Waterfalls, Arches and Wildlife - Hiking Yahoo Falls
Look up “verdant” in the dictionary and there could very well be a picture of Yahoo Falls. Grab your boots, a camera, and check out the highest waterfall in Kentucky.
Venture into the heart of the Big South Fork National Recreation Area to discover Yahoo Falls. There are a full range of opportunities available, from a short easy hikes, like the Yahoo Falls trail, to long and strenuous multi-day hikes and backcountry camping.
The options for wildlife spotters abound as some of larger animals in the park are known to roam in the area, including white-tailed deer, bobcats, gray fox and elk, which have migrated into the area.
What many visitors like most about Yahoo Falls, in contrast to nearby Cumberland Falls and its hordes of visitors, is that it is not a tourist attraction.
What Makes It Great
Big South Fork never disappoints and the Yahoo Falls trail is an excellent example of why. Touted as the highest waterfall in Kentucky, Yahoo drops 113 feet into the pool below. It’s possible to walk right up to the base of the falls and behind the falls themselves for a unique perspective. And to top it off, it cascades down in front of one of the park’s largest rock houses.
A network of trails surround the waterfall, offering many options for hiking. The complete loop, which descends into the creek bottom, beneath the waterfall, then climbs back to the top of the hill and crosses Yahoo Creek above the waterfall, is a scenic one- mile hike that is well worth the effort. The trail is rated as moderate in difficulty, but it’s brevity makes it a relatively easy hike. Walking the loop in a clockwise direction means hikers will take steep steps down to the waterfall and a gradual climb back to the top. A counterclockwise direction means a gradual descent to the waterfall and steep steps back up.
Like other waterfalls in the area, it is reduced to a trickle in the summer. So while the scenery is great all year, waterfall chasers will want to visit in the spring when the volume is the best. The area stays shaded throughout the year, so bring a tripod and get some great slow shutter exposures of the falls. Yahoo Falls also has picnic facilities and scenic overlooks into the Big South Fork river gorge.
Many consider the spur out to the 100 foot long Yahoo Arch as a mandatory addition while in the area. Take the Yahoo Arch Trail from Yahoo Falls Loop to the Yahoo Arch. It’s an out and back that will add 1.6 miles to your trip. All of the best elements are present: great rock formations, tons of overhangs to explore, falls, streams, beautiful trees, and plantlife.
Who is Going to Love It
Obviously, waterfall lovers will be big fans of Yahoo Falls, but particularly those with children who might not often get to take them along will love the accessibility and length of this trail. It’s also an excellent choice for trail runners who love to have a cool destination.
Directions, Parking & Regulations
Take Ky. Hwy. 700 off U.S. Hwy. 27 at Whitley City (the highway turns left at the Marathon Food Mart, at the caution light just past McDonald’s). Follow the highway to the gravel road that leads 1.5 miles to the Yahoo Falls picnic area and trailhead.
There is good parking at the trailhead, but it’s advised not to leave anything of value in your car. Restrooms are also available.
Moderately easy hike with minimal elevation changes. Can get a bit muddy some times of year. The steep metal stairs at the falls can be difficult for some hikers.
Time to Complete: One hour or less
Distance: 1 Mile
This trail can be modified in many ways, it’s almost a must to do the out and back spur to the Yahoo Arch. Or ‘big day’ hikers or backpackers can do the full 15.4 mile moderate to difficult Yamacraw-Yahoo Falls Loop.
Seasonality: (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
The trail is open year-round however, it’s best in the spring after good rains and the falls is at it’s highest water volume. Autumn is also a good time when the lush forest canopy is awash with color, though the falls could be slowed to a trickle.
GPS Coordinates: 36.769N 84.51056W