Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park / Corbin, Kentucky, USA

About Cumberland Falls


Hiking Distance: almost roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2012-10-21
Date last visited: 2012-10-21

Waterfall Latitude: 36.83885
Waterfall Longitude: -84.34495

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Cumberland Falls definitely has to be up there when it comes to our favorite waterfalls of the South.

In fact, it even cracked our Top 10 list of the Best Waterfalls in the USA!

Cumberland_Falls_085_20121021 - Cumberland Falls and the surrounding Autumn foliage
Cumberland Falls and the surrounding Autumn foliage

With a classical rectangular shape that bears a strong resemblance to the Horseshoe Falls section of Niagara Falls, it’s not at all surprising that this waterfall has also been referred to as the Niagara of the South, Little Niagara, or even the Great Falls.

Sure it’s a much smaller version of Niagara Falls given that it’s said to be 68ft tall and typically 125ft wide.

“Niagara of the South”

However, after having come to Cumberland Falls and seeing for ourselves what this place was all about, we think this waterfall has got other things going for it as well.

For starters, as you can see in the photo above, we happened to show up at the apparent peak of Autumn colors this side of the Cumberland Plateau and the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Eagle_Falls_029_20121021 - Cumberland Falls as seen from the Eagle Falls Trail
Cumberland Falls as seen from the Eagle Falls Trail

We could argue that it was because of the explosion of color that surrounded the falls that it could even be more photogenic than the famous Niagara itself, especially when you consider Cumberland Falls’ naturesque surroundings (as opposed to Niagara Falls’ high rises).

I’m pretty confident that the Cumberland River also flows year-round so this waterfall puts on a show all year long.

While we came here in Autumn for the colors (though the volume of the falls might be on the average to low side), it’s conceivable that the waterfall can expand when it’s in high volume (I’m guessing in the Spring).

Another thing going for Cumberland Falls was the consistent display of rainbows.

Rainbows and Moonbows at Cumberland Falls

Cumberland_Falls_049_20121021 - Cumberland Falls with a double rainbow in its mist near the bottom of the waterfall along the east bank of the Cumberland River
Cumberland Falls with a double rainbow in its mist near the bottom of the waterfall along the east bank of the Cumberland River

We came at around mid-morning and we were treated to a full arcing rainbow appearing right in front of the base of the falls.

Of course, the north-facing waterfall was prone to having the sun’s rays projecting over its top and right into our eyes and camera lenses.

However, coming here as early as we did in the day or much later in the afternoon seemed to be the optimal times for decent photos as the sun would be off to the side and not against us.

Julie and I were here a week too early for the famed lunar rainbows (or moonbows), but we were quite aware that this place seemed to be world famous for that as well.

Cumberland_Falls_032_20121021 - Looking downstream from Cumberland Falls towards a nearly full arcing rainbow
Looking downstream from Cumberland Falls towards a nearly full arcing rainbow

Of course for that to happen, we needed a combination of a full moon, cooperative weather (i.e. clear skies), and good mist production from the falls along with a decent tripod and a camera capable of taking very long exposure photos to pull it off.

Don’t believe the literature or the signs saying this is one of the only places around the world you can see moonbows, though.

You can see them anywhere there’s enough moonlight to refract water vapors or droplets.

However, I’d argue that Cumberland Falls is certainly one of the better places to see it given its wide open spaces to let the moonlight hit the waterfall’s mist.

Experiencing Cumberland Falls

Cumberland_Falls_026_20121021 - Looking into the semi-horseshoe shape of Cumberland Falls backed by Autumn colors from one of the closest overlooks to the main facility
Looking into the semi-horseshoe shape of Cumberland Falls backed by Autumn colors from one of the closest overlooks to the main facility

We were also able to enjoy this waterfall from a variety of vantage points.

Most of them were on the east bank of the Cumberland River where there were overlooks at the brink of Cumberland Falls, at river level, and further down the river for contextual views (like at the top of this page).

