By Jeremy Patton
Yahoo Falls is located in McCreary County, Kentucky.
Standing about 113 feet, it is reputed to be the highest waterfall in the state and is part of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Daniel Boone National Forest.
From US-27 turn west onto KY-700. The turn is located on the edge of Whitley City near a Marathon gas station. Cross the railroad tracks, drive about three miles and turn right at the appropriate sign (if I remember correctly, it says “Yahoo Falls Scenic Area”). Drive another two miles to the parking lot. There are restrooms and a shelter near the trailhead. As far as I know, no parking permit is required and the site is free to visit.
As of 7/4/16, the once rutted gravel road leading to the parking lot is now paved.
Before joining Yahoo Falls Loop Trail, walk about one hundred feet along the paved road and check out a developed overlook of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
Now join the trail. The distance to Yahoo Falls is approximately 0.25 miles. The hike is easy except for a steep staircase.
Not far from the trailhead, follow a side path on your left to another scenic overlook and admire the Big South Fork from another angle.
After moving on to Yahoo Falls, follow the path behind the falls and explore the enormous rock shelter. You can also take a path that leads above the falls to its source, Yahoo Creek. Cross the creek (there is no bridge) and loop down to the other side of the falls or descend the way you came and proceed under the rock shelter. The trail leads to a small bridge downstream with another fabulous view. Cross the bridge, walk up the embankment to your left and follow the trail back the way you came.
When my friends and I visited on 7/5/16, the bridge was partially collapsed.
There are no unimpeded views from above Yahoo Falls due to thick vegetation, but the forest is serene and beautiful. Peering over the cliff is dangerous and not recommended.
If you visit Yahoo Falls in summer you may be disappointed by a mere trickle. It is best to go after rainy weather, especially in spring.
What I like most about Yahoo Falls, in contrast to nearby Cumberland Falls and its hordes of visitors, is that it is not a tourist attraction. You might run into a few people here and there but I have also enjoyed the place alone with my thoughts, the murmuring creek and my sweet girlfriend.
The Yahoo Falls Recreation Area was created in the 1960s and is surrounded by second-growth woodlands.
The name “Yahoo” or “Ywahoo” is possibly derived from the Muscogee Indian language.
A group of Cherokee Indians were supposedly ambushed and massacred by a contingent of soldiers at Yahoo Falls in 1810. A mass grave was supposedly located underneath the rock shelter. So far, I have found little evidence to support this story, but many locals swear by it.
In 2015, Delania and I discovered a waterfall off-trail in Laurel County that we believe to be higher than magnificent Yahoo Falls. I intend to measure it and prove that it is the highest in the state…until we find yet a higher one.
Added 3/20/14 – Updated 10/14/16