I’m sure by now it’s no surprise that I’m addicted to visiting the many waterfalls that can be found across Kentucky. One of the most common questions I get asked when I share an image of a waterfall is how you can get to the particular falls. Like many landscape photographers these days, I rarely give out specific information about where a photo was taken. This is to help protect these areas from abuse and overcrowding.
What I’ll do instead, however, is share some of the great resources that are available to the would-be waterfall hunter in Kentucky. So, without further ado, here’s my list of the best resources available to waterfall hunter in Kentucky!
The Kentucky Waterfall Database
No list of Kentucky waterfall resources would be complete without mentioning the Kentucky Waterfall Database. This is THE database for waterfalls in Kentucky and is an invaluable resource to waterfallers in the Bluegrass state. At the time of writing this, the database contains 707 waterfalls, with 616 of those being present on the wonderful waterfall map.
This website isn’t going to hold your hand and give you turn-by-turn directions to a waterfall, which is part of the reason I love it. This helps to ensure that the people visiting these falls are at the necessary skill level to reach them safely and responsibly (for example, many of these waterfalls are located off-trail). What you do get is all of the information you could possibly need to be able to locate them.
The KWAL Facebook Group
What on Earth is KWAL you ask? Well, it stands for Kentucky Waterfalls, Arches and Landscapes and it’s by far one of my favorite groups on Facebook! The name is pretty self-explanatory on this one. The group is a great place to see some of the amazing natural beauty that Kentucky has to offer and to get inspiration for your next excursion. Myself and most other Kentucky-based landscape photographers frequent the group.
USGS Topo Maps Downloader
An absolutely essential tool for any backcountry traveler, especially those who may be wandering off-trail in search of waterfalls, is a good set of topographic maps for the area. Luckily for us in the United States, we can freely download the defacto standard topo maps from the United States Geological Survey. They provide a handy map tool that lets you browse to the areas you want to download so that you can easily find the quads you need and download them.
Paper maps are great (and essential for safe backcountry travel), but what about digital mapping tools? Well, for that it’s hard to beat CalTopo (though I have been recently warming up to the planning tools built into Gaia GPS, but that’s a different topic). CalTopo is a fantastic tool that lets you view, build, and customize your own topographic maps. There are seriously way too many things you can do with the software to list them out here. If you need a good introduction perhaps I could recommend checking out the blog post I wrote on the subject.
I was hesitant to mention this one since I don’t intend to get too much into LIDAR in this post. It’s not because LIDAR isn’t useful (quite the opposite, actually). It’s just that it’s a topic that is far too large to dive into in this post. If there is interest, however, I could work up a dedicated post on the subject.
So, what is LIDAR mapping? Well, it’s a method of mapping terrain by bouncing lasers off the ground. This is useful because it allows us to build extremely detailed elevation maps for an area. The maps produced are so detailed that you can often make out trails and old logging roads in the terrain! As such, it’s a great tool for not only planning routes to a waterfall but for finding new waterfalls. It really is a fantastic tool!
As a bonus that you may not realize, the Kentucky Waterfall Map, mentioned earlier in this post, has its own LIDAR layer 😉
Google Maps Aerial View
So you’ve found a waterfall, prepared your maps, and found the best route down to it. Now, where are you going to park? What does the general area actually look like? These and many other questions are easily answered using the aerial view in Google Maps. To be honest, I don’t think this resource needs much more of an introduction, but I figured it’s worth pointing out. On a related note, Google Earth is another fantastic tool!
You may recall that at the beginning of this post I mentioned that I and many other photographers don’t just give out the locations of natural formations anymore. This isn’t to say that we won’t share with anyone and want to just selfishly keep these wonders to ourselves (well, at least we’re not all like that). It’s just that we aren’t going to give out the information to any old person who we don’t have confidence we can’t trust to treat the place with respect.
In other words, I’m saying that you can’t approach a photographer who you don’t know and haven’t had any interactions with and just expect that they’re going to hand you all of the information that you’re looking for. Like so many other communities, the Kentucky landscape communities are far more open to sharing information with you when you’ve built up a reputation with them.
By far the best way to learn the locations of stuff is to get involved in the communities and start making friends! Not only are you going to learn some new stuff, but you’ll meet some great people in the process!
That’s All Folks
That’s it (for now)! Hopefully, these resources will help answer the relentless question of “How do I find waterfalls in Kentucky” or “Pretty picture, where is this located?”.
What about other resources? Is there one you absolutely love that I didn’t mention here? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!