of J.B. TOLS.
I am an interior designer, photographer, blogger, advocate, adventurer, and mom to five boys. I love advocating for others and exploring new places--both near and far.

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June 10, 2022

Home » Blog » HOUSEBOAT GUIDE: Our House Boat Trip On Dale Hollow Lake (Tennessee)

If you love water sports–or ever wanted to be your own captain–and you’re looking for an adventure-filled family vacation, look no further than a house boat trip on Dale Hollow Lake in Tennessee! Our house boat adventure was an all time favorite for everyone.

This man-made lake is perfect for house boating, and my family and I had a blast exploring all its nooks and crannies. The scenery is gorgeous, and there’s plenty to do on and around the water.

I have so many wonderful memories of fun around water. I grew up on the water. My parents purchased their first boat when I was somewhere around the age of 8 or 10 years old. 

So, I have no idea why I hadn’t thought to take my own children on a lake vacation before. I always fell into the cliché beach/hotel vacation planning–but, not this year! 

Our house boat provided hours of entertainment for all of us. We were able to explore the vast lake, miles of shoreline, and find some great spots to relax.

If you’re thinking about renting a house boat, be sure to read on for my tips.

HISTORY OF DALE HOLLOW

At Dale Hollow, there is an entire town submerged underwater. It used to be called Willow Grove, but is now referred to as The Town that Drowned. It was flooded as part of the Dale Hollow Lake construction. And, if you reach that portion of the lake when the water levels are low, you can see the the old schoolhouse foundation.

The water quality is wonderful. You will discover that the lake has very clear waters. It is one of the cleanest lakes!

Another interesting fact is that Dale Hollow Lake is ‘home to the world record small mouth bass’. So, for all of you fishermen, that might be something to write home about!

The following is an excerpt taken from dalehollow.com:

Dale Hollow Dam and Lake was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938 and the River and Harbor Act of 1946. The project was completed for flood control in 1943. Power-generating units were added in 1948, 1949 and 1953.

The project was designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and built by private contractors under the supervision of the Corps. The dam, power plant and reservoir are operated by the Nashville District of the Corps of Engineers.

Dale Hollow Dam is located approximately three miles east of Celina, Tennessee, on the Obey River, 7.3 miles above its juncture with the Cumberland River at river mile 380.0.

Dale Hollow Lake covers portions of Clay, Pickett, Overton and Fentress counties in Tennessee and Clinton and Cumberland counties in Kentucky. The project consists of 27,700 surface acres of water and 24,842 acres of surrounding land.‘ excerpt from website: https://dalehollow.com/history

RENTING A HOUSE BOAT

When I told my husband that I wanted to plan a house boating vacation, he seemed a bit stunned. He exclaimed, we don’t know how to drive a house boat!

But, we managed just fine.

Make sure to educate yourself, ask a lot of questions and team tag all issues that you may face.

And, follow my tips, trick’s and advice to have a leg up on the event!

WHERE TO RENT

Since I had not rented a house boat before, I felt extraordinarily anxious that I was going to exhaust all of our money on a houseboat rental that was going to disappoint.

Renting a houseboat for the first time can cause a lot of anxiety. So, I have done my best to compile enough information so that you know how to take a houseboat vacation with your family as prepared as you can be.

There are so many Dale Hollow lake houseboat rentals to choose from.

Happily, I was not disappointed and, in fact, was very satisfied with our boat and our full service marina! I left my trip thinking: this is one situation where the saying “you get what you pay for” definitely applies. We rented our house boat from Sunset Marina and Resort. Another nice marina is Holly Creek Marina.

HOUSEBOAT VS. FLOATING HOME

One of the main differences between a floating home and a house boat is that a floating home is moored or attached to a dock. At that dock, it is permanently attached to standard residential amenities such as water, electric and sewer.

A floating home can be moved, but it does not have a motor. Therefore, it has to be towed to the next moorage point.

And, a floating home is built exactly like a residential land home. The inside looks no different.

