands, and hidden wildlife.

Open trail

Location: Across from South Welcome Station to Piney Campground

Best Time to See: Spring and early Summer

Access: Vehicle, Hiking

Highlights: Beer Creek Loop, Panther Creek, Fort Henry, Shortleaf Pine Trail

Commonly Seen: Spring wildflowers, Shortleaf pine, maple/beech, plant communities, Spring/summer migratory songbirds

Tall hills and deep hollows with crisp clear Bear and Panther Creeks flowing amongst them leads you to great views year-round. The area is best known for its Civil War history, but also by locals for its spring wildflowers and migrating songbirds.  The area is also managed as a nature watch area with a number of rare plant communities and habitats that give this location a large diversity.

Spend some time creek-wading - paying attention to the colorful darters and sunfish that dash between your feet.

Targeted Viewing

Bald Eagle, Photo by Ray Stainfield

Best Places to View: Honker Lake, Kentucky Dam, Lake Barkley Dam, Empire Point, Boswell Landing, Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Best Time of Year to View: November - February. Peak is in January

Viewing Tips: Good numbers of eagles are often found along the Northwestern bays of LBL, but you can find good views at locations with high waterfowl concentrations like Honker Lake and the two large dams’ tailwaters. On warm days, look for eagles out towards the points of the bays. On cold, windy days, search in the trees in the back of the bay. 

Land Between the Lake's 300-miles of undeveloped and forested shorelines and proximity to the Mississippi Flyway make it an ideal destination for catching a glimpse of bald eagles’ courtship flight, squadrons of pelicans, or loons lazily riding the waves. Winter is the second-best time for wildlife viewing in Land Between the Lakes, as it brings a whole host of bird species to our unfrozen waters.  

Note: Eagles are still federally protected. Eagle viewers must keep their distance from an eagle roost or eagle's nest at all times.

Elk & Bison Prairie at Land Between The Lakes, Photo by Ray Stainfield

Best Places to View: Elk & Bison Prairie, South Bison Range

Best Time of Year: For elk, September -November during the rut. Also, in winter months, they can more easily be seen during the day. For bison, May during calving season, August during breeding season. 

Best time of Day: An hour prior to dusk, avoiding the heat of the day.

Viewing Tips: Avoid the middle of the day, choose to go either in early morning or early evening.  Take the driving loop slowly in the Elk & Bison Prairie, you may miss the light movement of an ear that would reveal a large bull elk. Often a second trip around the loop may give a better perspective and chance to see these two species. Binoculars are always a plus.  Wild turkeys, cattle egrets, and colorful songbirds can be quite easy to see and identify in both places.

Once upon a time, the core of Land Between the Lakes had large herds of elk & bison. These populations disappeared in the early 1800's. In 1996, Land Between the Lakes restored the prairie barrens that once dominated its ridgetops. Small herds of bison can be found in two locations, and a herd of elk roams the Elk & Bison Prairie, right off Highway 68/80.  The prairie offers a myriad of species to view, including colorful grassland songbirds, butterflies, and fall wildflowers. 

Note: Both the elk and bison are large wild animals, they are not tame. Do not get out of your vehicle when they are around.

1st place Hummingbird Other Than at Feeder Photo by Bena Travis

Best Places to See in Spring/ Summer: Hematite Trail, Woodlands Nature Station, Twin Lakes, Long Creek wildlife refuge, Elk & Bison Prairie, Fort Henry Trails, back section of Energy Lake

Best Places to See Fall/ Winter: Honker Lake, Kentucky & Lake Barkley Dam tailwaters, Energy Lake Dam, Long Creek Wildlife Refuge, South Bison Range. Large numbers of hummingbirds can be seen every August at the Woodlands Nature Station and South Welcome Station.

Best Time of Year: Late march to mid-June, Peak: late April/ early May. Late November-February, Peak: mid-December to mid-January. Hummingbird migration peak is in mid-August.

Viewing Tips: Warm weather birds are most active at dawn and dusk with good lighting. Winter birding can be more determined by weather.  Windy and foggy days should be avoided. Paddling a shoreline may give the birder his/her best opportunities to see some birds up close.

Over 250 species of birds have been documented in Land Between the Lakes.  Land Between the Lakes is a lengthy corridor with diverse habitats, undeveloped shorelines, and undisturbed acreage. This gives the birder ample opportunity to spot something for the "life list". 

Note: While birding, please do not approach nests, as nervous nestlings may bolt and fall out of the nest with tragic consequences.

