Wanna see a moonbow? Do I mean a rainbow?
Moonbow. South Central Kentucky has a very unique natural attraction. Cumberland Falls is one of a kind. It is the only waterfall in the United States at which regular moonbows occur. The only other waterfall at which this occurs regularly is Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in Africa. Occasionally moonbows occur at other waterfalls in this country, but at Cumberland on clear nights with a full moon, this natural phenomenon is routine.
What is a moonbow? It is a “rainbow” seen at night. Conditions have to be just right for a moonbow to become visible. First of all, there must be a full moon. The skies should be clear with no clouds obscuring the moon. When the full moon moves overhead so its light rays can reach into the gorge, its light beams pass through the mist created by the thundering water. That produces the moonbow the same way a rainbow is made visible. The best location to view the moonbow is on the lower overlook nearest the waterfall. As the moon changes its location, the moonbow moves accordingly. First, it is visible very close to the waterfall. Then, as the moon moves overhead, the moonbow shifts and appears further away from the waterfall. It seems to move down the gorge away from the falls. Since the park closes at midnight, viewing time is limited to a couple hours after dark until midnight. During the summer with daylight savings time, darkness arrives around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. That is not much moonbow viewing time. There is a moonbow schedule posted on the Cumberland Falls website, which gives dates the moonbow may be visible.
Cumberland Falls is a great place to visit even without the moonbow. The waterfall itself is 125 feet wide with a 68-foot plunge. The average volume is over 3200 cubic feet per second. It is a powerful waterfall in the 677-mile long Cumberland River. The waterfall is situated in the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. The Daniel Boone National Forest covers a large portion of South Central Kentucky and surrounds the state park creating a wilderness retreat with a list of outdoor recreational opportunities. Heading the list is the assortment of hiking trails ranging in length from one-quarter-mile to a 10.8-mile trail, which begins at the visitors center and follows the gorge of the Cumberland River until it joins the Laurel River. This trail, called the Moonbow Trail, is part of the Sheltowee Trace, which extends the length of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
One particularly scenic trail, Eagle Falls Trail, is one and one half miles in length and follows the cliff line along the Cumberland River. This trail offers some of the best views of Cumberland Falls. About one half mile from the trailhead, a short trail leads to an overlook over the Cumberland River gorge just below the falls. This trail is also the only one leading to Eagle Falls, which is a forty-four foot waterfall formed as Eagle Creek plunges into the Cumberland River basin.
The stretch of the Cumberland River below the waterfall is a popular run for canoeists. The twelve-mile stretch of river offers experienced whitewater enthusiasts adventure on the water. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters for information on guided trips. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters also offer several guided whitewater trips into the Big South Fork.
What make this park a state resort park are its other amenities. The Dupont Lodge has deluxe accommodations, a first class restaurant, and a full-time naturalist on staff. There are programs throughout the summer months and activities for the entire family. Views from the restaurant at the Dupont Lodge are excellent. Tables line the picture-windowed walls giving a panoramic vista of the Cumberland River and the surrounding national forest. The lodge itself is of rustic construction with its timbered interior. That gives authenticity to the wilderness flavor. Solid hemlock and knotty pine paneling accent the large stone fireplace in the historic main lodge building. The Blair Museum is located in the lodge and features Native American artifacts and exhibits of the area.
Getting to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in not difficult. It is easily accessible from Interstate 75. From I-75 take Exit 25 and go west on US Highway 25. At State Highway 90 follow the signs to the state park. It is approximately twenty miles from I-75’s Exit 25 to Cumberland Falls. Interstate 75 passes through Cincinnati, Lexington, and Knoxville and is intersected by several other interstate highways making Cumberland Falls, the resort park within a wilderness setting, and the moonbow very accessible.
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