Whereas, a houseboat is on a boat base with an engine that allows it to move around the lake. It is not connected to land power. It is powered by gas, generator and battery.

As well, a houseboat is not connected to water or sewer. So, water is stored in a holding tank and all waste goes into another holding tank which has to be emptied at a marina (for a charge).

HOUSEBOAT OPTIONS

Here is a list of things to consider when looking for a rental houseboat:

  • If you have a dog, is it a dog-friendly?
  • Does it have a water slide or not?
  • Does it have a gas grill?
  • Is it air conditioned or have an air conditioner?
  • Does it have private bedrooms?
  • What size are the mattresses? Are they at least queen beds?
  • Does it have a sleeper sofa?
  • Does it have a washer and clothes dryer?
  • Does it have a DVD player?
  • Are dishes and cooking utensils included?
  • Is it docked at a full-service marina?
  • Do you want a small boat or a larger one?

WHAT TO BRING ON A HOUSEBOAT

We were packed, for sure and TIGHT!

Packing is not your standard “packing”. Think: CAMPING in an RV–but on water. It is darn near the same thing. Once I confirmed our reservation, I started a vacation folder with all of my notes, ideas, grocery lists and packing lists stuffed inside. I took to Pinterest and started a section for camping food ideas and houseboat food ideas, as well.

Packing the suburban for our Dale Hallow House boat vacation | J.B.TOLS

For starters, decide how many mornings, days and nights you will be traveling and days on your boat and then traveling home. You will need to plan for all three meals while on your boat and then what you are going to eat while traveling, depending on how far away from the lake you are.

You will need to pack:

  • Coolers and ice
  • Swim suits, towels, rafts and swim toys
  • Breakfast food
  • Lunch food
  • Dinner food
  • Snacks
  • Drinks
  • Toiletries and bath towels, wash clothes, etc
  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Misc.

“Tip: you will feel like you are overpacking and most likely, you are not, but, remember that it has to all fit in your vehicle and still allow room for the people!”

WHAT I ENDED UP PACKING FOR OUR HOUSEBOAT:


FOOD:

  • 1 four foot long cooler
  • 2 gallon milk jugs with frozen water for cooler
  • 2 gallons of milk
  • pudding cups
  • bucket of gum
  • hot dogs, brats and buns
  • ketchup and mustard and mayo
  • bologna and ham
  • two loaves of sandwich bread
  • homemade brownies, blueberry muffins and gravy w/sausage for biscuits and gravy
  • two containers of biscuits to cook
  • four bags of chips
  • hamburger meat and buns
  • frozen taco meat for walking tacos
  • ingredients for walking tacos
  • two 48 count packs of water
  • canister of drink powder
  • four boxes of cereal
  • cheese slices
  • lettuce
  • tea, for me
  • 6 2-liters of pop
  • Bulk size box of assorted candy bars

WATER FUN:

  • 2 donut rafts
  • 1 duck raft
  • 1 pizza raft
  • lemon raft
  • snorkel gear x 4
  • 2 kayaks
  • Sea horse noodle
  • Beach towel x 7
  • sunscreen
  • fishing poles and bait
  • *****fishing license***** ordered online
  • swimsuits (I brought more than one so that I could alternate mine)

CLOTHING:

  • sundress for me
  • Chaco® sandals or similar
  • Flip flops
  • Gym shoes (if you don’t have something similar to Chacos, Tevas or Keens) and socks
  • Shorts and shirt for each day
  • pajamas
  • personal items
  • hat or bandana

MISC:

  • Wireless speakers
  • Puzzle
  • Cards of all sorts
  • Catch Phrase®
  • Farkle®
  • DVD’s

“A little nod to the Titanic as we head out for the first time. Silly boys.”

