Harlan County Lake

Harlan County Lake

When I want to get away

The sunlight is stretching farther into the day, and the air is showing signs of the warming up. I hear the lyrics of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song “Fishing in the Dark” running through my head.

“Crickets are singing and the lightning bugs are floatin’ on the breeze,” and I think of that special place – you know the one they tell you to visualize when you are feeling stressed. For me, it’s Harlan County Lake.

Harlan County Lake

I see our new lifejackets sitting on the counter in my laundry room, reminding me that it’s almost time. Time to lather on the sunscreen, grab my Kindle and magazines and spend some time with family and friends at my favorite summer destination.

It’s my special place. I picture myself sitting on the breezy shore on a wooden picnic table in the early morning, smelling the fresh lake water mixed in with a few whiffs of smoldering campfire wood from the night before.

Harlan County Lake

Harlan County Lake doesn’t have white sand beaches and deep blue water like the oceans of Florida or the beaches of Mexico, but it has 75 miles of shore line stretching 9 miles, which is a massive amount of water for fishing, water skiing, tubing, paddle boarding, sailing or kayaking. And, it’s only a quick 30-minute drive from my home.

Social or serene – the lake’s got both

The quiet family campgrounds at Harlan’s Methodist Cove hold some of my favorite memories. I camped there every year with my family as a child and am now giving my children the same experiences. With its wide open spaces, Methodist Cove provides plenty of space for Frisbee, baseball, washer toss, horseshoes and ladder ball. The sand area near the playground provides endless hours of entertainment for the kids as they build elaborate sand cities, complete with mini rivers and lakes of their own.

Harlan County Lake

The bustling and busy cabin and camping areas at North Shore, Hunter’s Cove and Patterson Harbor have that college Spring Break feel on the busy summer holiday weekends – perfect when I feel like socializing. But, those areas are quieter and more serene during the week. On our June wedding anniversary, my husband and I often stay with our good friends Steve and Debbie Dornhoff at Blue Sky Cabins at Patterson Harbor. Steve’s carpentry skills have been a blessing to the old cabins as he has carefully remodeled each one inside and out over the past few years. Boat and paddle board rentals are also available at Patterson Harbor.

Harlan County Lake Pedal away the stress

One of our favorite family activities at Harlan is the scenic 6-mile bike trail (you could also run or walk the trail) that stretches from Methodist Cove to Alma. The trail meanders along the shore of Harlan County Lake through a variety of landscapes, from open meadows to lush areas thick with trees. A good mix of small hills provide a decent challenge for any bicycler.

The trail is just right for families with middle-aged children (ours have completed the trail since about age 8). We enter the trail at the Methodist campground and ride the three miles to the white gazebo just east of the Highway 183 bridge in Alma. We take a quick rest to enjoy the lake view and then turn around and pedal back. No headphones are needed on this trail as it’s the perfect time to enjoy the sounds of nature and the birds, bugs and other small wildlife along the trail.

The lyrics continue in my head as I anticipate another season of fun and family memories at “The Lake.”

“And, it don’t matter if we sit forever and the fish don’t bite.” That’s right because, for me, fishing isn’t about the fish. It’s just another excuse to enjoy the lake and the people with me at the lake!

For more information

Harlan County Lake, harlantourism.org

Blue Sky Cabins, Patterson Harbor blueskycabinsatharlan.com

Patterson Harbor Marina, pattersonharbor.com

North Shore Marina, harlanlake.com/northshore

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Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson is a writer, mom of three, farmer’s wife and unlikely promoter of rural Nebraska. In high school, she was the girl who couldn’t wait to move to the big city and escape her small hometown in rural Nebraska. She pursued her dream and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned a degree in journalism. After college, she married her high school sweetheart and a few years later found herself back in her small rural hometown. She now embraces the simplicity of life without crowds and traffic. She’s found great friends and lots of opportunities to make an impact in her small town. When she’s not writing or working for clients in her business (KRJPR), she can be seen on a bleacher somewhere watching her children participate in sports, or she can be found reading a book, biking, walking, camping or enjoying nature, scrapbooking or planning a trip somewhere. Her daughter calls her a “pictionarian,” or one who likes to take pictures, and “trippish,” meaning she likes to travel.


  1. Kim Woods June 11, 2016 at 6:39 am -

    This is a beautiful lake with great campground facilities. When I travel to this area for work I always prefer staying at Hunter Cove campground instead of a hotel. In Colorado you can’t get a camping reservation for the summer unless you book 6 months in advance. It always amazes me how uncrowded and peaceful Harlan Lake is. The busiest I’ve seen the campground was one Saturday in late fall. There were Husker flags flying at nearly every campsite and everyone was wearing red. A couple of the RVs had TVs mounted on the outside of their rigs with lawn chairs all around watching the game – which just made me grin all afternoon. You Husker fans have some spirit!

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