Land Between the Lakes
National Recreation Area
Hotel California Trail consists of old logging roads that lead to a former homesite structure that is now infamously used as a hangout spot for party goers and people who use spray paint for graffiti purposes. The Hotel California Trail is located within the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky. Visitors are allowed to hike to the structure and at their own risk, walk into it but graffiti of any kind is still considered prohibited by law. Visitors of the area are not encouraged to violate the regulations of the National Recreation Area.
This trail is about 1-mile in length, out and back with under 100-foot of elevation gain. There are some hilly portions with creek crossings (dry creeks when no rain has occurred) so it could still be seen as a moderately rated hike for ruggedness, but I would still classify it as fairly easy. Due to the graphic and vulgar images and wording graffitied on the structure, this hike may be inappropriate for children.
Hotel California Trail Driving and Hiking Directions
After leaving Grand Rivers, Kentucky and crossing the Barkley Canal, drive south on the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway for 4.9-miles. Turn LEFT onto Forest Service Road (FSR) 112. Drive 1.7-miles down FSR 112 until you see FSR-120 on your left. Turn left onto FSR-120. We saw no signs for FSR-120 but the number “120” was painted on trees in red paint at the intersection of the road. Note: FSR-120 is kind of a rough road and while most vehicles should make it during normal conditions, you should use caution and drive slowly as the road narrows in many spots and large potholes and erosion areas exist. It is unlikely the road will be treated during wintry conditions. Drive 1.3-miles until you see a trail on your right with some large rocks covered in graffiti. There are areas on the sides of the road where you could pull off and park. This is the start of the Hotel California Trail.
To get to the structure (half a mile there, half a mile back – out and back), take the trail by the graffiti painted rocks (west side of road) and stay RIGHT when there are junctions and forks in the trail. After crossing a very small creek, you should see the structure unless it is in middle of the summer and undergrowth is really thick. The GPS coordinates of the structure is 36.98716’N / 88.142’W.
Hotel California Trail Points of Interest
The structure features a lower level and an upper leave with a crude access to the very top of the building. There are stairs located within the structure on the west side that you can use to access the second level of the structure.
While we never experienced people actively partying and graffitiing at the structure, we did however visit right after it had been tagged based on the smell and fumes, we were breathing it. Keep in mind that it is illegal to graffiti. And while I won’t advocate it, I will say I’d rather see it on this old structure than on rocks and trees. Sadly, you will note the entire trail to the structure contains graffiti – on the ground, trees, and rocks.
Some graffiti is very inappropriate and profane and may not be suitable for children.
History of the Hotel California Trail and Structure
While I am not exactly sure how its name was established, the structure was never a hotel. It was a house. The house once belonged to a man named Grover Marler. Mr. Marler build the house as a retirement home for him and his wife. Mr. Marler was a riverboat caption. When Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the land in the 1960s, Marler and his wife were no longer residents. It isn’t certain if the Marlers’ had voluntarily sold out or forced to leave like many others during the first TVA takeover of the land. At one time the home had a scenic view of Lake Barkley. See what the home looked like in the image below (Credit: Heritage Program).
If you continue past where the trail starts (on your right) and drive to the next road, you will notice the road (dead ends on both ends) appears to be concrete but in bad shape. This is Old State Highway (Kentucky 522). There are some pull over spots as well as ramp access looking areas at both ends. When we visited, it appeared people were backcountry camping near where the water was.
This structure is not to be confused with Vampire Hotel which was a different structure fairly far away from Hotel California.
Safety Concerns for the Hotel California Trail
Again, we have visited more than once and never encountered people actively partying and conducting graffiti at the structure. However, we have been there what seemed to be right after fresh spray paint was added. The fumes were very strong, and I could see where someone could become sick if they breathed in too much during a very humid day with no air flow.
The graffiti is mostly made up of artistic shapes, profanity, and very graphic language. This may not be an appropriate place to bring children to.
There is a lot of liter and broken glass around the structure and along the trail. Be careful where you step and put your hands.
There is said to be a well near the structure but has been since blocked off by the Forest Service for safety. Please be cautious around old wells as the ground around them could be unstable.
Be cautious of the southeast side of the upper level, as it is drooping appeared to be barely holding up by the beam pole under it. Walking on this portion of the structure could result in the floor giving out and you becoming injured or killed.
The way up to the very top is not original and could be very hazardous. Please use common sense when visiting this area.
The road (FSR-120) to the trail is rough and contains narrow portions, large potholes and very eroded portions that could cause damage to your vehicle if you drive carelessly.
Other Things To Do Around The Hotel California Trail Area
The Hotel California Trail is located near the North Welcome Station at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. At this station, you can get visitor information and purchase LBL related products which helps the Friends of the LBL. In this general area, you can access many hiking and mountain biking trails including the Canal Loop. Camping nearby is available at Hillman Ferry Campground which electric and primitive camp sites available. Other recreation areas nearby include Denumbers Bay, Moss Creek and Nickell Branch areas. Head over to Grand Rivers for shopping and dining. We have eaten at Craig’s Dairy Dream, Cabin Pizza and Patti’s 1880s Settlement. I would recommend Patti’s the most as far as food quality goes but it is fairly pricey (but worth it). Patti’s also has an assortment of shops, miniature golf, animal exhibits and a really nice souvenir shop with their signature desserts. Lighthouse Landing nearby offers lodging, a sailboat marina and a very nice little park and walking path. For more information about what to do at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, check out this link.
Hotel California Trail Videos
Check out the following videos for this area and be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Hotel California Photo Gallery
Check out some of the photos taken while visiting this area and see more on my Instagram!
One last thing!
Filming the videos, taking the photos, editing everything and writing this article takes time and it’s all provided for free. Consider making a small monthly contribution to Hiking with Shawn by becoming an official Patreon supporter on Hiking with Shawn! You can also support us by purchasing official merch from the Hiking with Shawn online store. Lastly, please share this article and our videos and follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumbler for more free guides, videos, photos, contests and more!
Thanks for checking out this guide and please share it with others if you’d like to see more of them made!
Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.