As for different views of the Cumberland Falls on the other side of the river (the west bank), we were able to get those from the Eagle Falls trail.

All of the overlooks on the east bank were on very easy walks (more like strolls) so the whole family can enjoy the scenery.

Cumberland_Falls_035_20121021 - Context of the overhanging cliffs above the walkway leading to the bottom of Cumberland Falls along the east bank of the Cumberland River
Context of the overhanging cliffs above the walkway leading to the bottom of Cumberland Falls along the east bank of the Cumberland River

However, the Eagle Falls trail required a bit more fitness given the elevation changes, but it too could be experienced by anyone with a reasonable amount of fitness.

On our way out, we did see a group of kayakers about to row their way up to the base of Cumberland Falls.

I’m sure they would’ve made for great photo subjects to convey the size of the falls.

I’m not sure whether you do the kayaking on your own or if there are services that make this easier, but I’m sure it’s another fun way to enjoy the place even more.

Cumberland_Falls_096_20121021 - An interesting miniature mining contraption seen at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
An interesting miniature mining contraption seen at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park

There was one more thing that surprised both Julie and I about this place as of our 2012 visit… It was free!

We couldn’t believe that a place with as much infrastructure as this that it didn’t require an admission fee nor even a fee for parking.

This was amazing considering that there was even a miniature flume with flowing water displaying some of the mining heritage of this region.

We had been to numerous other places that required payment yet had less to see or weren’t as scenic.

So it kind of made us wonder how this place remained as clean and as visitor-friendly as it was and who was responsible for its upkeep.

Coleman DuPont

Cumberland_Falls_062_20121021 - A plaque dedicated to Coleman duPont at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
A plaque dedicated to Coleman duPont at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park

Apparently, we owe this preservation of Cumberland Falls and its open access to Kentucky native Coleman DuPont and his wife.

They managed to purchase it to prevent a hydroelectric power plant from being developed further upstream.

And as a result, this place was eventually dedicated as a state park in 1931.

Anyways, there’s only so much we can try to convey to you through words regarding the great Cumberland Falls.

So we’ll just shut up and let our visuals do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

Authorities

Cumberland Falls resides in the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park near Williamsburg and Corbin in McCreary County and Whitley County, Kentucky. It is administered by the Kentucky Department of Parks. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Cumberland_Falls_002_20121021 - Looking across the Cumberland River reflecting beautiful Autumn colors as we walked towards the brink of Cumberland Falls
Cumberland_Falls_006_20121021 - Julie approaching the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park facility
Cumberland_Falls_012_20121021 - View from one of the closest overlooks of Cumberland Falls with a rainbow starting to appear at its base
Cumberland_Falls_014_20121021 - Looking downstream from the brink of Cumberland Falls with a wide arcing rainbow appearing over the Cumberland River
Cumberland_Falls_029_20121021 - Broad rainbow from the base of the Cumberland Falls as seen from near its brink
Cumberland_Falls_037_20121021 - Broad view of Cumberland Falls from the end of the spur trail leading closer to the waterfall's base
Cumberland_Falls_041_20121021 - Context of Julie at one of the lower overlooks checking out Cumberland Falls
Cumberland_Falls_043_20121021 - Trying to take advantage of the morning shadows to take a long exposure shot of the Cumberland Falls from close up
Cumberland_Falls_055_20121021 - Context of the Cumberland Falls and the overhanging cliffs from the lookout at the end of the spur trail leading closer to the waterfall's base
Cumberland_Falls_065_20121021 - View from a more distant overlook of the Cumberland Falls backed by gorgeous Autumn foliage
Cumberland_Falls_075_20121021 - Framed view of the Cumberland Falls as we continued down more distant overlooks along the East Bank of the Cumberland River
Cumberland_Falls_083_20121021 - All zoomed out contextual view of the Cumberland Falls and surrounding Autumn scenery
Cumberland_Falls_088_20121021 - Even more full context of the Cumberland Falls and surroundings from a distant overlook along the East Bank of the Cumberland River
Cumberland_Falls_090_20121021 - Looking across the Cumberland River from further downstream of the Cumberland Falls revealing some of the cliff geology interspersed with Autumn foliage
Cumberland_Falls_091_20121021 - Looking further downstream along the Cumberland River with lots more Autumn foliage above the giant rocks strewn about the riverbed
Cumberland_Falls_092_20121021 - Someone went pretty far downstream to scramble on these giant boulders along the Cumberland River
Cumberland_Falls_095_20121021 - If we were really up for extending our stay at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, we could have continued on these longer trails
Cumberland_Falls_096_20121021 - Mining trough or mining flume
Eagle_Falls_022_20121021 - Focused look at the Cumberland Falls from the Eagle Falls Trail with some people on the other side of the river to provide a sense of scale
Eagle_Falls_026_20121021 - Full contextual look back at the Cumberland Falls from the Eagle Falls Trail
Eagle_Falls_059_20121021 - Context of the Eagle Falls Trail and the Cumberland Falls in the distance