Bee on a flower

Best Places to See: Spring: Hematite Lake Trail, Fort Henry Trails, Redd Hollow, North/South Trail between Sugar Bay and Smith Bay. Summer: Hematite Lake Trail, Honker Lake, Energy Lake (best seen by paddling), Fall: Elk & Bison Prairie, Woodlands Trace (Mile marker 12-19).

Best Time of Year: Peak spring ephemerals - dogwoods/red buds April 1-15th. Summer: Peak is around July 4th, the American lotus blooms on Honker Lake at the beginning of July. Fall: Mid-September to mid-October. Monarch migration also occurs at this time. 

Viewing Tips: Wildflower sites on the south end tend to bloom sooner than the ones on the north end, so plan accordingly. 

Each warm season brings Land Between the Lakes bouquets of wildflowers. Over 2,000 species of plants put down roots here, including some rare beauties.  Sunshine-filled forest floors pop out spring ephemerals, while summer roadside prairies with yellow, white, and purples attracting great emergences of butterflies and bumblebees.  Fall flowers along the Woodland Trace acts as a natural highway for thousands of migrating monarch butterflies.

Best Places to See: Spring: Hematite Lake Trail, Fort Henry Trails, Redd Hollow, North/South Trail between Sugar Bay and Smith Bay. Summer: Hematite Lake Trail, Honker Lake, Energy Lake (best seen by paddling), Fall: Elk & Bison Prairie, Woodlands Trace (Mile marker 12-19).

Best Time of Year: Peak spring ephemerals - dogwoods/red buds April 1-15th. Summer: Peak is around July 4th, the American lotus blooms on Honker Lake at the beginning of July. Fall: Mid-September to mid-October. Monarch migration also occurs at this time. 

Viewing Tips: Wildflower sites on the south end tend to bloom sooner than the ones on the north end, so plan accordingly. 

Note: Please do not pick the wildflowers, this often damages their growth and possibly kills them. We want them there for the next visitor to see and enjoy.

Fall at the South Bison Range picnic area, photo by Brian Truskey

Best Places to See: Woodlands Trace, Woodlands Nature Watch, Honker Lake Trail, Jenny Ridge Road (Road 145), Road 206, Fort Henry Road and Bear Creek Loop of the Fort Henry Trails.

Best Time of Year: Peak of fall colors usually falls between mid-October to mid-November.

Viewing Tips: Pay attention to weather patterns in summer and early fall to determine when peak will be. A dry summer/ fall can mean an early peak. Warm and wet weather can push it back later.

Traveling back roads will showcase the most vivid colors for any "leaf peeper" out there.  The diversity of trees and habitats will make it worth the trip.  Bottomland forests will reveal the greatest color varieties with orange sugar maples, red gums, and yellow paw paws dotting streamside strolls. Golden oaks, scarlet sumacs, and yellow hickories dominate the eyes driving back-road ridges.  


Best Places to See Dark Sky: Honker Dam, Golden Pond Observatory, Colson Hollow, Empire Point,

Best Times to See Dark Sky: Both Summer and Winter months offer different opportunities with great views

Best Places to See a Sunrise: Eggner's Ferry Bridge, Bobcat Point

Best Places to See a Sunset: Eggner's Ferry Bridge, Energy Lake, Kentucky Lake Scenic Loop, Ginger Bay

Viewing Tips: Be sure to check on the internet prior to going out and be there a half hour ahead of time.

An often forgotten and rare resource is "Dark Sky," the ability to see the cosmos without interference of artificial light.  Land Between the Lakes offers some unique opportunities gaze into the night sky at all times of the year. Being surrounded by water can also provide visitors some amazing jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets.

Canoeing on Honker Lake, Photo by Kelly Sellers

Best Places to Paddle for Wildlife: Honker Lake, the back section of Energy Lake, Taylor Bay, Kuttawa Landing, Ginger Bay, Gatlin Point, Fulton Bay

Best Time of Year: Many of these locations are best in late spring and summer. Taylor Bay is an excellent fall paddle.  

Viewing Tips: Quiet approaches with a kayak or canoe can give you the best results in viewing wildlife from water.  Migration peaks will give you the best opportunities.

With 300-miles of undeveloped shoreline, Land Between the Lakes has an immense water trails system.  You can find hidden treasures on every mile, but certain locations carry a high diversity for the wildlife viewer.  

Note: Please pay attention to signage or dates on maps as many of these locations become wildlife refuges are closed during that period to paddlers.  Do not approach nesting birds, as the chicks may get scared and jump out of the nest into the water below with tragic circumstances.

