Cumberland Falls was the second state resort park I visited in Kentucky. Just as Natural Bridge State Park (also located in Eastern Kentucky) is known for one specific feature, Cumberland Falls State Park’s spotlight feature is a known for its impressive waterfall. It’s not the biggest in the United States and certainly not the most spectacular one that I’ve ever seen, but there’s one thing about Cumberland Falls that is absolutely awesome: It is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbow appears on a predictable basis. When the moon is full and the sky is clear, a rainbow of sorts appears above the waterfalls in the dark of the night. Though moonbows may be spotted periodically in other places on occasion, the only other place in the world where a moonbow regularly appears is Victoria Falls on Africa’s Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The famous waterfall at this Kentucky state park is easily accessible to reach and view along a paved path, but it is only one of a handful of worthy features in the park. Eagle Falls, which is 44 feet high, can be reached via a 1.5-mile trail. There are several miles of pathways throughout the park, though many of them include several stone steps traversing hills, which can be a bit treacherous if they become wet or icy. One of the advantages of visiting Cumberland Falls State Park, though, is the fact that most people come to check out the main waterfall, so if you choose to venture elsewhere, you can embrace nature almost completely on your own.
Bill Troutman gestured toward a red all-terrain vehicle behind him. “Do you want to ride with me?” he asked.
He turned and began making his way toward the vehicle. Its four tires were big, thick and heavily treaded. On a rearview mirror near the brake on the left side of the ride, he had attached a small American flag.
Why yes, yes I did want to ride, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous. I’d been shaken up and bounced around on all types of adventures throughout my life, but I’d never climbed aboard a beast like this ATV before, and I’d heard not-so-awesome things about their effects on the earth. There was no seat belt but a helmet; four tires but uneven ground. However, I take adventures as they come and I’m always eager to learn why people do what they do, so here I was in Eastern Kentucky, and if the president of the Harlan County Ridge Riders wanted to take me out for a ride, I was going to go.
If you didn’t know it was there, what you were looking for at the bend of the road, you would drive right past it. Sure, it stands out with its yellow exterior and large green, hand-decorated sign, but it’s a fairly basic building. It’s not a big business, and there isn’t a paved parking lot. No signs announce its arrival.
If you didn’t know about Miguels Pizza, it would probably seem like just another pizza joint. After all, what’s so special about pizza?
But it’s not about the building or the hand-painted sign or even the pizza that make this place significant.
Natural Bridge State Park is a burst of color in the springtime with more than 100 species of wildflowers, and apparently the winter months are just as stunning with the skeleton of the park exposed to visitors. Located in eastern Kentucky near the Red River Gorge, Natural Bridge State Park is best known for its natural bridge.
The moniker of a natural bridge is actually an inaccurate one as it was weathering and erosion and not water that created this feature. This means its actually a natural arch standing 65 feet high and 75 long that draws the attention of tens of thousands of visitors annually. (This is one of only 180 natural arches in Natural Bridge State Park, but it is the largest.) The park’s most popular trail, the .75-mile Original Trail leads from the lodge to the arch and has undergone its own wear and tear over the years. Though you can walk beneath the natural bridge and over the top of it, I think the best places in the park are those that offer sweeping views of not only the natural bridge but also the dense forest that spreads across the 2,250 acres of preserved wilderness.
Maybe I’m the only one who never thought to combine the ideas of state parks with resorts, but when it comes to providing comfortable lodging combined with a lush outdoor setting, Kentucky has already been there and done that.
Of the 50 state parks in the state, 17 of them are considered resort parks. This means that there are lodges to accompany the outdoor recreational opportunities spread across this southern state. Of the 17 Kentucky state resort parks, 15 of them have cabins or cottages. What defines a resort park from any other state park is a lodge offering on-site accommodations. They aren’t necessarily fancy, but they are convenient and comfortable, offering easy access to some of Kentucky’s most famed natural features.
I had the chance to stay in two of the resort state parks: Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
The first thing I noticed upon our arrival into Natural Bridge State Resort Park was the fact that we didn’t have to slow down to pay a fee or flash a pass card. We just cruised into the parking lot and came to a halt before the long, low-lying lodge. Kentucky’s government requires that public parks must be free and available to the public, so anything that anyone would pay would be to stay, not to play. That is, accommodations at a lodge in a resort park like Natural Bridge cost money, but that’s the only fee you have to fork over to enjoy the trails and other activities on the property.
Need to escape? Looking to be whisked away? Itching for travel inspiration?
Look no further than Red River Gorge in Kentucky, where rock climbers flock from around the world. Many climbing routes are challenging, but outfitters offer assistance for those who are new to the sport.