Hiking the Moonbow Trail at Cumberland Falls

Take one look at Cumberland Falls and you’ll understand why it’s often called the “Niagara of the South.” At 125 feet wide and seven stories tall, this is one spectacular cascade. Cumberland Falls is spectacular during the daytime but a few days each month, it literally lights up at night. The “moonbow,” also called a white rainbow or lunar rainbow, is formed just like a rainbow—light is refracted in tiny water droplets—and appears for the two or so days, as long as the sky is clear, on either end of the full moon.


What Makes It Great


Cumberland Falls is one of the few places in the world that regularly produces a moonbow. In fact, it’s the only regular moonbow in the western hemisphere. So those 11 miles—all part of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, the backbone of the Daniel Boone National Forest trail system—are well worth the effort. The challenging trail begins at the Mouth of Laurel boat ramp, then meanders along the Cumberland River toward Cumberland Falls, which is the second-largest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.

The trailhead and the first few miles of the trail are in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, which doesn’t charge any general admission fees. Unlike many Kentucky State Parks, Cumberland Falls is intentionally open 24 hours to allow hikers to check out the moonbow. For two to three days before and after the full moon, plan to arrive about two hours after sunset for your best chance at seeing the moonbow. For those who opt to hike, it is important to keep in mind that the trails are only open from dusk until dawn for safety reasons.


For those who do not want to hike all that way in order to see the falls, fear not. There is a parking lot with direct access to the main Falls overlook, which provides the best vantage point for moonbow viewing.


Who is Going to Love It


The Moonbow Trail is long, strenuous, and occasionally in need of maintenance, so it’s best for hikers looking for a challenge. If you’re set on seeing the moonbow but don’t feel comfortable hiking the trail in the dark, there are other options, including the half-mile Cumberland Falls Trail, which ends at the observation decks. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is also home to an additional 17 miles of hiking and the DuPont Lodge, so it’s possible to turn a moonbow hike into a great weekend.


Directions, Parking & Regulations


No general admission fees apply at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. From the nearby town of Corbin, take State Highway 727 to US-25W, which eventually becomes KY-90 W. From here, it’s about 14 miles to the parking at the Mouth of Laurel boat ramp.


Pro Tips


  • The winter months seem to produce the best and brightest moonbows. However the falls are more crowded in the spring and summer. Arrive early in warm months because parking becomes an issue. 
  • Camera's with timed exposures on top of tripods take the best photos of the event. 
  • The main overlook is the best spot for viewing. 


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