Whitewater Rafting the Cumberland River
Whitewater rapids are fun to photograph from bridges and from shore, but you usually won’t be able to shoot them from water level. While I knew I wouldn’t have time to take photos while actually paddling through the rapids themselves, I hoped at least that I would be able to get some good shots before or after the whitewater sections.
We are going out today with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters, one of the more established outfitters around Cumberland Falls. With canoe, kayak and raft trips available, Sheltowee Trace offers boating adventures for whatever your adrenaline level.
Picking their “Cumberland Below the Falls” adventure, we knew we’d be in for some fun-filled whitewater sections. What we didn’t know was that the waters had risen considerably this week, with the three days of rain prior to our arrival. That turned the river from Class II and III rapids to Class III and IV.
Before we proceeded to the rafts, we watched a 20-minute video that scared the bejeebers out of me, a professed non-swimmer. Seriously doubting the wisdom of this adventure, I never-the-less proceeded down to the boats with the rest of the smiling swimmers who couldn’t wait to get aboard. I kept looking for excuses, but couldn’t find a single good one.
Telling our tour leader Max that I sink fast, he put me right in front of him in the back of the raft. We took off from shore and headed right for the great Cumberland Waterfalls. That is, we headed for the base of the waterfalls so we could witness the unusually large amount of water that was raging over since the heavy rains a couple days before.
Then turning our backs to the falls, we were off in search of some serious whitewater rapids. Before hitting each named section, (yep, they have their own names and personalities) Max would give us the lowdown on how to paddle, where we wanted to be and our chances of survival.
One after another, it was fast and furious paddling while in the rapids, followed by calm, smooth sections in between. Following Max’s lead, it was a paddling chorus of “two forward, three forward, one forward, one forward, one back, three forward” and then we were through yet another section.
The water was flowing so fast that we didn’t need to exert much effort at all between sections as the river was propelling us along quite nicely. It actually made for an hour shorter excursion than normal, the water was flowing that fast.
Fear factor? Only once did I ever get concerned. In one of the later, more vigorous sections, the front half of our raft went seemingly vertical. I remember seeing four people much higher than me, leaving just the four of us in the back of the raft able to actually reach the water with our paddles. It only lasted a second or two, but that was freaky.
[For a slide show of more whitewater rafting photos, click here]
Would I do it again – absolutely. The guides from Sheltowee Trace were top notch and they really do try to tailor each excursion to their riders’ propensity for excitement. Want to get wet – they’ll see that you do. Want to stay dry (don’t be silly) – they’ll try their best there to.
After landing well down-river, the outfitter’s bus picked us up for the transport back to the falls where we had begun. Before you knew it, we were back in Dupont Lodge at Cumberland Falls State Resort, ready for a shower and a leisurely dinner.
Cumberland Falls State Resort
The lodge is built high above the valley. An expansive stone patio overlooks a sweeping view of the river above the falls, and is a wonderful place to sit and watch the sky change into its evening hues of reds, oranges and even lilac.
No need to delay dinner though, as the Riverview Restaurant below also has large glass windows with another great view. If you’re lucky, local squirrels and raccoon just outside the glass provide for evening or morning entertainment.
Rooms at Cumberland Falls lodge are quite pleasant with great views, generous dressers and comfortable beds. A table and chairs, in addition to a complimentary coffee maker and free Wi-Fi made for a room fit for just relaxing or for an evening of Internet surfing.
We had hoped to time our trip to witness a spectacle which is unique to Cumberland Falls and only one other place in the world – Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Alas, I missed it in both places during my visits this year.
Each month, if the moon is full and it’s a cloudless night, a moonbow forms in the mist at the base of the falls. In the fall and winter, the moonbow may even take on multiple colors, but usually it’s just white. A calendar of potential viewing dates is available at the lodge.
Despite the fact there was no moonbow available the evening I visited, it was still a magical place to be as the sun set. The sky turned deeper and deeper blue, and the mist from the falls shimmered in the light until it was dark. A few last-minute, time-exposure photos recorded the dreamy scene which was by then, too dark for the human eye to perceive.
Join me in the next article where we zipline and ATV our way across Thunder Mountain as we continue our Kentucky Adventure. It’s a great summer escape. For more adventure opportunities in Kentucky, see Kentucky’s special.