The Daniel Boone National Forest is a swath of over 700,000 acres of public land in Kentucky. The rugged Appalachian landscape is home to a plethora of interesting sights, such as grand vistas and impressive natural arches. In addition to all of these grand spectacles are a seemingly endless number of beautiful waterfalls. I have spent the past few years obsessively visiting some of these falls and I’ve still only scratched the surface.
What really never ceases to amaze me is how many people there are that are unaware of the grand natural beauty of the Bluegrass State. Ask most people about the waterfalls our state has to offer and you’ll get a lot of the same, obvious answers. Pretty much everyone knows of Cumberland Falls. A few more will be able to name Creation Falls and possibly Dog Slaughter Falls. As of late, some others, such as Copperas Falls, have become more well-known. The list really doesn’t extend far beyond these, however.
That’s what prompted me to write this blog post, to share a small sampling of the gorgeous waterfalls that can be found throughout Kentucky’s only National Forest. This list is by no means exhaustive (not even close), but it should prove to be a nice overview of some of the beauty Kentucky has to offer!
The Laurel County portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest is one of my favorite areas to visit. Not only is this portion of the forest one of the lesser-visited areas, but it’s just packed full of arches, overlooks, and waterfalls. You could literally spend a lifetime exploring just this area of the forest!
Lick Branch Falls
Located off-trail in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Lick Branch Falls is an approximately 50-foot beauty! The hike down from the top of the ridge is rugged and requires fighting through an old burn area, but it’s well worth the effort!
Big Dog Branch Falls
Located just off the Sheltowee Trace Trail in Laurel County is Big Dog Branch Falls. What this waterfall lacks in size it makes up for with its unique shape. As an added bonus, the abundant rhododendron in this area is an impressive sight when they bloom in Spring!
Pounder Gorge Falls
You can actually hear and see the top of this waterfall while you’re hiking the Sheltowee Trace Trail out to Vanhook Falls. From the perspective you get from the trail, however, the falls don’t look all that impressive. Manage the decent scramble to the base of the falls, however, and you’ll be in for an impressive treat!
Bolton Branch Falls
This one is a waterfall I and a friend found and named after spotting it on Lidar. The falls are an easy trek from an old 4×4 road cutting through the forest. It’s not the tallest waterfall by any means, but it does have a nice bit of character!
Pine Island Double Falls
The first time I visited Pine Island Double Falls it was still largely unknown and reasonably difficult to get to. These days, however, it has exploded in popularity and I’m told that there has been a very obvious route hacked to the base of it.
Artery & Heart Attack Falls
These are two more falls that I and a few friends found after obsessing over Lidar maps. The upper falls, which we named Artery Falls, flows into the lower falls, which we called Heart Attack Falls. While climbing back up the steep incline from the base of Heart Attack Falls one of my friends commented that they felt like they were going to have a heart attack from all of the climbing. The name stuck and the name for Artery Falls just seemed natural.
Like What You See?
McCreary County ranks right up there with Laurel County in my book! The county is predominantly public land and is home to some of the most impressive spectacles that the Daniel Boone National Forest has to offer!
Nickle & Dime Falls
Located far off-trail in the Beaver Creek Wilderness, Nickle & Dime Falls is a reasonably grueling trek to reach. The effort is well worth it, however! Along the way, you’ll come across several other waterfalls and even an old moonshine still or two.
Located down an easy trail in the Big South Fork, the state claims that Yahoo Falls is the tallest waterfall in Kentucky. This is a claim that’s just flat-out false, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive of a sight! It’s really something to behold after a major rain event!
Located right off the Sheltowee Trace Trail on the way to Lick Creek Falls is Princess Falls. This extremely easy-to-reach falls isn’t terribly tall, but it’s wide and has a unique shape to it. It’s definitely well worth visiting!
Okay, so this one is technically part of the Cumberland Falls State Park and not the Daniel Boone National Forest, but it’s close enough that I’m going to count it here. Eagle Falls is located down a short, easy trail. As a bonus, you’ll get a great view of Cumberland Falls along the way and there’s even an arch hidden in plain sight if you know where to look.
