Buckhorn Lake

Louisville District
Published Jan. 10, 2024
Aerial view of the dam at Buckhorn Lake in Buckhorn, Kentucky.

Aerial view of the dam at Buckhorn Lake in Buckhorn, Kentucky.

Aerial view of the dam at Buckhorn Lake in Buckhorn, Kentucky.

804 Buckhorn Dam Road
Buckhorn, KY 41721-8808
Office hours: M-F, 7:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (may vary, call ahead)

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Welcome to the Buckhorn Lake website. The lake is situated in Leslie and Perry counties on the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River in the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau, offering the scenic beauty of the Appalachian Mountain Range. The dam is located near the small community of Buckhorn, Ky., about 100 miles southeast of Lexington and 30 miles west of Hazard. 

The 1,230 acre Buckhorn Lake and surrounding area offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. The Corps, in cooperation with the Commonwealth of Kentucky manages the land and water for wildlife, fisheries and recreation.

At Buckhorn Lake you can camp or picnic at one of four Corps operated recreation areas; fish, boat, swim or ski on Buckhorn Lake; hunt in the Buckhorn Lake Wildlife Management Area or Daniel Boone National Forest; walk numerous undeveloped trails; or enjoy a weekend getaway at the Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park. The menu on the right leads you to specific recreation and other lake information.


Buckhorn Lake was authorized under the Flood Control Act of 1938. The Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed, built, and operates the project to reduce flood damages downstream from the dam. The lake provides water supply and serves to augment low-flow conditions downstream in the interest of water quality control. In addition, the lake provides varied recreational opportunities.

During the fall and winter months, when excessive rainfall is likely, the lake is kept at a relatively low level referred to as winter pool. Should heavy rains occur, surface water runoff is stored in the lake until the swollen streams and rivers below the dam have receded and can handle the release of the stored water without damage to lives and property.


Buckhorn Lake is situated in the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky. This is an area that possesses a landscape as rugged and extraordinary as any found in the state. The plateau is deeply traversed by a series of narrow, winding valleys separated by steep watersheds and covered by a network of continuously branching streams. Originating in the southeast and flowing generally northwestward, the Kentucky River is one of this region's major rivers. The underlying mineral-bearing rock structure is sedimentary, consisting of sandstones and shale with alternating layers of coal that were deposited 250 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian Age of the Carboniferous Period. Mississippian Age limestone lies beneath the sandstones and shale, and where exposed and sculptured by winds and rains, the result has been impressive rock formations that contribute to the scenic beauty of the area.

Early settlers of Kentucky followed one of two routes into the region – either down the Ohio River or through Cumberland Gap. Many settlers were discharged Revolutionary War soldiers who were paid for their services in land by the new U.S. Government that had no funds for payment. The valleys, with their heavily wooded slopes and clear streams, made ideal homesteads.

The main means of transportation in this region were by buffalo traces and Native American trails. The buffalo traces, created by the buffalo in their quest for salt, followed the ridges and were wide, deep, and devoid of all vegetation. In contrast, the trails followed the waterways, and were narrow and only slightly depressed. The trails of the buffalo and Native Americans were later followed by explorers and hunters. Eventually these trails formed the basis for the highway system. Daniel Boone marked the first white man's highway through the mountains in 1775. The main trails of Eastern Kentucky connected with a vast system of trails that spanned the country north to south and east to west. The most notable of these was the Cumberland Gap Trail, called "Warrior's Path."

Presently, the region is being increasingly used for timber production. One area of remaining virgin timber is known as Lilley Cornett Woods. This 554-acre tract, located in Letcher County, was purchased in 1919 by Lilley Cornet, a Virginia coal miner, who preserved the tract intact until his death in 1958. In excess of 60 species of trees have been recorded in this tract, which is now owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and managed in cooperation with Eastern Kentucky University.

Shoreline Use, Permits and Licenses

A Shoreline Management Plan has been developed for Buckhorn Lake, which provides guidance and policy on management of the shoreline. The goal of the Shoreline Management Plan is to provide a balance of permitted private uses, while preserving and protecting Buckhorn Lake’s natural resources. This plan designates what activities and facilities may be permitted on U.S. Government property at Buckhorn Lake, as well as describing application procedures for those landowners who qualify for an authorized activity.

According to the Buckhorn Lake Shoreline Management Plan, landowners adjacent to Buckhorn Lake may be eligible to apply for a license or permit to conduct certain activities on government property, including placement of a boat dock, construction of stairs or steps, construction of a pathway (improved or unimproved), vegetation alteration (mowing), and installation of fish attractors. Restrictions apply as to where on the lake these activities may take place.

Shoreline at Buckhorn Lake is zoned as either, prohibited access, public recreation area, protected shoreline area or a limited development area. View our Shoreline Management Map (copies available for viewing at the Project Office) for information on zoning in a particular area.

In areas where the shoreline is classified as protected, no new permits for docks will be authorized, and no new licenses for fixed recreational facilities (including stairs, steps, roadways, electric service, and water withdrawal) will be authorized. Landowners in subdivisions adjacent to government property zoned as protected may apply for a permit for a five-foot path to access the lakeshore if they are adjacent landowners or if they can supply a notarized letter of consent to cross property adjacent to government property.

In areas which are zoned for limited development, licenses and permits may be authorized for electric service; improved pathways for access to the shoreline; cart paths for those with mobility impairments; erosion control devices; roadways, turnarounds, parking areas, and boat ramps; footpaths and footbridges; community boat docks; and vegetation alteration (mowing). Restrictions apply as to how and where these improvements may be installed, and once placed on government land they are considered public facilities. License and permit fees are assessed on these facilities. Contact the Buckhorn Lake Project Office, 606-398-7251, Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., for a list of current fees.

Some permits are required for work even if it is on your own property. The Corps evaluates permit applications for essentially all construction activities that occur in, or have the potential to impact, navigable and non-navigable waterways or wetlands. For more information, see the Operations Division Regulatory web page.

Louisville District Public Affairs
Buckhorn Lake