RAINBOWS AT MIDNIGHT ARE ONLY ONE OF THE REMARKABLE attractions that lure visitors to Kentucky. Those rainbows, known as “moonbows,” are but a part of the charm of the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, featuring the roaring Cumberland River as it forms a 125-foot-wide curtain, plunging 65 feet to a boulder-strewn gorge below. The river’s water falls with such force that a perpetual mist forms at the base of the falls. On nights when the moon is full and the sky clear, a magical moonbow delights observers.
After the moon has cleared the top of the ridge, visitors begin to watch about an hour past dark, starting two nights before the full moon and 30 minutes later each night for the next four nights. The best viewpoint is usually from the upper overlook, a natural rock with several potholes, open until 3 a.m. on moonbow nights. It and a second overlook can be wet and slippery with ice during the winter months. To reach the spectacular falls, head north on Interstate 75 at the southern border of Kentucky. At Williamsburg, exit 15, turn west to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and its extensive campground. The park offers a wide variety of entertainment.
Fish for bass, catfish and other species; take a three-hour luncheon cruise on Cumberland Lake; try the popular 17-mile canoe trip — but be sure to end it at the K-90 bridge, just above the falls! Enjoy the Cumberland Falls Rainbow Mist Ride or class II and III white-water rafting. Tennis, horseshoes and shuffleboard, picnic areas with tables, grills and playgrounds are among the park’s amenities.
Horseback riding is a favorite pastime. A recreation specialist presents programs on native plants, animals and local history. Included in 17 miles of hiking trails is the Moonbow Trail, which connects with many backpacking trails in the surrounding Daniel Boone National Forest.
Leaving the resort park on U.S. 25W to Corbin, head 50 miles south for a truly important
historic attraction: the famous Cumberland Gap. Just perhaps — for a brief interlude —
you might be tempted first to detour a little farther north to experience more of the
beauty of that rugged national forest. Five hundred miles of trails and more than 800 miles
of roads open this wilderness land of steep slopes, narrow valleys, high sandstone cliffs,
primitive rock houses and diverse forests, sheltering more than 100 species of birds, 46
kinds of mammals and 67 types of amphibians and reptiles. Campgrounds range from
full-service to primitive. The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail runs the 260-mile
length of the forest, linking many of the developed areas and major trail systems.
Horseback riding and off-road vehicles are permitted on portions of the trail, but Beaver
Creek Wildlife Management Area welcomes only foot travelers. Turning back south, follow
I-75 to Corbin, where you’ll take U.S. 25E for a magnificent finale at Cumberland Gap,
Gateway to the West. If it’s lunchtime in Corbin, pause for a museum-with-your-meal at the Colonel Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, site of Colonel Sanders’ original restaurant. On your left as you approach the southern border of Kentucky, heavily forested, rugged
mountains signal Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Stop at the park’s visitors
center in Middlesboro, a historic town built within a meteor crater. It’s also famous for
the house someone once built of coal — 42 tons of it. At the convergence of Kentucky,
Tennessee and Virginia, Cumberland Gap is “one of the most important sites in the country,”say the brochures, and the gateway comes alive as you learn its history. An easy drive to The Pinnacles leads to an outstanding view of the three states. Western settlers were hopelessly bottled up in the Eastern United States by the Allegheny Ridge. In 1750, the first white men found the narrow 800-foot-deep opening to the West, long used by wild
animals and Native Americans. But the French and Indian wars kept the western frontier
closed. When peace returned, hunter Daniel Boone spent two years exploring the mountains and, in 1775, marked out the Wilderness Trail from the Cumberland Gap north into Kentucky.
It was only a horse path, but immigration began immediately, and though no wagon passed over it before 1796, more than 200,000 people made their way through the gap to Kentucky and beyond. Though Boone was not the first to discover the door to the West, his personal magnetism and frontier strength and fame made the Cumberland Gap his own. There are 55 miles of hiking trails in the park, ranging from nature hikes to overnight trails. Some park features are accessible only by trail. Park rangers point out that this is a wild
area. Avoid snakes and three-leafed plants. Drive alertly. Watch your footing near cliffs.
Never hike alone. As even Daniel Boone said, “I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was
bewildered once for three days.” And finally, visitors leave the park through a remarkable
tunnel. Twin side-by-side passageways — 40 feet wide, 30 feet high and 23 years in the
making — were bored 4,600 feet through the mountain to provide easy access for the
increasing traffic. That released the narrow old Ridge Road to resume its historic role —
as Kentucky’s frontier trail — to be explored and remembered with increased appreciation.
Before You Go Bell County
Tourism: (800) 988-1075. Cumberland Falls
State Resort Park, Corbin: (800) 325-0063; open for camping April 1 to October 31.. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and Wilderness Road
Campground, Middlesboro: (606) 248-2817; no reservations. Daniel Boone National Forest:
Winchester, (859) 745-3100, or London, (800) 348-0095; http://www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/boone/.
No reservations; open year-round. Kentucky Department of Parks: (800) 255-7275; For more campground information,
visit: Trailer Life Directory. For additional
state travel information: (800) 225-TRIP; www.kytourism.com.