Buckhorn Lake Kentucky Information

Buckhorn Lake lies in Leslie and Perry Counties in the Appalachian Mountain foothills of eastern Kentucky in the northern region of the Redbird Purchase Unit of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Buckhorn Lake covers 1,230 acres with an average depth of 25 feet, a maximum depth of 50 feet, and 65 miles of shoreline. The Middle Fork Kentucky River feeds Buckhorn Lake.

Lexington, Kentucky, the nearest metroplex, is 77 miles from Buckhorn Lake. Buckhorn Lake closely follows the Kentucky River channel and looks like a snake from the air. Densely forested Appalachian foothills rise from Buckhorn Lake’s shores with pristine beauty. Buckhorn Lake is sparsely populated in an uninhabited area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, in cooperation with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, manages Buckhorn Lake’s land, water, wildlife, fisheries, and recreation at Buckhorn Lake. The Buckhorn Lake region possesses a rugged landscape. A series of narrow, winding valleys, separated by steep watersheds, and covered by a network of continuously branching streams traverse the Buckhorn Lake region.

History of Buckhorn Lake

The Flood Control Act of 1938 authorized Buckhorn Lake by the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The USACE designed and built Buckhorn Dam and impounded Buckhorn Lake on the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River in 1967. Buckhorn Lake serves to reduce flood damages downstream from the dam, provides water supply, and offers recreational opportunities.

Indigenous peoples lived in the Buckhorn Lake region for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, including the Hopewell, Adena, Mississippian, and Fort Ancient peoples. Its landscape is extremely formidable. By the time Europeans began exploring the area, the Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee tribes hunted in the Appalachian foothills but did not inhabit them.

The early British settlers east of Kentucky found it difficult to cross the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky. In 1744, the Shawnee and the settlers agreed to use the Ohio River as a border between the British colonists and the Shawnee. When the French and Indian War ended in 1763, the British promised the tribes that they would not settle beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Daniel Boone’s colonists had previously moved into the area, and the Europeans continued to settle in the Appalachian Mountains.

Boonesborough, Kentucky, of Daniel Boone fame, is 60 miles northwest of Buckhorn Lake as the crow flies. In 1775, Daniel Boone led a group of settlers to the area, established the town, and improved the Wilderness Trail across the Cumberland Gap for newcomer’s wagons. In June 1792, Kentucky became the 15th state of the U.S. Leslie County is home to the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music in the tiny village of Hyden, south of Buckhorn Lake on the Middle Fork Kentucky River.

Bluegrass, Old Time, and Ballad Singing music originated from the ballads, hymns, and fiddle music of the Anglo-Celtic settlers. Their folk music and instrumental dance compositions, African music, and the blues of early African Americans, and partially continental European music influenced a new genre of uniquely American music. Appalachian musicians played a significant role in the early development of bluegrass, country music, country gospel, old-time music, and rock n' roll.

Bowlingtown, Kentucky, was a thriving community that prospered where Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park is now located. Bowlington had a post office, a school, churches, a grocery, a sawmill, a blacksmith, and the Frontier Nursing Service. Its residents were mostly well-educated farmers and miners. When the construction of Buckhorn Lake began, it forced the relocation of Bowlingtown families.

The USACE moved seven generations of 873 family graves to Buckhorn Cemetery, also known as Government Cemetery, where findagrave.com lists 19 Bowling/Bolling family members buried there. Today, the Buckhorn Lake region is so rural that the tiny towns surrounding it consist of no more than a few roads or a crossroad, a few homes, one restaurant, and churches.

Fishing Buckhorn Lake

The predominant game fish in Buckhorn Lake are largemouth, smallmouth, and white bass, black and white crappie, and muskellunge (musky). Also, anglers will find Kentucky bass, bluegill, carp, blue and channel catfish, and rainbow trout. The muskies come monster-sized from Buckhorn Lake, and the lake provides consistent crappie fishing. You need a Boat Operator’s Certification/License and a Kentucky Fishing License. 

Kentucky offers resident annual fishing, joint married couple annual fishing, 1-day fishing, 7-day fishing, and 3-year fishing licenses, and nonresident annual, 1-day, and 7-day fishing licenses. There are six boat ramps, Duff’s Bay Marina, and a bank access fishing spot at the US Buckhorn Tailwater Campground. The marina has a fishing loaner program where you can check out free fishing equipment, but fishing is only available there from May through October.

Buckhorn Lake gets a heavy drawdown controlled by Buckhorn Dam in the winter, which confines and concentrates fish in the main-river channel where there is fish cover. Crappie move out to the flats and into the bank cover as the lake level rises, but most are found on a ledge or drop off somewhere along the river channel in March and April.