This was the first time for my husband to drive a house boat or for my kids to vacation on one | J.B. TOLS
boys helping tie off A house boat to land | J.B. TOLS

You will need at least one other adult to help you get your boat tied off when you are ready to “park” somewhere. It was nice having so many older sons who could jump out and get the heavy lifting done for us.

boys helping tie off A house boat to land | J.B. TOLS

WHAT TO COOK ON A HOUSEBOAT:

WALKING TACOS: DINNER NO. 1

The tacos were a hit; the pictures…not so much. Boys. Haha. I cooked taco meat back home and froze it for the cooler. It was still frozen by the time we made it to our boat and ready just in time to feed my hungry fellas!

The boys eat dinner number one walking tacos.

“I was very impressed with the size of the sink. Although it was average size, I expected it to be even smaller. The stove was itty-bitty, but it did the job of feeding these guys just fine.”

My youngest son cooking in the houseboat kitchen | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
Eating, sleeping and playing games on a house boat | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS

SCRAMBLED EGGS AND BISCUITS ‘N GRAVY: BREAKFAST NO. 1

When you have a boat full of boys, cereal may not cut it. While I did bring boxes of cereal, I cooked sausage and gravy at home before we left for our trip. It stayed in the cooler until we got to the boat, then I transferred it to the fridge where it waited until the next morning. I baked the biscuits while on the boat. So, the bottoms got a little burned. Oops.

As far as the eggs, I grabbed three dozen FRESH eggs from locals back home. It is important that they NOT BE WASHED. If they haven’t been washed, they do not have to be refrigerated; and, that was my goal: as little in the cooler or fridge as possible.

BRATS, WATERMELON AND MAC ‘N CHEESE: DINNER NO. 2

The watermelon was a nice treat and it was just something that rolled around on the front deck until we were ready to eat it. Can’t go wrong with a watermelon!

Biscuits and gravey, brats, and watermelon on the houseboat

Cooking on a houseboat | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
The Houseboat Kitchen

Of course, you have to have things to entertain the masses when the sun goes down or you can start to feel a little trapped on board. 

We tried to buy this game over Christmas and it was sold out. So, we were able to find one online in time to take on our trip. The older boys wouldn’t try it out though. It is definitely a funnier game when playing with littles.

Houseboat games

“We were able to finish off a 1,000 piece puzzle; I only recommend that for the puzzle enthusiast. If you don’t LOVE puzzles, I would suggest one with fewer pieces.”

Putting puzzles together on the houseboat | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
A puzzle was a nice evening houseboat activity
Jbtol13

Now, here is where things get serious. Let me tell ya! If you read nothing else, read this!

Your potty is going to stink–and, bad.

I had a friend who house boats every summer. So, I had the benefit of a little advice before I headed south with six males. And, this is my advice to you:

First off, plan to only go no. 2 on the boat when you are not tied off to land, if at all possible. So, do as the campers do and bring along a little shovel to dig and cover over your poopy when you trek out into the woods to do your morning constitution. If that is too primitive for you, plan appropriately; And, with that said, I will give you my potty survival packing list, first.


BATHROOM PACKING LIST FOR A HOUSEBOAT:

  1. Pleasant smelling air freshener
  2. Hand sanitizer
  3. Hand soap
  4. Small scented trash bags
  5. Bathroom bottom wipes
  6. Clorox® wipes
  7. Small pail (like a small beach pail)

And, here is why I suggest packing these items…

Obviously, if it stinks, you will need air freshener. But, the important thing is that it is only going to mask the stink and not take it all away. So, it needs to be something that you enjoy smelling and know that you will probably never want to smell that air freshener again because it will be associated with your house boat potty for the remainder of your days on Earth.

And so, I took a diffuser with Lavender and Vetiver essential oils to use throughout the boat to keep the testosterone at bay, but I moved it into the bathroom to help overcome the stench. Unfortunately for me, is that I love both of those oils and cannot smell them without smelling the potty, too.

So, choose wisely.

You will need hand soap and hand sanitizer for obvious reasons.