Whitley County is an area that I haven’t hit nearly as hard as the others, but that’s not to say that there aren’t nice things to see here!
Dog Slaughter Falls
One of the most well-known waterfalls in the entire state is Dog Slaughter Falls. This waterfall can be reached either from a trailhead in the Cumberland Falls State Park or from one of two trailheads in the National Forest. The moderate hike offers some nice stream views along the way, but the real treat is the waterfall itself.
When we first saw this waterfall on Lidar we thought that it might be a natural bridge with a waterfall running through it. Sadly, this was not the case, but there was still a pretty nice waterfall here! Based on some of the old junk in the rock shelter here I also suspect that there was a moonshine still located here at one point in time.
The Red River Gorge
The Red River Gorge is contained within three counties: Wolfe, Powell, and Menifee. The area has always held a special place in my heart. It’s where my own obsession with the outdoors and landscape photography really got kickstarted. Over the years I have hiked all over the area, volunteered with the trail crew, and dedicated large chunks of time to volunteering with the Wolfe County Search and Rescue Team. It’s safe to say that I love this area of Kentucky!
Despite being the most heavily visited area of the Daniel Boone National Forest, only a handful of the plethora of waterfalls in this area are well known. Despite this, the Red River Gorge is home to an abundance of waterfalls. This post will only detail a small selection of them.
By far the most well-known waterfall in the Red River Gorge is Creation Falls. This waterfall is located along the Rock Bridge/Creation Falls loop in the Clifty Wilderness section of the Gorge. As a bonus fact, this loop is the cause of a large percentage of the search and rescue calls in the Red!
Pooch's Turtle Falls
Located down from Creation Falls on the Swift Camp Creek Trail is Pooch’s Turtle Falls. The trail literally passes over the top of these falls, but most people blaze by without giving it a second thought. This is because it’s usually little more than a trickle. Visit in the proper conditions, however, and it’s a marvelous little waterfall!
A close second for the most known waterfall in the Red River Gorge would be Copperas Falls. At one time this was a barely known location and was a seriously rugged trek to reach. These days, however, everyone and their brother seems to visit the falls. As such, there is practically a highway to the base of these falls.
Want More of The Gorge?
Hidden & Split Falls
Along this remote stream are two waterfalls, an upper and lower falls. The lower falls is called Split Falls. For the longest time, I referred to the upper falls as Hidden Falls, but I’ve since found out that this isn’t technically accurate. For the purposes of this post, I will call it Hidden Falls, however, since the real name gives away the location of the ecologically sensitive region of the gorge.
Among the Tallest in the State
Remember how I mentioned earlier that Yahoo Falls isn’t really the tallest falls in the state? Well, these two falls, located in a remote, rugged, hard-to-reach portion of the Red River Gorge, are two of the tallest in the state (though they still aren’t the tallest)! I’m going to intentionally be vague on the names to protect this sensitive area, but they’re just too good not to share!
Resolution and Jimmy Cracked Corn Falls
A few New Years ago I and a few friends decided to check out some likely waterfalls that we had pinpointed on Lidar in the Red River Gorge. We found one reasonably tall waterfall, which we named Resolution Falls, and another small slide, which we called Jimmy Cracked Corn Falls.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg
As I mentioned at the start of this, these waterfalls don’t even really scratch the surface! There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of waterfalls located within the Daniel Boone National Forest. This is just a small selection of some of the ones I have visited over the years to give you an idea of what’s out there if you just go looking.
You’ll notice that the point of this post was not to give turn-by-turn directions to any of these falls. In fact, some of them I’ve even withheld the names. This is not only to help protect these sensitive areas from being overrun but also because the search is, in my opinion, most of the fun. If you’re left asking yourself how to get started in this hobby of visiting waterfalls in the Bluegrass, you might be interested in a post I wrote about resources for hunting waterfalls in Kentucky.