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Cumberland Falls is west of Williamsburg and Corbin (both are probably the nearest towns of any size next to an interstate (I-75 to be exact).

We drove there from Williamsburg (where we were staying at the nice Cumberland Inn) so that’s how we’ll describe the driving route.

From Williamsburg, continue north on the I-75 for about 5 miles, where there will signposted exit for Cumberland Falls.

Turning left at this off-ramp we got onto the US25W.

Then, we took this road for about 5.6 miles before turning left onto Hwy 90 (I recalled there were also signposts pointing the way at this junction).

From this junction, we continued on Hwy 90 for another 8 miles before we turned left onto the elongated parking lot for the falls.

This was the parking area to the falls.

Other turnoffs and signs prior to this one (and there seemed to be several) were probably for hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds.

It took us about 30 minutes to drive from Williamsburg to the Cumberland Falls.

If you’re coming from Corbin, you have a choice of routes.

You can hop on the I-75, then go south until you exit at the US25W.

Or, you can take the local streets and get onto the US25W directly (note that the US25W leaves and rejoins the I-75 in different spots – one just north of Williamsburg and the other at the southwestern end of Corbin).

From there the I-75/US25W offramp, go west on US25W for about 7.5 miles to the Hwy 90 junction.

Turn right to go west on Hwy 90 to the aforementioned parking lot.

Finally, for a bit of context, Williamsburg was 70 miles (over an hour drive) north of Knoxville, Tennessee, 183 miles (3 hours drive) northwest of Asheville, North Carolina, and 103 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Lexington.

Right to left sweep from the brink of the falls showing both ends of a full arcing rainbow


Left to right sweep from one of the main lookouts near the falls following the flow of water through the waterfall itself before ending downstream with a full arcing rainbow


Right to left sweep of the falls with a full arcing rainbow showing boldly


Right to left sweep of the falls from one of the lower overlooks showing a full arcing rainbow fronting the falls


Fixated on a frontal view of the falls


Starting with a zoomed in focus on the front of the falls before slowly zooming out to show the fall colors backing the falls


Right to left sweep from one of the furthest lookouts looking across the river before focusing on the falls with zoom-ins at the end


Zoomed in on the falls from the furthest lookout we were at on this side of the river before zooming out to show colorful fall foliage framing the scene


Following the flow of water from a flume display near the falls


Fixated on Cumberland Falls from the Eagle Falls trail with people near the top for scale


Starting with a zoom-in on cumberland falls before zooming out to show the context of the falls then panning over to the right to show the eagle falls trail besides overhanging rocks

Trip Planning Resources


Nearby Accommodations




Tagged with: daniel boone, national forest, mcreary county, whitley county, kentucky, waterfall, moonbow, moonbows, autumn colors, fall colors, eagle falls, niagara of the south, little niagara, cumberland plateau, corbin, coleman du pont



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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