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Published Sept/Oct 2005



Vistas from the Cumberland Gap (above and left) in the fall are postcard perfect. Geiger & Associates photos

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Scenic southern part of the state yields inspiring vistas, recreational areas and cumberland gap national historic park
By Sylvia Forbes

After Labor Day, when breezes turn cooler, it’s time to head to southern Kentucky for Mother Nature’s blazing Kodachrome display. Leaves turn from green to sunbursts of orange, yellow and brilliant reds.

While nature’s display can be seen through a car window, the view is more spectacular up close. This rural area of Kentucky is awash with rivers, lakes, forests, parks, trails and scenic views at every turn. Take a weekend to discover a future favorite getaway. Below are some suggestions for enjoying southern Kentucky’s natural beauty.

Cumberland Falls
and Lake Cumberland


More than 17 miles of trails make Cumberland Falls State Park a great choice for a weekend of leaf peeping. The Sheltowee Trace Trail (also called the Daniel Boone Trail) extends 258 miles through Kentucky, and passes through the park, providing many photogenic spots.

The highlight of this area, however, is Cumberland Falls, which plunges a dramatic 60 feet into a rocky gorge. Its misty spray reportedly provides the only opportunity in the Western Hemisphere to view a “moonbow,” visible only on clear nights lit by a full moon. Fall moonbow dates are Sept. 16–20, Oct. 15–19 and Nov. 14–18.

A great place to stay in the park is the historic DuPont Lodge, built with massive wooden beams and large stone fireplaces, which provide a cozy place to warm up after a brisk outing.

A few miles west of Cumberland Falls is Lake Cumberland, one of the largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi River. Lake Cumberland is known for its houseboating, so try a fall foliage tour with a twist–from a houseboat. The lake’s 1,200 miles of shoreline and hidden coves are surrounded by forested hills, perfect for fall foliage watching.

The lake’s deep water provides plentiful habitat for trout, walleye and crappie, as well as white bass.

Big South Fork

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee line. The area encompasses 125,000 acres and is filled with waterfalls and rock formations. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, go mountain biking, use the horse trails and campgrounds (including horse campgrounds). The river provides more than 80 miles of opportunities for canoeing and white water rafting. Those who prefer the solitude of nature and panoramic beauty of a wild area will enjoy this region.

Green River Lake

Green River Lake, 11 miles from the city of Campbellsville, is known for fishing and boating. Named for its distinctive color, the river provides plenty of scenic inlets for viewing fall colors. A number of trails lead through the surrounding hills for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking; and a variety of lodging options–from campgrounds to condos and cabins–are available lakeside. Choices include Green River Lake State Park, or several private marinas, including Emerald Isle, Green River Marina and Holmes Bend.

In Campbellsville, noted woodcarver Roger Blair specializes in creating nature scenes from basswood, cherry and walnut. His workshop is in a restored log cabin.

In Columbia, David Waltz stays busy creating pottery, sculpture and garden art out of stoneware clay. He often adds faces and features to his art and enjoys creating one-of-a-kind pieces for customers. He finds daily inspiration from his farm and surrounding mountains. His shop is located on the farm.

Also in Columbia, on the campus of Lindsey Wilson College, is the John B. Begley Chapel, designed by E. Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Jones is considered one of the world’s leading chapel architects, and created Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs, Ark. The design of the chapel in Columbia was inspired by the rural Kentucky landscape, resembling silos in appearance, and the circular theme is repeated in the custom-designed furniture.

Dale Hollow Lake

Created in 1943, Dale Hollow Lake extends from Kentucky south into Tennessee. Its 620 miles of shoreline provide ample opportunities for hiking and camping, while the 28,000-acre lake offers room for water sports and boating. Known for its clear waters, it has become one of the top spots in Kentucky for scuba diving. The lake is also popular with fishermen and has produced the world record smallmouth bass and state record muskie.

Dale Hollow Lake State Park is one of the largest in Kentucky and provides miles of trails for viewing wildlife among the changing leaves. The park’s Mary Ray Oaken Lodge offers diners picture-perfect views of the lake by surrounding them on three sides with two-story glass windows.

Not far from Dale Hollow Lake is Tompkinsville, where barbeque is king. With a population of less than 3,000, they still manage to support almost a dozen barbecue establishments. Perhaps the best known is Frances Barbecue, where owner David Arms has partnered with country singer John Anderson to bottle their own brand of spicy sauce. Even former Vice President Al Gore had to stop by and try this finger-lickin’ good spot.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

Considered the first doorway to the west, the Cumberland Gap, created by the natural weathering of rock, became a pathway through the Appalachian Mountains even before the Revolutionary War. Used by Native Americans and later by Daniel Boone, it served as a main artery of transportation and commerce between the civilized east and the western frontier.
T
he park includes 20,000 acres of wilderness. Almost a million people visit the park each year to learn about the gap’s historic role, take a cave tour, or hike on 50 miles of trails. A fall highlight is Wild Mountain Mania, held this year during the weekend of Oct. 7, where the park’s natural resources are spotlighted with exhibits, demonstrations and activities.

Built in 1996 at a cost of $280 million, the Cumberland Gap Tunnel is a 4,600-foot-long technological marvel. One goal of the tunnel project was to re-create views of the original gap trail.

Formations of geese flying overhead through a purple sunset, squirrels peeking from branches, cheeks packed with acorns, and the bright sunlight-kissed goldenrod swaying in fall breezes–these and other memorable fall scenes are awaiting discovery in southern Kentucky landscapes.

Sylvia Forbes is a contributor from Fayette, Mo.

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