CLOROX WIPES, AIR FRESHENER AND WET WIPES WERE LIFESAVERS

While it is indeed a Dale Hollow House Boat Adventure, there is one downside to it.

You don’t have the amenities that you may be accustomed to. Therefore, I suggest bathroom bottom wipes because everyone will be getting hot and sweaty and wet; the quarters are super close; it is likely that people will choose not to shower in true camp fashion; and, it just helps that certain body parts are just the cleanest that they can be. You get me?

The Clorox® wipes are for wiping down the toilet seat, the sink counters and the light switches, etc. If you are like me, if things stink, you just feel like that stink is on everything. I would have felt better about the cleanliness of the bathroom if I could have gone in and wiped things down each evening. But–that’s me. I will say, the bathroom was nice, overall; and really nice for a boat. The entire boat was very clean. It’s just a mental thing, for me.

I suggest a small pail because if you accidentally run out of water from your water reserve, you are going to have to have a way to get lake water into the bathroom for people to use to wash down their poopy.

I saved the small scented trash bags for last because those need extra explanation. Here is where things can get a little gross…You cannot put your toilet paper down the toilet. A sign above the toilet read: “If you didn’t eat it first, it doesn’t go in the toilet”

PLAN FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO FLUSH PAPER PRODUCTS

This is what you have to do: you have to throw your toilet paper in the trash can!

Luckily, my friend gave me this heads up. So, I bought small bathroom trash bags that were scented. I told my family that EACH time that they went no. 2, they were to put their toilet paper in one of these bags, tie it off and THEN and ONLY THEN, throw it into the trash can. That really saved us.

If you do all of these things, you really only have to battle the smell coming from the holding tank under the boat. And, if you are ones who will be making a trip to the marina each day to get more water and to unload your holding tank, you are really going to be ahead of the game.

DALE HOLLOW LAKE WAS SO MUCH FUN

The boys swim in Dale Hallow lake with their snorkel gear | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
The boys enjoying Dale Hallow Lake with their snorkel gear.
The kids jumping off of the houseboat | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
The kids loved that our houseboat had a slide
Swimming and rafts in lake | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
Fishing and kayaking in Dale Hallow Lake in the rain | Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS
Dale Hollow Lake was great for swimming, kayaking and fishing!
The shoes that I wore on the houseboat.
I could not have survived without my boat shoes

If you do not bring shoes that can handle water, mud and rocks, you are going to really regret it–I promise! This is a must, must, must.

Our boat had three queen size beds and a pullout sofa. As you can see, the beds were sufficient. Just know that you have to provide your own bedding. So, DO NOT FORGET SHEETS. If you do, you will be sleeping on a plastic liner.

Group pictures from our houseboat adventure | J.B. TOLS
A mom and her boys on a houseboat adventure!

And, of course, there is always that one kid who –despite all of your hard efforts–will not take a serious picture for you to save their life.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

4 THINGS THAT I WISH I HAD PACKED FOR OUR HOUSEBOAT ADVENTURE

  • Bath towels and wash clothes
  • Rope to tie rafts to boat
  • Paper plates, silverware and disposable cups.
  • First aid kit

2 THINGS THAT I DIDN’T KNOW TO PLAN FOR ON A HOUSEBOAT

  • At the end of your stay, you will have to pay for any fuel and propane that you used while out on the boat. I had done research and a friend said to average $100 a day for fuel. So, we tried to limit our driving and generator use. We did not go back to the marina to empty our holding tank and to get more water as often as we should have. I budgeted $400-$500 for this expense and owed $250 at the end. I regret not taking more trips to the marina because we quickly ran out of water and lived with a really stinky potty for too long.
  • If you empty your holding tank at your marina of origin, it is free…along with the water; however, if you stop and do this at another marina, they will charge you. Our marina told us to plan at least $35 for this.

WHAT I REGRETTED ON OUR DALE HOLLOW HOUSEBOAT TRIP

  • I was trying to be responsible and not use all dishware that would end up in a trash can. So, I used the dishes that they provided and washed everything by hand. Boy, was that stupid. Not only did it consume our water reservoir, but we spent way too much time cleaning the dishes. If I could do it over, I would have used all disposable wares.

