written by Bill Fultz
edited by Christopher Morris
Welcome back to the Waterfall Trip! In volumes one, two and three we visited over 15 waterfalls from Berea, Kentucky down through the Big South Fork then up into Wayne County and along the Lake Cumberland shoreline. This time we are heading east to the caves of Carter County and making our way south through the backroads of Elliot and Morgan Counties and through the heart of the Red River Gorge! Keep in mind many of the falls I am going to feature are rain dependent, so if there has been a drought you may want to go find some arches. The best time to visit these falls are during the winter or spring, and if there has been plenty of rainfall. I have chosen a north to south route starting with Carter Caves and eventually in following volumes we will be ending south of Red River Gorge, so with that let us begin!
The falls emerges from Horn Hollow Cave
Our first waterfall is one of the cooler waterfalls in the state! Located within Carter Caves State Park, this nearly roadside waterfall is just the tip of the iceberg of awesome things to do in the park! Besides this falls the Carter Caves features 6 accessible natural bridges, numerous wet weather waterfalls and several cave tours! I did a brief feature on this falls in my >insert link< Arch Trip Vol 2 on KY Arches website, so be sure to check it out for more detailed information on Carter Caves and its numerous awesomeness!
Located 4.3 miles driving distance north of I-64 near Olive Hill, Kentucky enter the Carter Caves State Park from State Route 182. Notice the landscape along the park road is immediately distinctive as you pass along a lovely stream surrounded by steep cliff walls.. At 0.5 miles the road curves to the left and there is a pull off to the right. Pull over here. Looking across Cave Branch you’ll see a side stream. Prepare for the possibility to get your feet wet here and watch for slippery rocks as you have to cross Cave Branch. Then follow along or up the side stream. By now you should be able to see the waterfall cascading out of Horn Hollow Cave. Up close inspection reveals some really cool colors in the rock and you really can not beat a waterfall emerging from the rock from out of nowhere. Lighting can be difficult as the falls is recessed in the back of the cave. Be prepared for some long exposures!
From here you can explore the park, the Visitor Center is just up the hill on main park road, or you can head back out to State Route 182 and make a right to our next destination, Singing Falls!
Located roadside, Singing Falls, also called Fort Falls, is found roadside on KY-182. After turning right on 182 from Carter Caves, drive approximately 2.4 miles and look for a driveway/pull off on the right. A few steps out from the car and the 30 ft or so tall falls is easily visible from the cliff side. In the warmer months foliage can partially obscure the view of the waterfall. Also, keep in mind the waterfall is privately owned so crossing the creek from above and viewing from the opposite side of the mini gorge is not an option.
The falls in a blanket of snow
Laurel Gorge Heritage Center
Laurel Gorge might be one of the best kept secrets of the state! Several worthwhile wet weather waterfalls, a small window arch, and an abundance of springtime wildflowers makes Laurel Gorge well worth the stop. An interesting note, I found my lab/beagle mix pup here at the watershed named for (unbelievably and coincidentally named) Dog Falls in the winter 2014. Only a couple months old, if that, she followed us around the trails then back to our ride which was parked roadside. I wasn’t going to leave her next to the road and it was freezing out with snow on the ground so she came home with us and has been a wonderful member of our family ever since.
From Singing Falls continue south of KY 182 and veer left onto US 60 East into Grayson. Turn right onto KY 7 for 19 miles, turn left onto Cultural Center Dr. and drive down the hill, look for the sign for the Laurel Gorge Heritage Center and the black top driveway on the right. If the gate is closed just park outside the gate and so not to block the driveway. If the gate is open drive up the driveway and park in the lot. If the gate is closed hop out of the car and walk up into the parking lot. There are 3 different waterfalls here and all are very different. The trail to the waterfalls is to the right of and to the back of the Heritage Center.
Dog Falls from below after about an inch of rain
Of the three falls here Dog Falls is the least impressive but since we will be walking right past it might as well stop and have a look. Though at 60 ft tall the watershed for this falls is small and it takes a major rain event to really get it going. There are two ways to visit this waterfall. The first is from a side trail that breaks off from the right of the main trail in about .3 miles into the hike. Another .2 of a mile up the side trail will put you at an overlook next to the falls. If the waterfall is flowing well and you want a unique perspective of the falls continue another .3 miles on the main trail till you come to the first significant watershed. Muck boots or getting the feet wet is the only option from this vantage point. Continue up the creek, negotiate around some boulders going to the right and you’ll see the falls in the distance before you.
Two of the three falls at Triple falls
The next two falls don’t need near the water Dog Falls does and it is not that far of a walk to them either. From Dog Falls return to the main trail and continue away from the Heritage Center. At approximately .3 of a mile you will come to where a wooden foot bridge has been washed out and two side streams come together. One stream will come from the right the other come across from where you are standing. Both watersheds are homes to waterfalls. If you choose to go to the right you will find Triple Falls and in the right conditions you’ll hear this waterfall. If you choose to go to the one across the stream you’ll find Double Falls. For this trip we are going to go to the right to visit Triple Falls and the feet are going to get wet. There are some downed tree and large rock negotiation, but it is not that bad of a trek, maybe .2 of a mile upstream. Continue to the base of the falls to see two of the three falls. Though you only see two drops here there is actually a third to the right of the upper falls not visible because of the rhododendrons. Notice there’s lots of trash here too. Unfortunately, it makes its way there from residences upstream.
Head back downstream from Triple falls and make a right at the confluence of the next stream about 0.2 miles. There are a few options to view this falls so we’ll break them down individually.
Route #1 to view from the base. Keep to the right of the stream and follow it back into the boulders where you’ll find a steep 10 ft scramble into the creek. Once in the creek just walk a few feet upstream. From here you can see the lower falls and just the top of the upper falls.
At the base of the lower drop of Twin Falls, you can barely see the upper falls above
Route #2 to view from the side. Walk up the stream and at the large boulder scramble left about 20 ft up the hill. Once above the boulder head to the right and there is a rock house with a side view of the lower falls. There is no view of the upper falls from here.
The lower drop of Twin Falls from inside the rock shelter
The upper drop of Twin Falls
Route #3 to view the full upper falls. Go left of the creek up the crest of the hill and veer to the right where you are staying above the lower cliff and below the upper cliff. I have not personally taken this route but I know it can be done since I’ve seen photos of the upper falls. You will be walking across a steep slope for about 200 ft. You should see the lower falls below you and the upper falls close to the same level in front of you as you make your approach.
So that’s it for the Waterfall Trip Vol 4! The next trip we will pick up from where we left off and head over the roadside Wrigley Falls and stop by the super cool Wrigley Arch!