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Cumberland Falls State Park, KY

Cumberland Falls' moonbow. The photo shows the colors more than the naked eye, to which it appears white. Photo by Attila Horvath.

Join your fellow phenomenon-seekers on the full moon and try to glimpse the moonbow at Cumberland Falls – one of only two places in the world where you are likely to see a nighttime white arc reflecting the moonlight in the mist created by the falls.

“Magical” is the way park naturalist Steve Gilbert describes Cumberland Falls experience – and he means the entire park, not just the moonbow. “I’ve heard it described as spiritual, restful. The scenery is a big part of it.” Starting, of course, with the centerpiece falls, which pour over the precipice at an average rate of 3,200 cubic feet per second, making it the second-largest waterfall by volume in the East, behind Niagara.

For your daytime activities, begin with the two-mile round-trip hike to Eagle Falls where you’ll be rewarded with different views of Cumberland Falls along the way. Morning is the best time to see rainbows in the big falls’ mist. Then try some of the 10-plus miles of the 260-mile Sheltowee Trace trail that meander through the park. Head north on the Sheltowee Trace to Dog Slaughter Falls and to backcountry sites and shelters for overnight camping.

In the spring, put in a kayak or raft at the sandy beach below the falls and float 10.5 miles – including some class III+ rapids – to the take out at the mouth of the Laurel River. The Cumberland is a wild and scenic river, so enjoy the view from your boat and be thankful that this isn’t really the “Niagara of the South” as they market it – you’ll see no Ripley’s Believe It or Not, no Tussaud’s Wax Museum – just the river, the hueco-dotted boulders, the forest and the wildlife.

To further sweeten the deal, park naturalists offer regular programming, including Backpacking 101 trips and overnight canoe trips. No experience or equipment is required.

Finally, if you’re thinking of riding a barrel over the falls, forget about it: while reportedly at least one swimmer and one kayaker successfully have gone over the falls, some 70 people have died trying or just by accident since the resort became a state park in the 1930s.

Where it’s at: About 3 hours from Louisville; from I-75 in Lexington, KY, travel south 87 miles to exit 25, US 25 west for 7.5 miles to a right on KY 90 another 8 miles to the falls

Contact:, (606) 528-4121 or 800-325-0063

Digs: The park’s lodge, constructed from local sandstone and hemlock, is a piece of architecture from the CCC and WPA era (doubles $89-$99/night); the park also has cabins (from $109/night); run the RV gauntlet to sites 131 and 132 in the campground ($12-$14/night). Or try some of the backcountry camping along the Sheltowee Trace Trail north of the falls.

Grub: The lodge’s Riverview Restaurant is the only thing close by; be sure to have your meal on the back patio, which overlooks the river valley.

Gear and Outfitting: Sheltowee Trace outfitters, or 800-541-7238

The other place where a moonbow can be regularly seen is Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.