My family and I recently headed to Cumberland Falls for a day trip. It was only about an hour and 45 min drive from Lexington so it was easy to just head down for the day.
There are cabins and camping areas if you do want to extend your stay. It’s a great spot to visit at night if you can plan a trip to see the famous “Moonbow”!
Known as the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is named after the largest waterfall south of the Niagara. 125 ft wide wall of water drops into a boulder-strewn gorge. With a full moon and clear night sky you can see the “moonbow,” a (lunar rainbow) that appears in the base of the waterfall. A phenomenon not found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere! The area is also a natural choice for water-sports enthusiasts, offering *white-water rafting, *canoeing, *swimming, and fishing. Landlubbers will enjoy hiking and *horseback riding in this lovely area. (* for Seasonal) (From: KY State Parks)
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When we arrived we parked at the Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop area. This was the closest parking area to the actual falls. It’s a super short walk and all paved/sidewalks to the falls so it’s super stroller friendly!
As you walk from the parking lot you see the river running alongside the parking lot and walkways. There are steps leading down to the river so you can walk beside it and enjoy the peaceful scenery. It was cool to look and see just how high the water had gotten through a little detective work. Just look at the sticks and branches collected beside trees or the debris piled up at the edge of the grass. You can see how you’d be underwater during a time when the river rises.
As you walk toward the falls you will see large rocks to walk on. There are shells to collect, rocks to inspect, and you can get right up to the water and dip your hands or toes in! I knew the falls were close but I had fun having my kids listen to see what they could hear. You can hear the falls as you approach even though you can’t see anything yet (you’re at the top as you arrive).
There are signs posted just at the edge of the back of the gift shop building that ask you to go no farther. You can head back up onto the walking path (if you were down by the river) and follow past the gift shop and visitor’s center to get to the actual falls from here. You walk past a snack bar, picnic tables (we packed a picnic and had a great time enjoying the scenery), restrooms, and then walk toward the falls. There is information in this area to read about the Moonbow at the falls. Cumberland Falls is the one place in the Western Hemisphere you can go to see a Moonbow! If you want to see the Moonbow Schedule for the year CLICK HERE.
In this area you will also find the ‘gem mining’ area. You can buy bags for $6.00, $8.00 and $10.00 (fossils) and ‘mine’ for stones in your bag. Kids can place a scoop from their bag on the screen provided…then rinse with clean water that is flowing down the mining area. The gem stones, when wet, will reveal colors and crystal shapes. We didn’t do any mining but I did see some families enjoying this. Mine enjoyed just sticking their hands in the water that was flowing down for the mining activity.
As you pass this area and walk along the path you immediately see the top of the falls. There is a lookout that is right there at the top of the falls – there are guardrails up to keep you a safe distance away and it’s accessible to strollers. We enjoyed seeing a rainbow just beside the falls from this vantage point. It was a spring day so there was plenty of water rushing over the falls. If you go during the summer or a dry time of year it’s not going to be as active.
It’s fun to view the falls from above but I really liked going down and seeing them from one of the lower lookouts. You can continue along the path and take the steps down to the lower lookout. It’s great to look at the falls from here and it’s a perfect place for photos with the falls behind you.
The sad part of this section is the amazing amount of garbage that piles up and gets stuck after washing downstream. It was hard to get great photos without the giant trash pile photobombing them. This is a great way to teach your kids that we need to take care of our Earth and never toss things out into nature, down storm drains, or in our waterways.
From here there are numerous hiking trails that take you to other lookouts or other parks of the Cumberland Falls State Park. There are maps posted near the visitor’s center or you can purchase one in the gift shop.
The visitor’s center is a small but neat area to explore. There are displays around the room to read about the history of the area, early settlers, and even Native Americans that lived in this region. When I stopped by there wasn’t anyone on duty in this building to ask for help or learn more.
It was a wonderful day trip and would be lots of fun for a family weekend trip as well. Take the time to enjoy this Kentucky treasure sometime soon!
- Wear comfortable shoes!
- Pack a jacket – temps can be cool then warm up. Many areas are shaded and you may get chilly depending on the time of year.
- Take water – if you’re outdoors for a hike it’s always best to be prepared and pack water.
- Bring your camera. It’s definitely a great spot for photos so remember to have a way to grab some photos.
- Don’t rush. Your kids may enjoy a certain spot so take in the scenery and unplug to enjoy the family time.
- Have ‘Gift Shop’ rules before you go.
- Stop by the Visitor’s Center and read through all the displays. You can learn a lot from this quick stop!
- Pack a lunch and spend the day.
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Kentucky State Parks has great information about Cumberland Falls.
Known as the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is named after the largest waterfall south of the Niagara. 125 ft wide wall of water drops into a boulder-strewn gorge. With a full moon and clear night sky you can see the “moonbow,” a (lunar rainbow) that appears in the base of the waterfall. A phenomenon not found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere! The area is also a natural choice for water-sports enthusiasts, offering *white-water rafting, *canoeing, *swimming, and fishing. Landlubbers will enjoy hiking and *horseback riding in this lovely area. (* for Seasonal)
Cumberland Falls is one of the few places in the world that regularly produces a moonbow. The “moonbow,” also called a white rainbow or lunar rainbow, is formed just like a rainbow—light is refracted in tiny water droplets—and appears for the two or so days, as long as the sky is clear, on either end of the full moon. You can typically find current dates for each month online.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Park, Waterfall, Riverview restaurant and lodging open year round. Campground open March 15-Nov 15.
Cumberland Falls is a hiker’s paradise, with 17 miles of hiking trails that wind through the park to scenic areas. The Moonbow Trail connects with many backpacking trails in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Guided horseback trail rides are available daily. Enjoy tennis, horseshoes, or shuffleboard on the outdoor courts and interpretive programs about native plants, animals, and local history, under the direction of a full-time recreation specialist. Daily summer activities are conducted by seasonal recreation staff. Enjoy fishing in the Cumberland River, where there is an abundance of bass, catfish, panfish, and roughfish. Cool off on a hot summer day with a dip in the Olympic-size pool. Guided rafting trips are offered on the Cumberland River.
A picnic area bordering the Cumberland River allows for relaxation and beautiful scenery. A picnic shelter in this area may be reserved. Cumberland Falls is an ideal location for meetings. A multipurpose building, adjacent to the lodge, can accommodate 250 people. The Moonbow room is great for groups 2-80. Or smaller groups of 20 or less will find the Magnolia room charming with the view of the woods. The Dupont Lodge Patio offers an inspiring view of the Cumberland River and encircling mountains. Visit the gift shop, snack shack, and Visitor’s Center, with exhibits of the area’s geology, Native American artifacts and history.
Visit the nearby Cumberland Falls State Park Nature Preserve, located in Whitley and McCreary Counties.