Cumberland River Below the Falls - Whitewater Paddling
Cumberland River below the Falls is known as the whitewater section of the Upper Cumberland. This 10.5-mile run is home to a variety of class II and III rapids, with a class IV known to pop up occasionally (pending flows). An easy, sandy beach put-in just below Cumberland Falls Resort State Park leads into a series of rapids with names ranging from “Initiation” (fittingly, the first rapid) to “Pinball” and “Misery.” This section of classic rapids is floatable year round, but locals know the runs are best during the Lake Cumberland drawdown, which often takes place in late summer or early autumn.
What Makes It Great
Below the falls, the Cumberland River is a veritable playground for whitewater lovers. Savvy souls will gather their safety gear and enter the river at the put-in at Cumberland Falls Resort State Park, floating a short half mile downriver to “Initiation,” a warm-up class II small wave train in the middle of the river. Half a mile later lies “Center Rock,” an aptly-named class III boasting a two-tiered drop with large eddies. At mile two, “Misery” (class II+) greets paddlers with a center wave train, and a half-mile later, “Bradfords Rock” (also class II+) offers a straightforward rapid with a large river-right undercut.
Mile three brings “Willie Nelson’s,” a class II+ so named because it sounds sweeter than it looks. At mile 3.4, “Dog Slaughter Shoals” is a basic class II with undercuts on both sides, and you need to watch for obstructions. At mile 3.8, “Surfers,” a class II+, is a river-wide hole that’s arguably the most playable rapid on the river. A mere .2 mile later, class III “Pinball” brings two middle holes at high flows. “Screaming Right” (mile 4.2, class III+) is a riverside hole that requires scouting for intermediate or even advanced paddlers.
“Stairsteps,” resting at mile 5.0, is a class III with offset holes and a fun wave. Just .3 mile later, “Last Drop” is an adrenaline-inducing class III+ that bumps to a class IV at flows of 5,000 CFS and above. The last rapid on the river, “Bark Camp Creek Shoals,” is straightforward with a low-key surfing wave tucked in the middle. The take-out is easy to spot at Mouth of the Laurel Boat Ramp.
Who is Going to Love It
Beginner paddlers, leave your gear at home for this one and seek adrenaline elsewhere. Cumberland River Below the Falls is best-suited for established intermediate and advanced paddlers who aren’t afraid to hop out and scout the water at higher flows. This stretch of the Cumberland is undeniably scenic, but especially at higher flows, paddlers lacking experience will find themselves overwhelmed and—quite literally—in over their heads. For experienced watermen and women, however, this can be a playground of runs and rapids.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
For the put-in, head to Cumberland Falls Resort State Park at 7351 Highway 90 in Corbin. Park at the Cumberland Falls parking lot and walk between the two buildings, veering right to follow the cobblestone path down to the sandy beach.
There is no admission fee to get into the park. The park is open 24 hours a day, but is closed for the season from November 15 to March 15.
Difficulty Rating: 3
This section’s class III rapids are best for confident intermediates and advanced paddlers.
Time to Complete: Estimated 4 to 6 hours
Distance: 10.5 miles from Cumberland Falls to the Mouth of the Laurel River boat ramp.
Seasonality: Year round for experienced paddlers, but late summer/early fall is usually when most rapids are present.
Dog Friendly: No
GPS Coordinates: 36.836659, -84.342115