Early summer is the prime time for chasing smallmouth bass across most of their range in Buckhorn Lake, and as the water warms up to summer temperatures, they move into shallows and flats to spawn.

Anglers can find a good population of 30- to 40-inch muskies at the tailwater of Buckhorn Lake on its northern end. The most productive months for muskies are February and March. The smaller tailwaters give bank anglers and small boat owners a chance at reeling in a trophy-sized musky.

Size and Daily Limits:

  • Largemouth bass: Must be 15 inches or over, 6 daily, 12 in possession. 
  • Smallmouth bass:Must be 15 inches or over, 6 daily, 12 in possession.
  • White bass: No size limit, 15 daily, 30 in possession. 
  • Black/white crappie: No size limit, 20 daily, 40 in possession.
  • Muskellunge: Must be 40 inches or over, 1 daily, 2 in possession.

Get out on the water with our Buckhorn Lake Fishing Guide page!

Boating Buckhorn Lake

The Dam Site Boat Launch Ramp is a popular boat ramp for campers at the Buckhorn Campground. A large parking area accommodates vehicles with trailers, along with a courtesy dock during the summer recreation season. Swimming, wading, snorkeling, and scuba diving at one's own risk are permitted, except at boat launching sites, designated mooring points and public docks, or other areas designated by the USACE.

Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park rents jet skis, pontoons, and fishing boats and has a big swim beach. Its beach is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, and severe weather can have an effect on beach closures. Boaters will find a few sandy beaches around the lake at the bottom of the foothills. Recreational boating, watersports, canoeing, and kayaking are popular activities. Cruising Buckhorn Lake offers boaters spectacular views.

There are six boat ramps around Buckhorn Lake, with two at Duff’s Bay Marina, the only marina on the lake in Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park. The marina has 95 boat slips, miniature golf, a basketball goal, playgrounds, horseshoes, and picnic areas. Visitors can check out sporting equipment at the front desk.

Find or sell a boat on our Buckhorn Lake Boats for Sale page.

Buckhorn Lake Real Estate

The median list price for a home on Buckhorn Lake is $130,000, but homebuyers can find homes at lower and higher price points. Buckhorn Lake’s real estate market is limited, with very few homes on the market at any given time. The Perry County School District is the only school district near Buckhorn Lake on its northern border.

The nearest Walmart is 30 miles southeast of Buckhorn Lake in Hazard, Kentucky, and an hour’s drive through the mountains. Hazard has limited shopping and a few restaurants, including fast food. Buckhorn, Kentucky, north of Buckhorn Lake, has a post office and no shopping. Lexington, Kentucky, 113 miles northwest of the lake and about a two-hour drive, offers the closest shopping and entertainment opportunities to Buckhorn Lake.

To find your dream lake home, explore our Buckhorn Lake Homes for Sale page.

Buckhorn Lake Cabins and Vacation Homes

Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park rents two 2-bedroom cottages, three 3-bedroom cottages, and has a 36-room lodge. Its lodge and cottages are open year round, but other features in the park are seasonal. There are very few private cabin rentals and vacation homes on Buckhorn Lake, and it takes extensive online research to find them.

Find the perfect vacation home on our Buckhorn Lake Cabins page.

Camping at Buckhorn Lake

Campers at Buckhorn Lake must buy their firewood locally, and there are firewood vendors at the lake.

The US Buckhorn Tailwater Campground on the northern tip of Buckhorn Lake has a basketball court, a playground, horseshoe pits, a swimming area, a boat ramp, free wireless internet, electric hookups, laundry facilities, hot showers, vending machines, utility sinks, a dump station, ADA access, and flush toilets with walk-in, drive-in, and boat-in campsites. Tent sites include primitive and water and electric hookups. It has RV and big rig sites with water and electric, and allows pets.

The Eagle’s Landing Campground, formerly Gay’s Creek Campground, features 36 primitive sites, electrical hookups for ten RV sites, horseshoe pits, a boat ramp, basketball, fishing, boating, hiking, and allows pets.

The Trace Creek Campground offers mostly waterfront campsites with electric and water hookups. Amenities include a shower house, playground, swimming, horseshoe pits, picnic tables, grills, and fire pits, laundry facilities, showers, a dump station and sewer hookups for RVs, and a fishing area.

Plan your next camping stay on our Buckhorn Lake Campgrounds & RV Parks day.

Buckhorn Lake Trails

There are miles and miles of undeveloped hiking trails surrounding Buckhorn Lake. The Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park has two self-guided, moderately strenuous trails, 1.5-mile trail and a 0.75-mile trail. Buckhorn Lake’s campgrounds also have great places to explore on foot.