Take the Road Less Traveled

In addition to the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway, 100-numbered roads provide easy driving and next best are 200-numbered roads…unless storm damage occurred. Our Motor Vehicle Use Map identifies all public roads for you to travel.

You will also find excellent viewing from our extensive hiking trail system in addition to our paved and gravel roads. Trails range from easy, barrier-free pathways to rugged, challenging trails. Long Creek Trail offers a paved trail for our wheel-chair bound visitors.

When to Go

Different times of the day and year will bring different results. To maximize your chances, dawn and dusk offer the most active times of the day for wildlife. March through June and late October through January offer the greatest diversity of wildlife.

What to Bring

Dress for the weather. Bring binoculars, water, and a good field guide to assist you. We have guide books for sale in our gift shops. Photography equipment, spotting scopes, canoes, and kayaks can enhance your wildlife viewing visit. Our Nature Station offers canoe and kayak rentals.

We highly recommend you use tick repellent, BEFORE hiking and other outdoor activities especially from March through November. Tick repellent is available for purchase at all our facilities and at local stores.

Best Wildflower Viewing

You’ll find a variety of wildflowers in March, April, May, and June when the sparse tree canopy allows sunlight to reach the forest floor.

The Elk & Bison Prairie offers native wildflowers through the warmer months.

Wildlife Watching Information

Stop by the Woodlands Nature Station to see details about recent wildlife sightings at their observation desk. You can also report your sightings here and ask questions about what you saw in the field.

The Nature Station serves as our hub to wildlife viewing opportunities at Land Between The Lakes. The Nature Station opens daily 10am to 5pm April through October and Wednesday through Sunday in March and November.

Take a minute to talk with one of our naturalists. He or she can help narrow your options — or expand your choices. They will also help you in identifying what wildlife you saw or answer natural history questions of the area.

Respect the Resource

Please remember to “Respect the Resource” and “Pack it in, Pack it Out.” Nothing ruins a wonderful outdoor experience like seeing other people’s trash in a beautiful setting.

Keep in mind you need to leave the metals and rocks for “conservation purposes and heritage preservation” in order for your children and grandchildren to enjoy the rich beauty of Land Between The Lakes for years to come. Thank you.

You can follow the Nature Station on Twitter and on Pinterest. 

