Kentucky: Cumberland Falls and Gold Mining


Stop to photograph the second largest waterfall in the United States, go gold mining, or take a hike at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky.

River by Cumberland Falls

River by Cumberland Falls

When I got into my car in West Virginia to drive to Kentucky I thought I had an easy four hour stretch ahead of me. I slept in later than usual and leisurely drank my cup of coffee on the deck at Blackwater Falls State Park before packing up my car and typing the address to Cumberland Falls into my GPS. The estimated travel time: 6 1/2 hours. As is the case when I don’t want something to be true, I convinced myself it was a mistake. I pulled out the AAA Trip Tik I had printed before leaving and it suggested the drive would be closer to seven hours. I reminded myself that not every day would go exactly as planned as I pulled out of the lodge parking lot and onto the scenic mountain roads of West Virginia.

The scenic roads of West Virginia ended entirely too fast and Kentucky began as a boring stretch of highway. Twenty miles between exits and nothing but trees in between, I grew bored quickly. There was hardly even another car passing by on my side of the highway. Driving by a few cows was cause for celebration because they reminded me that I wasn’t the only living being on the road.

To pass the time, I played my favorite CDs, the songs that I know all of the words to and could sing along to loud and off-key, knowing that no one was around to hear.

Worse than the monotonous driving though was the lack of food options. Although my food preferences have loosened up a lot since my days of eating only raw foods, I still won’t settle for rest stop fast food restaurants and avoid meat altogether. With each new blue exit sign I gained a glimmer of hope that was soon dashed by the endless ads for burgers, biscuits, and country fare.

Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls

By noon I was ready for a break and willing to venture off the highway in search of better food. I found a health food store ten miles off the highway and immediately thought things were amiss when I noticed a drive-through. As I pulled into the parking lot I realized that the windows were dark and the car at the drive through had been abandoned long ago.

Several hours more of driving past fast-food signs, I tried another exit that promised a cafe with simple sandwiches. Three times I drove by the spot my GPS brought me to and three times I saw an autobody shop instead of a sandwich shop.

I ended up at an Italian restaurant down the street from the car shop and although I didn’t want to go into a sit down restaurant and wait for a meal, it was two o’clock in the afternoon and I was desperate for food. I loved that the hostess said, “Just one today,” when I walked in as if I had been there before and normally brought friends.  There were a few people in the small restaurant when I entered, but they soon left leaving me alone with just the waitress and hostess. One perk of being alone: my food was ready in ten minutes.

When I left the restaurant, I figured I was nearly at Cumberland Falls, but I didn’t arrive until 7:30 at night. I’d been on the road for nearly ten hours and was hoping the waterfall would be worth the drive.

Walkway to Overlook

Walkway to Overlook

I was expecting to have to hike down to a scenic overlook, but was pleasantly surprised to see the waterfall from just inside the parking lot entrance. A short walk downhill provided an even better view of the falls and a gentle mist that felt refreshing in the hot summer air.

As I walked away from the falls I passed the entrance to the seven-mile hiking trail on the property. I looked down the trail with disappointment knowing the sun would set soon and it wouldn’t be safe to start a hike so late.

"Gold" Mining

“Gold” Mining

Feeling like the ten hour drive was hardly worth a few pictures of a waterfall, albeit beautiful, I came across a wooden structure with a “Cumberland Falls Mining Company” sign. I remembered when walking by the gift shop that I’d seen a sign for mining supplies and returned to investigate. Inside the shop I found a variety of bags filled with sand that promised gemstones when run through the outdoor mining facility.

In order for you to understand my excitement at the prospect of pretending to be a gold miner and uncovering gemstones in a bag of sand, you must understand that collecting rocks has been a life-long obsession of mine. As a child, I’d fill empty pickle jars with rocks that I found on the ground at beaches, backyards, parks, and within pavement cracks. Choosing rocks was not a random act, but something that happened only after careful consideration and appraisal.

My rock collecting continued on into my adult life. In my current apartment I’ve started a collection of rocks that reach across my living room mantle and represent the many places I’ve traveled to in the past five years. After recently getting into Reiki and energy work, I found a crystal and rock shop near my house and after talking to the owner I realized that I wasn’t the only one drawn to rocks and that many people believe that different rocks hold certain energies that can effect our day-to-day lives.

Some of the rocks from my new collection

Some of the rocks from my new collection

So after hours of driving, the prospect of emptying a bag of sand into an old-fashioned sieve and slowly sifting it through the mining tower waters was enough to make me feel like a little kid again. It was so exciting to see the multicolored gems appear through the sand and even more fun to line them up on the identification card after I’d checked into a hotel for the night. I recognized a lot of the gems from the shop near my house and look forward to adding them to my collection when I return home.

In Short

If you find yourself visiting Kentucky or just driving through, Cumberland Falls is worth a stop for the beautiful view and gold mining that will be fun for children of all ages. The park stays open until midnight so that you can stay and view the falls by night when, under the right conditions, a moonbow (a rainbow formed in the moonlight) is sometimes visible.



6 thoughts on “Kentucky: Cumberland Falls and Gold Mining

  1. Becky graves

    Hi Carmela,
    Took me a while to remember your blog, but I am so glad I finally did! Each one of your posts have been beautifully written and the pictures are wonderful.
    This one has been my favorite so far, perhaps it is because I too have a “thing” for rocks. Most people get the crystals in my home but not the rocks, I thought everyone had rocks in their house ; )
    Looking forward to the next post. Namaste~ becky

    1. carmelacaruso Post author

      I’m so glad that you’ve been reading my blog and that you share my love for rocks. You should check out ZuZu’s Healing Arts in Melrose if you haven’t already– it’s the place I refer to in the post.
      Wishing you well,

      1. jrmayo

        if you are into gold flakes and diamonds as well as some of the most beautiful pyrope garnets found anywhere, take a trip to the Elliot County diamond mine. You won’t be disappointed.

  2. Wendy

    Looking for small gems you failed to see the big ones possibly from an ancient civilization. The rocks at Cumberland Falls are beautiful. Check out AdventureVanMan on YouTube to remind you of what you saw and really missed.

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