Cliffside Trail #519

By Jeremy Patton

Cliffside Trail #519 is located in McCreary County, Kentucky.


From KY-90, west of Cumberland Falls, turn north onto KY-896. Turn left onto KY-1609 then continue until it dead-ends at Sawyer Boat Ramp.

The trail begins at Sawyer Boat Ramp, follows the Cumberland River east for about 2.75 miles then terminates near Noes Boat Ramp.

Sawyer Boat Ramp

I believe that the boat ramp was once part of a now forgotten campground. Evidence of campsites remain, such as overlooks, walls and steps. The place reminds me of Rockcastle Campground, but much smaller (Rockcastle Campground also feels abandoned, but is still in operation).

The trail is not well-maintained; some sections require bushwhacking. It is nearly impossible to get lost, however, as long as you follow the river.

Indeed, the trail is flanked by the river on one side and high cliffs on the other. I decided that if I was going to bushwhack, I might as well climb up and follow the base of the cliffs. This turned out to be a good decision.

I found more than ten waterfalls tucked away in ravines that fed the Cumberland River. Some of them were so steep that I had to climb on all-fours, sometimes sliding back down due to loose dirt and mud.

I will list the following waterfalls in the order that I found them. Most are off-trail and difficult to reach, so do not attempt these excursions unless you are an experienced hiker and in good shape.

Cliffside Trail Falls #1 resided near the mouth of Long Branch and Ross Branch, just east of the boat ramp. It dropped directly into the lake and might get submerged when Lake Cumberland rises.

Cliffside Trail Falls #1

The next quarter-mile of the trail was confusing. Not only was it overgrown, some of the markers led in the wrong direction. I stayed on course by following the river and rejoined the trail further up-stream.

I am standing on Cliffside Trail #519, can you see it? 3/11/17

Waterfall #2 could be heard, but not seen from the trail. A short scramble up the ravine led to a three-foot, thin waterfall spurting between two huge boulders.

Cliffside Trail Falls #2

A small drop below Cliffside Trail Falls #2

Cliffside Trail Falls #3 was perhaps 40-50 feet high. A cascade slapped against the cliff just below its crest, spewing water in every direction.

Cliffside Trail Falls #3

Waterfall #4 lived within sight of the aforementioned falls. It was also high, but weaker and lacking a notable rock shelter.

Cliffside Trail Falls #4

Cliffside Trail Falls #5

Cliffside Trail Falls #6

Cliffside Trail Falls #7 had two tiers and the strongest flow of all the waterfalls that I discovered. Its initial 50-foot drop was a lovely blue ribbon, followed by a shorter plunge that split the stream in half. A rusty brown streak paralleled the second tier; I have seen this substance at other sites in Kentucky, mainly in rock houses. I still do not know what it is composed of.

Cliffside Trail Falls #7

Cliffside Trail Falls #7B

Cliffside Trail Falls #8

Cliffside Trail Falls #9

Waterfall #10 gurgles near the end of the trail. I planned to hike to Noes Boat Ramp, but a property owner had posted no trespassing signs along the 0.5-mile road between the trail and the boat ramp. It might be possible to climb to the top of the cliffs and circumvent private property by walking KY-896 to its terminus.

Cliffside Trail Falls #10

End of Cliffside Trail #519 at private property

I discovered two arches in the cliffs along the trail. There might be some disagreement as to whether these formations are true arches; I will leave such assessments to the reader.

Brittle Arch

Lean-To Arch

Cliffside Trail #519 runs along a beautiful section of the Cumberland River and offers stunning views of the bluffs (if your gaze can penetrate the trees). It is rough due to lack of maintenance, but mostly navigable. Most of the tributaries are weak, but have potential after a storm. A return trip is merited.

Tree Trunk Rock

Another downed hemlock

Added 3/18/17