See the "Moonbow" at Cumberland Falls State Park
By Joel Raeber
Posted May 2012
It has been several years since I’ve visited Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky.
The first time was an overnight visit when my son was four years old (he is 34 now), and we stopped on our way to camping at Fort Wilderness at Disney World. We arrived late on a Friday evening, and most of the camping spaces were already taken. The only spot available was a rocky site right under a very bright light that was kept on all night. Not the best conditions for camping with a tent and a 4-year-old, but what we saw of the park on that brief stop was enough to bring us back for a second visit some years later.
Cumberland Falls is the "Niagara of the South". The 125-foot curtain of water falls 68 feet into the Cumberland River below. When the river is at flood stage, the width of the falls can quickly expand to 300 feet, making it
the second largest waterfall in the East by
volume. But the real attraction of Cumberland
Falls is at night, during a full (or nearly full)
moon when you can see one of the truly
awesome sights in nature: a "moonbow,"
a rainbow effect by moonlight. It is one of only
two places in the world where you can see this
effect. The other is at Victoria Falls in Africa.
The area around Cumberland Falls was explored as early as 1750. The waterfall was named by an early explorer after the Duke of Cumberland, a son of King George II of England. Kentucky historian Richard Henry Collins wrote a vivid description of Cumberland Falls in his 1874 History of Kentucky. He describes the falls as one of the “…most remarkable objects in the state.”
In 1850, Louis and Mary H. Renfro bought 400 acres “…including the Great Falls of the Cumberland.” The couple built a cabin near the falls and later added a two-room lean-to for visitors who wished to fish and enjoy the beauty of the waterfall. It was later enlarged into a hotel. In 1927, the falls and the surrounding acreage were given to the commonwealth of Kentucky for a state park. The dedication of Cumberland Falls as a Kentucky State Park took place in August 1931.
In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had 136 young men working at the falls to improve the park. They constructed DuPont Lodge and 15 cabins for visitors, along with campsites, picnic areas, roads and trails. The lodge was destroyed by a fire in 1940, but a new lodge was constructed in 1941. Fires also destroyed the old Cumberland Fall Hotel in 1947 and again in 1949.
There are more than 17 miles of hiking trails that wind through the park. The Moonbow Trail, an 11-mile trek, begins at Cumberland Falls and ends at mouth of Laurel River after following along the falls. It connects with many backpacking trails in the Daniel Boone National Forest. You can connect with the Sheltowee Trace Trail two miles below the falls and follow the river upstream along an old logging road to get back to the falls parking area.
The Eagle Falls Trail is 1.5 miles, leading to Eagle Falls, a smaller waterfall where Eagle Creek tumbles into the river. It follows cliff for much of the trail and offers the best view of Cumberland Falls. The trail crosses a small stream before reaching the river. Lower sections of trail may be under water during high water, and the latter section of the trail is rugged.
Other recreational activities include horseback riding with guided trail rides that are easy enough for first-time riders. The rides through the eastern Kentucky forest are peaceful and can be enjoyed in any season. Personal horses are not permitted on the trails at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, but there are several opportunities to ride them in the surrounding area. The park also has the Bob Blair Museum of Indian artifacts.
Guided rafting trips are offered on the Cumberland River. The park arranges the trips through a local concessionaire. Other recreational activities include horseshoes, shuffleboard and tennis (check-out the equipment at the lodge.) There is a swimming pool at the lodge. It is free for lodge and cottage guests with a small fee for campers. Swimming and canoeing are allowed in the river below the falls.
There is great fishing in the Cumberland River which runs through the park. Bass and catfish are the favorite targets. Many species of birds pass through the Cumberland Falls area on their way from South America to the Northern States and Canada, so bird watching is a popular activity. Some of the most common visitors are Carolina Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, and Red Bellied Woodpecker.
The park is located on the Cumberland River near Corbin, Ky., on US Hwy. 90. It is a short drive off I-75, about midway between Knoxville, Tenn., and Lexington, Ky. There are just 49 campsites; 20 are for tent only. Some of the RV sites are a little small for large RVs, but pop-ups fit well. The largest back-in spots will accommodate up to 25 feet. There is only one pull-thru that can hold up to 30 feet. There are also some tight areas where maneuvering may be difficult with larger units. Some of the sites are very uneven, and leveling can be a problem. Most sites have electric and water hookups, and there is a central building with showers and rest rooms, a grocery, and a dump station. A lodge and cabins are also available.
The beauty of Cumberland Falls draws visitors from across the world. It is definitely worth the trip for the whole family.
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