Natural Happenings by Month

  • Peak of Eagle migration (2nd week)
  • Daffodils beginning to bloom (4th week)
  • White-tailed bucks shedding antlers
  • Resident bald eagles courting
  • Resident and migrant woodpeckers very active in the woods
  • Great-horned owls breeding
  • Male groundhogs & striped skunks emerging from dens (1st week)
  • Daffodils blooming
  • Chorus frogs singing
  • Great-horned owl eggs hatching
  • Opossum babies being born
  • Woodcocks performing their “mating dance”
  • Peak of waterfowl migration (3rd week)
  • Sandhill cranes migrating through (3rd week)
  • Bluebirds beginning to nest
  • Chorus frogs, spring peepers, American toads, and southern leopard frogs calling
  • Gray squirrels being born
  • Canada geese and great blue herons beginning to nest
  • Osprey returning and staking out nest sites (1st week)
  • Turkeys beginning to gobble and display
  • Purple martins arriving at gourds (2nd week)
  • Spicebush blooming
  • Bald eagles laying eggs (1st week)
  • Spring beauty, meadow violet, bluets, bloodroot, and toothwort blooming
  • Redbud and serviceberry calling
  • Mourning cloaks, commas, and swallowtail butterflies emerging
  • Peak of spring pelican migration (2nd week)
  • Crappie spawning (3rd week)
  • Elk shedding antlers
  • Snakes emerging from hibernacula
  • Yellow-throated warblers, northern parulas, and prothonotary warblers calling
  • Green frogs, bullfrogs, and cricket frogs calling
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds arriving at hummingbird feeders (2nd week)
  • Goslings and wood ducklings hatching
  • Box turtles crossing roads
  • Peak of spring wildflowers (2nd week)
  • Turkeys mating
  • Butterflies visiting flowers: swallowtails, gemmed satyrs, and falcate orange-tips
  • Black locust trees, paw paws, redbuds, and dogwoods blooming
  • Bobcats, coyotes, and raccoons having babies
  • Monarchs laying eggs on milkweed
  • Summer and scarlet tanagers calling
  • Carpenter bees laying eggs in wood
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds and meadowlarks nesting
  • Lightning bugs flying on warm nights
  • Peak of spring songbird/warbler migration (1st week)
  • Male catfish making nests around logs
  • Wood ducklings hatching
  • Young beavers emerging from their lodges
  • Opossum young emerging from mother’s pouch and riding on her back
  • Bluegill spawning
  • Butterfly weed, leathervase vine, southern blue flag iris, purple coneflower, and Indian pink blooming
  • Bison calves being born (2nd week)
  • Coreopsis blooming along roadside
  • White-tailed fawns being born
  • Lady’s Slipper orchids, trumpet creeper, buttonbush, and American lotus blooming
  • Green treefrogs and bullfrogs calling and breeding
  • Prothonotary warblers fledging
  • Great and snowy egrets, as well as great blue and little blue herons, hunting in shallow water
  • Orioles building nests that hang like baskets in trees
  • Gray squirrels beginning their second mating season of the year
  • Fledgling red-bellied woodpeckers, grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds visiting bird feeders
  • Catfish “fry” (babies) leaving their nests
  • Turtles digging holes and laying their eggs inside
  • Lightning bugs flying in abundance
  • Dragonflies skimming over shallow water
  • Elk calves born
  • Fallow deer fawns born
  • Purple martins leaving gourds now that their nesting season is over
  • Cardinal flower, coneflower, blazing star, jewelweed, ironweed, and black-eyed susan blooming
  • Katydids singing
  • Monarch caterpillars feeding on milkweed plants
  • Rat snakes, black racers, and king snakes laying eggs
  • Young raccoons leaving their dens
  • Gray squirrels bearing summer litters
  • Gray fox pups beginning to hunt on their own
  • Fledgling hummingbirds visiting sugar water feeders
  • Dragonflies laying eggs on ponds and streams
  • Eggs of fence lizards hatching
  • American lotus blooming
  • Toadlets moving away from water to find food
  • Cicadas calling by day; tree crickets calling by night
  • Snapping turtle and fence lizard eggs hatching
  • Spicebush berries beginning to ripen
  • Cardinal flower, ironweed, spotted jewelweed, and great blue lobelia blooming
  • Red-headed woodpeckers migrating through
  • Herons and egrets dispersing once nesting is complete
  • Monarch chrysalids hanging from milkweed
  • Young striped skunks venturing out on their own
  • White-tailed deer growing winter coats and shedding velvet off their antlers
  • Baby bats beginning to fly
  • Peak of hummingbird migration (2nd week)
  • Peak of shorebird migration (4th week)
  • Paw paw and persimmon fruits becoming ripe
  • Tiger salamanders moving to ponds
  • Mist flower, prairie dock, and goldenrod blooming
  • Peak of monarch butterfly migration (4th week)
  • Peak of elk rut (4th week)
  • Beavers adding sticks and mud to their lodges for winter insulation
  • Sassafras, sumac, and Virginia creeper showing fall color
  • Squirrels burying acorns and nuts for winter food
  • Box turtle eggs hatching
  • Migrating rose-breasted grosbeaks visiting seed feeders
  • Rattlesnake babies being born
  • Common loons arriving to overwinter
  • Peak of fall butterfly emergence (1st week)
  • Peak of fall songbird/ warbler migration (4th week)
  • Maple, sweetgum, and hickory leaves reaching peak fall color (4th week)
  • American wigeon, pintail, and gadwall ducks arriving for the winter
  • Beavers gathering winter food, even in the daytime
  • American white pelicans migrating (3rd week)
  • New England aster and aromatic aster blooming
  • The last ruby-throated hummingbirds passing through on their migration south
  • Flocks of red-headed woodpeckers foraging for acorns  in the woods
  • Winter bird residents arriving: golden and ruby-crowned kinglets, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, purple finches
  • Frogs and snakes going into hibernation
  • Rafts of American coots forming on KY Lake and Lake Barkley
  • Brown bats gathering at caves to mate and hibernate
  • Fallow deer beginning to rut (2nd week)
  • Flocks of cedar waxwings feasting on holly berries
  • Bald eagles migrating to LBL for the winter
  • Mammals seeking winter shelter
  • Dark-eyed juncos arriving in large numbers
  • Butterflies searching for overwintering sites (1st week)
  • Fallen leaves blanketing forest floor
  • Aromatic aster still blooming
  • Peak of white-tailed deer rut (2nd week)
  • Peak of waterfowl migration (4th week)
  • Bald eagles migrating to LBL for the winter
  • Purple finches visiting seed feeders
  • Hooded mergansers and other waterfowl visible in many LBL bays
  • Roosting barred owls visible in daylight
  • White-throated sparrows calling
  • Yellow-bellied sapsuckers calling