How I survived my first night camping alone in Kentucky’s Lake Barkley State Park

Embarking on a solo trip implies a certain degree of, well, solitude. While my well-wishers gushed endlessly of their anticipation for all my adventures, one reoccurring issue continually arose from friends and family: “You’re going to be camping alone, Katie? I don’t like that, I’ll help you pay for a hotel instead.”

For me, the idea of camping alone for the first time wasn’t a necessity to save money – it became a right of passage in my mind. The idea of successfully building camp, starting a fire, and not getting eaten by a bear became the ultimate idea of accomplishment. During the first week of my trip, my host in North Carolina made damn sure I didn’t even think about trying to camp while she was around. Eventually, time pressed on and I had to continue westward. I chose Kentucky as my first overnight stop during the haul to Colorado, purely because I had never visited the state before.

I drove northwest through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the rolling hills of Tennessee, then eagerly crossed into Kentucky. My path took me past Fort Campbell North, and I had a great moment of patriotism watching military trucks and planes amid an enormous American flag. Finally, I reached my destination for the evening: Lake Barkley State Park, near Cadiz, KY.

I checked out the lakefront area and campsites while the day was still bright, then drove a few miles up the road to a gas station. As I watched an adorable old man filling his green tractor at one of the pump station, I stocked up on all the necessities: firewood (which turned out to be entirely moldy), a ‘KENTUCKY’ lighter, two cans of Coors Light, and lighter fluid that hillbillies convinced me to purchase upon hearing that I was planning on building my own fire.

When I returned to camp, I scoped out a site that faced the lake and was moderately close to the small handful of other campers. I found a soft spot in the grass, and pitched my tent – which was the only tent at camp, a little minnow in a pond of RVs and impressive trailers. The only evidence remaining of my site’s fire pit was a charred circle in the grass, so I combed the surrounding wooded area for rocks and rebuilt the pit. A large log sitting next to a fallen tree became the perfect fireside bench. Then I became a woman, and built a fire – without using any lighter fluid, mind you.

The rest of my evening was spent cooking up some pasta, reading a bit of my book, and feverishly tending to the fire. After the nightfall halted my reading, I focused all my attention on the needy flames. I must have spent a total of at least three hours scouring the spooky wooded area behind me for thick branches and bits of dry logs. This was the night I conquered my fear of the dark, and regained a slice of confidence. Aside from my little raccoon buddy who kept creeping up on me while I was absentmindedly poking at embers, there was nothing but hooting owls and a gentle lake breeze to alarm me. All that fuss and worrying, for absolutely nothing.

With two beers and a pot full of pasta resting in my belly, I finally decided it was time to retreat to my tent for some rest. I threw the last remaining leg of firewood into the flames, and zipped myself snugly into my sleeping bag. I had been anticipating a long night spent awake listening to the random sounds of the forest in fear, but instead drifted swiftly to sleep while my camp neighbor’s little dog howled at the raccoons.

The next morning, I awoke at the crack of dawn, and swiftly packed up camp. I was eager to make good time during my leg from Lake Barkley to Kansas City, so I quickly hit the road. On the winding road out of the park, I hit a huge blanket of fog that covered the fields sitting below the guardrails. The sun was just beginning to shine on the day, and everything was sprinkled with cold dew.

I experienced the best mood of my entire trip after I left Kentucky. I drove over the state lines of Illinois and Missouri reflecting on my sense of self-satisfaction. Shamelessly, I felt like a bad ass. At first, I felt accomplished for being one of the only ladies I know who have camped alone, and then my thoughts expanded to realize that the majority of my male friends hadn’t either. I had doubted my ability to enjoy camping solo because I had always gone with a boyfriend or climbing buddies, but really, all I needed was myself.

Check out my campground review, area information, and more at the
Lake Barkley State Resort Park page on

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18 thoughts on “How I survived my first night camping alone in Kentucky’s Lake Barkley State Park

  1. Kelsey says:

    Aw, that’s great you did that! I went camping last weekend with Xavier and I was still scared to death. We do primitive camping at a spot you’re definitely not allowed to camp at, so I’m always worried a ranger or random group of people will happen upon us. You’re a brave girl!

    • Katie Boué says:

      Yeah, I definitely prefer primitive camping, but I wasn’t going to push my luck on my first foray into solo camping – my site totally had a sweet platform area with a picnic table, haha. But remember, you are always allowed to camp at National Forests!

      • Glenda says:

        I loved your story Katie…..but referring to KY people as hillbillies was rude. I am from KY, love to camp solo so your story peaked my curiosity. Calling someone from KY a hillbilly is like calling a black person a ni**er. Just try to remember name calling is never a good thing. Pleasant journeys.

        • Katie Boué says:

          Hey Glenda, glad you enjoyed the story! You’ll have to excuse the misread – I certainly never referred to all folks from KY as hillbillies. I love Kentucky, and have spent many nights under the stars in Red River Gorge thinking to myself “man, who knew Kentucky was so beautiful!” The folks I called hillbillies in this story were called so because, well, they’re hillbillies (missing teeth, chewing tobacco, overalls, the works!). It has nothing to do with the state in which they reside – they called me a “city girl who might die in the woods overnight” and I called them hillbillies. 🙂

  2. DawnielleC says:

    Finally a helpful article! I am preparing for a solo road trip right now where I will be car camping and all of my family and most of my friends are having the same reaction to me camping solo. It started to get me anxious so I popped online and found your blog. Great stuff! I am looking forward to my travels a bit more now, thank you.

    • Katie Boué says:

      This comment meant so much to me – I’m thrilled that my blog as able to reinvigorate your excitement for your solo trip. You’re going to have an AMAZING experience, and you’ll feel so empowered every step of the way.

      Where ya headed?

      • DawnielleC says:

        It is probably going to be a short trip to Salt Lake City, Utah and back. Detours are on the table though and I am leaving a bit up to chance for the way back.

      • Juju says:

        Please bring a gun or something. Some people are evil. Better yet please go with someone. I have a family member who was visiouly attacked in a small business when she was alone. It has devastated her and it’s been very hard on me as not being there to protect her. God bless

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