Kentucky’s Niagara Falls: See the Massive Hidden Waterfall in Appalachia

cumberland falls is a stunning waterfall in Kentucky

Beyond the impressive falls, this area is popular for camping, birding and fishing. It has a gem mining facility with fossils and gemstones (photo by alexeys/iStock)

This impressive waterfall is also known for being the only place with a predictable moonbow

As someone who grew up in Indiana and has lived in Tennessee more than 30 years, my relationship with the Bluegrass State is complicated. For much of my life, Kentucky has been something you get through on the way to where you’re going, not the destination. Also, neither the Hoosiers nor my beloved Volunteers have much love for Kentucky. There is a juvenile part of me that clings to those petty rivalries.

Truthfully, I had some great times visiting places like Church Hill Downs with my aunt and uncle. The horse country is beautiful between Louisville and Lexington as are the Kentucky mountains. So, honestly, I think Kentucky’s great, just don’t tell anyone who lives there that I said it. But it wasn’t until I moved to Morristown, about an hour from the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, that I found out just how awesome Kentucky could be. One of those discoveries was Cumberland Falls State Resort – home to Kentucky’s answer to Niagara Falls and the spectacular Moonbow.

Corbin, Kentucky, in the Southern part of Kentucky, is home to Cumberland Falls – aka the Niagara of the South. While the billing is a bit of an exaggeration – the falls are considerably shorter than Niagara’s 167 feet – it is an impressively beautiful natural formation. At 68 feet tall and 125 feet wide, it is the second-largest waterfall east of the Rockies. Where it has Niagara Falls beat is that it is home to the only regularly appearing Moonbow – or lunar rainbow – in the Western Hemisphere. 

Cumberland Falls is an impressive sight to behold (photo by SF Grayson/

What is Cumberland Falls?

It is a waterfall and a rather wonderful state park. The falls are big – the largest by volume in the Eastern U.S. south of Niagara and the second tallest falls west of the Rocky Mountains. They are located near Corbin, which is also the birthplace of Col. Harlan Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The falls and state park are a popular tourist destination and home of the Moonbow – a lunar rainbow that occurs at night when the moon is full.

The state park offers a variety of activities beyond the hike to the falls. It’s popular for camping, birding and fishing. It has a gem mining facility with fossils and gemstones. There are 17 miles of hiking trails as well as guided horseback tours. It’s also a great place for swimming, rafting and picnicking. There are campsites as well as a lodge and cottages available.

After the falls, the second most popular hike is to the 1937 fire tower at Pinnacle Knob. It’s a short 1.2-mile out-and-back hike with a gentle change in elevation. The views from the tower are pretty spectacular. Tours of the tower are available.

View of Cumberland Falls From a Lower Deck
The falls are easily accessible for all ages and abilities, but there are also lower steps and decks to get a closer look (photo by Kim Grayson/

The trail to the falls, location and what to know

The Cumberland Falls State Park isn’t far from I-75. Once you get to the park, getting to the falls is surprisingly easy. There are a variety of lookouts and access points, including some that are wheelchair accessible. There is a visitor’s center and a gift shop so you can get the full experience.

If you want to see the Moonbow, a little bit of luck is involved. While the park provides a schedule here of when the moonbow could be visible, you do need the cooperation of Mother Nature to make it happen. But even without the Moonbow, the falls are a natural wonder, a site worthy of a side trip or even a couple of days in your vacation.

moonbow appears nearby the falls
The Moonbow stretches from the base of Cumberland Falls in Kentucky on the night of a full moon. It is one of the only places in the world where this happens with predictable regularity (photo by Jesse Thornton/iStock)

I grew up camping with my grandparents at various state parks in the summer and so I have a fondness for that style of getaway. I could see how some people might find it a tad slow, but if you’re looking for a getaway where you can relax, enjoy nature and do a little swimming or floating, it’s a great spot. Plus you can schedule a side trip to the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum where the Colonel debuted his original recipes with 7 secret herbs and spices.

So, there is more to the Appalachian Mountains than just the Smokies. Cumberland Falls – on the Western edge of the mountains – is one of the most spectacular sites in the Appalachian Range. It’s easily accessible – not far from a major interstate – and with its Moonbow, features a natural phenomenon unique in the Western Hemisphere. It may be billed as the Niagara of the South – but it kind of stands on its own name. It doesn’t need to borrow the billing.

a view of cumberland falls
Accessing the falls is relatively easy (photo by SF Grayson/

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