*4 Things I suggest for people with small children when houseboating

  • Bring multiple baby gates. You want to trap small children to the interior center of the boat any time that you might be preoccupied.
  • A playpen would be a wonderful asset for while the boat is in motion. Kids want to be right out front watching the water and if a child could be confined, you would have more peace.
  • A fan would be helpful for when children nap. Children sweat so much when they are asleep and you won’t be running the air condition 24/7.
  • I wish that there was a rope ladder on the boat. There is a ladder on the rear of the boat that is in the water, but it is so hard to get on and off of the boat from the front when you are tied off to land. It is impossible for small children.
Swimming in Dale Hallow Lake on Our Dale Hallow House Boat Adventure | J.B. TOLS

That was our Dale Hollow House Boat Adventure. I hope that the information that I provided helps you have a house boat trip to be remembered!

If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly vacation spot that offers plenty of outdoor activities and gorgeous scenery, I clearly–hands down–recommend Dale Hollow Lake. The house boat rental process is easier than you think! You can enjoy swimming, fishing those smallmouth bass, kayaking, or simply relaxing on the upper deck of your boat while taking in the stunning views and the beauty of Dale Hollow Lake.

If you have any questions or suggestions, COMMENT BELOW and we can start a conversation. Also, follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

Be sure to check out my other travel blogs below for more ideas about where to go on your next adventure!


Are you interested in more of our adventures? If so, you can check out the following blog posts:

OUR RV ROAD TRIP TO COLORADO

OUR FIRST CRUISE TO THE BAHAMAS

RV TRIP TO THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

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HOUSEBOAT GUIDE: Our House Boat Trip On Dale Hollow Lake (Tennessee)

  1. Christa says:

    This looks like a ton of fun. My brother used to go to Dale Hollow every year with his college friend whose family had a house on the lake. It’s not terribly far from us. Lots of Indiana people go to Dale Hollow every year.

    • J.B. Tols says:

      Yes, my parents had a boat on Dale Hallow when I was a young kid and we would rent a houseboat for family get togethers. I loved growing up on the water, so much. I always have such fun memories with my kids when we are around water, too. I want to houseboat on Lake Mead soon.

  2. Stephanie says:

    This is great! What a great vacation. And I love that your fellas were up for all the fun and pictures for your post. I’m definitely putting this on our bucket list!

    • J.B. Tols says:

      It is worth being on the bucket list, for sure! As the guys get older, they are less interested in being in my images, btw. Haha. Boys.

  3. Wow we have thought about a houseboat vacation for a long time. Now I am inspired! Looks like you had a great time and your review is quite thorough, I am bookmarking your post to save for future reference. Thank you!

    • J.B. Tols says:

      Thank you for bookmarking my post! It is a wonderful vacation, truly. And, my husband had no boating experience and he was able to do it. Now granted, he had me as back up, but he really didn’t need my help except once. It is a very relaxing vacation.

  4. Judy says:

    What a thorough and well written post! Your descriptions and lists are amazing, but it’s the photos that grabbed me – you have a beautiful family and it looks like everyone had a lot of fun. Thank you for sharing!

    • J.B. Tols says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and to say such nice things! The guys had such a fun time on this trip, indeed–as did I. It is a wonderful trip to take with the family. Again, thank you!

  5. […] Dale Hallow Lake Houseboat Adventure […]

  6. […] OUR DALE HALLOW HOUSE BOAT ADVENTURE […]

  7. […] OUR DALE HALLOW HOUSE BOAT ADVENTURE […]

  8. J.B. Tols says:

    I appreciate that so much!

  9. Rachel Tollefson says:

    Thank you so much for making this post and sharing your lists and tips. They have been such a HUGE help!! I can’t wait for our upcoming adventure!

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