Buckhorn Lake Hunting

The Buckhorn Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) comprises 3571 acres. Public hunting area users must abide by Kentucky hunting, trapping, and fishing regulations. There are large populations of deer, rabbit, squirrel, and turkey at Buckhorn Lake. Non-commercial trapping, archery, and black powder hunting are allowed in the Buckhorn Lake WMA.

A person may take no more than one deer with visible antlers, excluding male fawns regardless of zone, method, or season. Kentucky considers small game to be  squirrels, rabbits, quail, and grouse. Only rabbits and squirrels may be trapped. Quail and grouse may not be trapped.

Kentucky offers resident hunting licenses for annual hunting,1-day hunting (not valid for deer, elk, turkey or bear), 7-day hunting (not valid for deer, elk, turkey or bear), annual youth hunting, ages 12-15 only, shooting area hunting license, annual trapping, annual landowner/tenant trapping, and annual youth, ages 12 to15 only trapping.

Nonresident hunting licenses include annual hunting,1-day hunting (not valid for deer, elk, turkey, or bear), 7-day hunting (not valid for deer, elk, turkey, or bear), annual youth hunting, ages 12 to15 only, shooting area hunting license, and annual trapping.

Small Game and Turkey Bag Limits

    • Squirrel: Daily limit, 6; possession limit, 12.
    • Rabbit: Daily limit, 4; possession limit, 8.
    • Quail: Daily limit, 8; possession limit, 16.
    • Grouse: Daily limit is 4; possession limit, 8.

Four turkeys total, either sex:

  • No more than two of which may be taken with a shotgun.
  • No more than one bird may have a beard length of three inches or longer.
  • No more than one bird may be taken per day.

Things to Do At Buckhorn Lake

Buckhorn Lake is the only attraction at Buckhorn Lake. Fishing, hunting, boating, swimming, watersports, camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, birding, and relaxing are the reasons people visit Buckhorn Lake. Buckhorn Lake is nestled between the Appalachian Mountain foothills and is extremely rural with rough terrain with no nightlife, entertainment, attractions, museums, or shopping available, and only a few restaurants in nearby villages.

Plan your trip on our What To Do At Buckhorn Lake page.

Buckhorn Lake Weather & Climate

Buckhorn Lake sees an average of 47 inches of rain, 14 inches of snow, and 170 days of sunshine per year. Precipitation comes in the form of rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to the ground. The winter low in January is 24 degrees, with a summer high in July of 86 degrees. May, June, and September are the most comfortable months for this region. January and December are the least comfortable months.

Keep an eye on the skies with our Buckhorn Lake Weather Forecast page.

Buckhorn Lake Zip Codes

Leslie County Zip Codes:

40803, 40808, 40816, 40827, 40840, 40844, 40858, 40868,  40874, 40979, 41714, 41723, 41730, 41749, 41762, 41764, 41766, 41775, 41776, 41777.

Perry County Zip Codes:

40981, 41367, 41701, 41702, 41712, 41713, 41719, 41721, 41722, 41723, 41727, 41729,  41731, 41735, 41736,41739, 41745, 41746, 41747, 41751, 41754, 41760, 41762, 41763, 41773, 41774, 41778.

Buckhorn Lake Flora and Fauna

Wildlife lovers can look for bats, beaver, black bears, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, foxes, groundhogs, minks, moose, opossums, porcupines, rabbits, raccoons, shrews,  skunks, squirrels, and weasels at Buckhorn Lake.

Nesting eagles are a winter attraction at Buckhorn Lake. Birders can spot red-winged blackbirds, bobwhite quail, bufflehead, black- and yellow-billed cuckoo, wood duck, purple finch, belted kingfishers, rough-legged and red-shouldered hawk, and warblers. The pectoral sandpiper, cliff swallow, house sparrow, golden-winged prothonotary warbler, and American woodcock are occasional visitors to the area.

Over 200 species of plants thrive in the southern Appalachian Mountain foothills near Buckhorn Lake. Hikers can look for flower producers like rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel. Tree species include ash, beech, birch, buckeye, balsam fir, eastern hemlock, sugar maple, chestnut oak, red oak, and white oak, poplar and yellow poplar, red spruce, sycamore, and walnut. Grasses, ferns, mosses, and mushrooms are abundant.

Buckhorn Lake Kentucky Email Updates


Buckhorn Lake Kentucky Current Weather Alerts

There are no active watches, warnings or advisories.


Buckhorn Lake Kentucky Weather Forecast


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 73

Thursday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 48


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 77

Friday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 52


Mostly Cloudy

Hi: 81

Saturday Night

Chance Rain Showers

Lo: 63


Chance Thunderstorms

Hi: 78

Sunday Night

Chance Rain Showers

Lo: 62

Buckhorn Lake Kentucky Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 5/30: 782.40 (+0.40)

Lakehub Lakes