Hiking with Shawn
Have you been to the Hotel California Trail at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky?
Welcome to the first edition of “Hiking with Shawn Trail Journals.” This article series will give you stories, legends, and lore about my hiking experiences that I don’t include in my Trail Guides.
For information about how to get to the Hotel California Trail, I’ve created a Free Trail Guide just for you. Be sure to share it with other people who might like to visit Hotel California. I made it how I would want a trail guide to be, so I know you’ll love it.
Now on with the show, let’s jump into the Hotel California Trail and what makes this place so unique.
History of the Hotel California Trail
The Hotel California Trail started as someone’s house and property. It belonged to a riverboat captain by the name of Grover Marler. He built the home for himself and his wife as a retirement home—a great place to retire with a beautiful view of Lake Barkley, too.
But then the Tennessee Valley Authority came into place. In the depression era, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the TVA during the New Deal. TVA’s purpose was to create dams for safety and electricity in rural areas of the south around Tennessee and Kentucky. TVA acquired over 100,000 acres of land. Grover Marler and around 800 more people lived on that land. Most didn’t want to sell or leave. TVA was granted eminent domain and forced people to leave. It is said that some people drove to town to get groceries and returned to a burned-down house, done by the TVA. Most homes were dismantled, but some survived, like Marler’s house.
The TVA eventually opened the area up for recreation. Still, budgeting problems led to a transfer of land management to the US Forest Service, which has designated it as a National Recreation Area. There are multiple campgrounds, wild camping availability, boat ramps, hiking/biking/off-road/equine trails, interpretive centers, and more.
The Marler home was never a hotel. The term “Hotel California” has no recorded history attached to it. It is likely a name created by locals for whatever reason.
Do note that Hotel California is often confused with “Vampire Hotel.” The two are not the same. Vampire Hotel was a structure that has since been demolished. There are only foundations left where that structure was.
How to the Hotel California Trail Today?
It is easy to get to the Hotel California Trail today.
You follow a few Forest Service Roads to an area marked with spray paint.
Some roadways are paved, while others are dirt littered with potholes. So, drive with caution, take it easy over the holes, and you should be fine.
The trail to and from Hotel California is short, about a mile in length. Just follow the graffiti sprayed on trees, rocks, and the ground.
Yeah, about that…
Hotel California is covered in graffiti. I’m not too fond of it. Most of it is crude and profane. I wouldn’t bring young children to it. Also, I’m not too fond of the fact that they’ve spray-painted trees, rocks, and natural surfaces. It is irresponsible and not friendly toward nature. Anyone who does that is NOT a friend of the forest or the earth. You can quote me on that!
The structure is challenging to drive with a vehicle. That makes me wonder if that is why it still exists. With the number of graffiti and litter (alcohol party spot at night), I figured the Forest Service would demolish the structure if it were easy to do. Whomever parties there abuse it. It’s unfortunate. I think it could be an excellent place for Friends of the Land Between the Lakes to do a trash blast.
The structure itself is two stories. One side of the second story is very visually sagging. I’d be careful about walking on that side. There is a set of stairs to the second story. You could also access the roof if you wanted to. Unfortunately, tree coverage has blocked Lake Barkley’s view, but it might be a little better during leaf-off.
There are no more walls, windows, or doors on the structure. It is a concrete skeleton. The photo below shows that it looked like a home.
Could you imagine Grover Marler and his wife’s reactions if they could see their home today? I’d imagine they’d wish the place was torn down. Some people don’t deserve the outdoors.
Some people will not like me talking trash about the graffiti out there, but it is trash, so that’s why I talk trash about it. I want to make sure that everyone knows where I stand.
Legends and Lore Around the Hotel California Trail
Whenever I publish a Land Between the Lakes video, I get strange comments about the Dogman of LBL. The Hotel California Trail videos gave me the same results.
Most people think about Native Americans when they see the term Dogman or Dogmen. But this legend isn’t very Native American-like.
The Dogman is reportedly about a Bigfoot and a banshee combined. It is about as large (around 7 feet in height) and hairy as a sasquatch, but its face and actions are more like a banshee or a wolf-like creature. Its hands have long claws. It has a powerful jaw full of sharp teeth. It has glowing red eyes, of course. And it smells terrible – a rotting smell.
The legend of the beast is said to have started when early European settlers were fur trapping in the area and would see the creature lurking around. At that time, there would have been a thicker virgin-growth forest with predator animals such as mountain lions, wolves, and bears. After pioneers came and took most of the trees down, many predator animals disappeared. Could the creature have started as just a large predator animal during the early European settler days, or was there a beast?
I’m not going to get too deep into Native American lore, but there are stories of creature-like beings and beasts that Natives described. So, that is something to keep in mind if you want to believe in what is being reported around the Hotel California Trail and Land Between the Lakes in general.
A YouTube video was uploaded depicting so-called howls within Land Between the Lakes, which is claimed to have been from the beast.
There have been numerous accounts of the beast killing humans. It was said that it killed a family of four during the 1960s. There is also talk that it killed a bow hunter. Of course, there are legends of the Dogman killing early settlers. However, with all these reports, nothing can be officially verified by the record. It is easy to say something happened until it comes down to verification.
I’m a big-time skeptic. I need to see something to consider it to be true. And then, I have more questions. At one point in my life, I wanted to be an investigator in law enforcement. Because of that, I have trained myself to think differently after unexplained things. Before I conclude, I need evidence, a chain of events, and a well-investigated event.
But I welcome anyone to prove me wrong…
Is the Hotel California Trail worth visiting?
I think the Hotel California Trail is worth visiting if you’re already in the area.
But if not, add other things in the Land Between the Lakes area to your list of visits for the day.
We enjoyed the Bison and Elk Range and the Homeplace Site. The Woodlands Nature Center is great for families and kids who want to see wild animals and learn about nature. There are some fun, family-friendly trails around the Woodlands Center as well. If you’re into mountain biking, you got to check out the Canal Loop Trail System, and if you like gravel riding, there are miles upon miles of gravel roads to share with jeeps and others. The trace is paved, and you could quickly get a 100-mile road bike ride on it out and back but be careful; there isn’t a shoulder.
I would visit the Hotel California Trail during the week on a day when the leaves are out of the trees. This should ensure that college and high school students are in school and not out partying and graffitiing Hotel California. During the summer, the area has seed ticks and spider webs, and when it is humid, the spray paint smell is so strong that it could get you high if you stand around it too long. Getting intoxicated from spray paint could be a severe hazard to your health.
Please don’t add to the graffiti. It’s not friendly to nature, and it’s irresponsible. And Forest Service is known to put up hidden trail cameras in areas where criminal activities like that take place. You can be prosecuted, and you should if you do that – to the fullest extent possible and made into an example.
And that’s all I have about the Hotel California Trail at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. Remember to check out the free trail guide, and subscribe to my newsletter for more exclusive articles like this and other goodies. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime!
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman