A Road Trip to Cumberland Falls State Park

Cumberland Falls State Park Kentucky Elliott Hess Photography
Eagle Falls, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky
Eagle Falls near Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, Kentucky. Keep reading for the full story of our adventure, and visit http://www.elliotthess.com/blog for more lovely photos of the falls (including a moonbow picture!) Photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip

When I was in elementary school, I loved to play The Oregon Trail computer game. Recently, some of Cameron and my friends downloaded The Oregon Trail game onto my iPad to relive one of our favorite childhood games. News flash: It looks totally different now. I mean, obviously this is to be expected. I hardly think Apple would let the old version of the game on their shiny hi-res screens. But still, a part of me was shocked to see the well-animated, bright and colorful game that played back at me. We were used to this version:

Nice outfits right? Perhaps it was because I had just been playing The Oregon Trail that my mind went straight to the game when the boyfriend, Elliott, and I took off on a road trip to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park a few weeks ago. Or maybe it’s because a lot of rain and some unplanned hiking trips made me wish I had a few oxen and a covered wagon. All in all, we had an awesome time at the falls and a couple of days of cloudy, but beautiful weather (Professional Photographer Elliott says cloudy days are the best picture-taking days … especially of water.) And we even got to see the world-famous Cumberland Falls moonbow – a phenomenon not found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. But we’ll tell you more about that later.

Let me back up a little bit. Here’s how the trip went:

Elliott had planned out a few hiking adventures on our drive to Cumberland Falls. He wanted to see nearby waterfalls like Eagle Falls and promised me they were “just off the road.” Perhaps we had a bit of a different definition of “just off the road.” To start our day off, the lady working the front desk at DuPont Lodge where we stayed – very nice and very affordable, a bit older since the lodge and its surrounding 15 cabins were constructed in 1933, but great views from the room – told us about a new waterfall that park rangers had just found days before (it’d been raining a lot recently) that was along a 1 mile hiking trail behind the lodge.

DuPont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky  DuPont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky  DuPont Lodge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

Well, we didn’t find the waterfall, but we DID get to climb across a massive fallen tree that completely blocked the hiking path and then navigate our way back toward the lodge on our own trail. Good thing I packed my hiking boots.

After making the (poor judgement) call to skip breakfast because we were desperate to see a waterfall at this point, Elliott and I drove the short distance from the lodge down to a small turn off and parking lot at the trail head to get to Eagle Falls. Here’s where The Oregon Trail comes into play. You see, just a short distance down the trail, we suddenly lost the path to the overflowing banks of the Cumberland River. Elliott decided we’d forge it.

Cumberland Falls, Eagle Falls, Kentucky

So leaving our oxen and wagon behind (it was far too risky to take the animals along and Elliott didn’t want to get any scratches on his new covered wagon), and packing his camera, bag of camera gear and tripod (no room left for food), we crossed the river successfully.

The oregon trail game

But then we came across another river. Elliott wanted to forge this one, but I put my foot down.

Cumberland Falls, Eagle Falls, Kentucky

The best part about the 2.5 mile hike to Eagle Falls (which involved many, many inclines both up and down and even more stairs), was we walked along the opposite side of the river from the state park viewing area. This meant we got a truly unique view of Cumberland Falls. That’s a lot of water.

We made it to Eagle Falls without breaking any limbs, or contracting dysentery or cholera, and it was well-worth the hike.

Eagle Falls, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

And then I pushed Elliott in ….

Eagle Falls, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

OK, that part isn’t true. But I considered it for a half of a second. I blame hunger for clouding my judgement. If you want to orient yourself from the picture above, to Elliott’s right is Cumberland River, down river from the falls. Cumberland Falls is located over Elliott’s right shoulder, behind him about a mile.

Yes, it was a long hike. And yes, I was very hungry by the time we got back to our covered wagon and oxen Elliott’s car. But it was a lovely 2.5 mile walk to the falls and then the same distance back. It took us about an hour and a half to complete in it’s entirety (including some time we sat at the falls taking pictures), and on days in warmer weather when it hasn’t been raining a lot, I’m sure the hiking trails are clear and dry – no river forging necessary.

A little history about Cumberland Falls:

Because I couldn’t just leave you with our entertaining tale, a little history on Cumberland Falls –

Geologists estimate that the rock over which the Cumberland River plunges is about 250 million years old. Dr. Thomas Walker during his 1750 exploration of Kentucky named the waterfall after the Duke of Cumberland, a son of King George II of England.

Ownership of Cumberland Falls included Samuel Garland, a Virginian who traded a portion of his supplies for the land around the falls. He intended to build a water mill, but instead built a cabin in which he resided for a while before returning to Virginia. The first official record of the falls ownership occurred in 1800 when the Commonwealth of Kentucky granted Matthew Walton and Adam Shepard Cumberland Falls and 200 acres. 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 magnificent waterfall.

After a few more owners, the Kiwanis Club sponsored the building of a trail from Corbin, Kentucky to Cumberland Falls in 1927. This project involved 200 men and women working for nine weeks to complete the task. In November 1927 Kentucky native T. Coleman DuPont offered to buy the falls and the surrounding acreage and give it to the commonwealth for a state park.

However, not until March 10, 1930 did the Kentucky legislature vote to accept the now deceased Coleman’s offer of the falls area as a state park. Coleman’s widow proceeded to buy the property of 593 acres for $400,000. Under the direction of Dr. Willard Rouse Jillson who had served as the first commissioner of state parks, a committee adopted a motion to make Cumberland Falls part of the state parks system. The dedication of Cumberland Falls as a Kentucky State Park took place August 21, 1931.

The road from Corbin to the falls needed improvement, and in 1931 a new highway was completed. Between September 7, and Thanksgiving Day, 1931, over 50,000 visitors came to see Cumberland Falls. Improvements to the park including the construction of DuPont Lodge have been made over the years and continue to be made today. You can find a complete history here. 

What it’s going to cost you:

The park is free and open to the public every day until midnight. You can park and walk along a few paved trails that take you from the top of the falls to lower scenic overlooks at the base of the falls.

To stay at Dupont Lodge and it’s surrounding cabins, prices will vary from around $70 per night to a couple hundred per night for the cabins. For information about the park and to make reservations, visit the park website. 


It’s funny you’d ask because, well … we got a little lost. The gist of it is, you take Highway 27 in Kentucky to Highway 90 and follow signs to Cumberland Falls from there. We somehow missed Highway 90 and ended up taking Hwy 700 – which resembles a round on a Mario Kart track – which will intersect with 90 and get you back on track. My Garmin GPS did not have any luck finding the address to the park available on its website, but Elliott’s iPhone did find it.

A recommended detour:

After our hike to Eagle Falls, Elliott and I were ravenous. He talked me into stopping at a small restaurant on Highway 27 in Whitley City, about 15 miles back down Hwy 90 away from the falls and a few miles down Hwy 27. Milton’s Burger Hut had some of the most delicious food and friendly servers I’ve had in a while. Elliott took this visit very seriously. He ordered: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, a hamburger steak, fries, a buffalo chicken pizza, cauliflower nuggets and a 32 oz milkshake to top it all off. And our bill was still under $30. Seriously. I’d recommend it.

Cauliflower nuggets for your consideration – Milton’s Burger Hut, 740 N. Hwy. 27, Whitley City, KY

Milton's Burger Hut, Whitley City, Kentucky

Related: Our Cumberland Falls moonbow experience

Top photo by Elliott Hess for My Old Kentucky Road Trip, www.elliotthess.com.

3 thoughts on “A Road Trip to Cumberland Falls State Park

  1. Ma’am, I was raised just off HWY 90 and learned to drive on HWY 700. I busted my knees playing mountain goat on the rocks at the Falls as a kid and I knew the way to Eagle Falls before I learned the way into town. And Milton’s is close to the best diner food on this Earth.
    And everything you’ve said about this area is true. It is one glorious place. Social problems aside, it is Eden, and we’d welcome you back any time.


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