By Jeremy Patton
Dog Slaughter Trail #414 is located in Daniel Boone National Forest, Whitley County, Kentucky.
Drive west on KY-90 then turn right onto Forest Road 195, which is about 4.5. miles east of Cumberland Falls. Drive less than a mile to the first trailhead. The hike from there to the falls is 4.1 miles. For a shorter hike, drive 2.7 miles to the second trailhead. The hike from there is 1.5 miles.
This article will discuss the hike from the second trailhead, the 1.5-mile segment.
Dog Slaughter Falls is one of the most popular falls in the region. Frequently visited, it somehow retains its wild remoteness. It is possible to spend the better part of a day alone with this crashing curtain, especially during the colder months.
Dog Slaughter Trail parallels the creek, meandering through an assortment of bluffs, rock houses and jagged boulders. It is a beautiful area, but fairly ordinary until you reach the 20-foot falls. The best part of the trail begins there then hugs the roaring, cascading creek during its sharp descent to the Cumberland River. I think many people reach the falls then turn around, but I recommend that you explore this final, short segment. The view of the Cumberland from the confluence is wonderful.
I rate this trail as moderately difficult. The majority of the journey takes you over rolling hills, but the final segment is steep.
Dog Slaughter Falls can also be reached from Sheltowee Trace #100, also known as the Moonbow Trail. The hike from Cumberland Falls to Dog Slaughter Falls via Sheltowee Trace is 2.9 miles.
How did Dog Slaughter Falls get its name? I doubt that anyone knows and most of the explanations that I have heard are ridiculous. One local tale, however, seems plausible. As the story goes, a wild animal inhabited the area in the old days, perhaps a wildcat or bear, that chewed up a lot of peoples’ hunting dogs.
My friend Shane told me a story about a trip that he made to Dog Slaughter Falls many years ago. He encountered some shirtless fools who likely trudged up from the river. They behaved erratically, yelling incoherent nonsense and chopping trees with machettes. He believed that they were high on drugs. Unarmed, outnumbered and unnerved, he immediately left.
I have never had a bad experience at Dog Slaughter Falls, but I am sharing Shane’s story to highlight one of the many reasons why I always carry a firearm. Aside from the slim possibility that a wild animal will bother you in the Kentucky wilderness, you must also beware of your fellow humans. I open-carry because I want shady people to see that I am armed, and leave me be.
It is also prudent to hike in groups. I almost always go alone, so I do not practice what I preach, but trekking with friends is definitely safer.
7/16/16 – I took Delania on her first visit to Dog Slaughter Falls. There were scattered thunderstorms in the area, but they passed us by. The cooling mist of the falls was a welcome reprieve from the hot, humid trek.
After lounging near the plunge pool, I decided to photograph the waterfall from the other side of the creek. Delania stayed behind. The creek was low, so I was able to make a dry crossing on several half-submerged stones.
I took photographs then climbed uphill away from the falls to relieve myself behind a tree. When I returned, I looked for the stones where I had crossed a few minutes earlier, but could not find them.
My eyes met Delania’s. She wore a dumbfounded expression as she yelled at me, but her words were lost in the roar of Dog Slaughter Falls. The roar seemed to intensify. I peered at the waterfall and noticed that it had widened, with a brown streak tainting its once pure white sheen. I then understood why the stones disappeared.
We watched in awe as the tranquil falls mutated into an angry monster; its width tripled in less than a minute.
I believed that I could tromp across the creek; I had braved far worse in the past. I found a big stick for balance and approached the creek-bank, but Delania stood with her hands on her hips, shaking her head “no.” I knew that fording the creek during flash-flooding was risky, especially with a sore knee from a previous, unrelated injury, but the sun sagged low and we needed to exit the forest before nightfall.
I then remembered that Dog Slaughter Falls has a shallow rock shelter behind it. It would be partially submerged, but it would provide the safest route across the raging waters.
Mist soaked my glasses as I scooted beneath the slick, narrow passage. Amidst the chaos, I removed them and put them in a loose cargo pocket. That was a mistake.
Delania met me near the opposite side of the rock shelter, having ventured as far as she dared. I whooped in exhilaration, then we stood back and admired the beautiful monster.
I took some more photos and reached into my cargo pocket for my glasses. They were gone. We searched the area for them in the twilight, using our headlamps. We did not find them.
Losing my glasses put a bit of a damper on the rest of the evening because they would cost several hundred dollars to replace — an expensive hike indeed. In hindsight, it was worth the expense. We unknowingly timed our hike perfectly. Witnessing Dog Slaughter Fall’s transformation was a privilege that I will never forget.
Added 1/21/16 -Updated 7/24/16