Cumberland - Cumberland Falls to Laurel River (10.5 miles)

Cumberland, Kentucky, US


Cumberland Falls to Laurel River (10.5 miles)

Usual Difficulty III+(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 10.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 11 fpm

Screaming Right

Screaming Right
Photo of Spalding Hurst by Jay Thomas taken 07/10/05 @ 1500

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03404000 400 - 16000 cfs III+(IV) 00h40m 2980 cfs (running)

River Description

This is the whitewater section of the Upper Cumberland River. The 10 mile run is Cumberland Falls the Mouth of the Laurel River Boat ramp aka Noe's Dock. Lake Cumberland covers the last few rapids in this section during its summer pool, making the late summer/early fall season as they draw down for winter pool the optimal time to run it. Levels vary, but 705 feet and lower on Lake Cumberland make for all the rapids to be in. This normally coincides with mid-August to September in the drawdown cycle.

In January 2007 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced an emergency drawdown of Lake Cumberland, which is watered by the Cumberland River Watershed.  After 7 years and nearly $1 billion dollars the dam repairs were reported by the USACE to have been completed.  The lake will resume its normal summer pool level of 723 feet above sea level in Spring of 2014.  If you have paddled this river in the past 7 years there are some significant rapids that will be inundated below the pool level, possibly including Screaming Right, Stairsteps, Last Drop and Bark Camp Creek Wash.  This will obviously create a much longer, ~4.5 mile flat paddle to the takeout at the Mouth of the Laurel River which takes about 1 1/2 hours to paddle. 


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-07-01 12:32:29


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put InPutin
1.0Center RockIIIHazard Photo
2.5Bradfords RockII+Hazard Photo
3.0Willie Nelson'sII+
3.4Dog Slaugter shoalsIIHazard
4.0PinballIIIHazard Photo
4.2Screaming RightIII+Photo
5.3Last DropIII+Photo
7.5Bark Camp Creek ShoalsII+

Rapid Descriptions

Put In
The put in is right below Cumberland Falls State Park. Park at the Falls parking lot and walk between the two buildings and veer right to find the upper most cobblestone path and follow it all the way down to the sandy beach.From interstate 75 exit 25 in Corbin take 25W west approx 10 miles to highway 90 and follow the signs another 6 miles to Cumberland Falls State Park. See the Cumberland Shuttle Map

Initiation (Class II, Mile 0.5)
Small wave train right down the middle. With a shallow hole on the right side entrance.

Center Rock (Class III, Mile 1.0)

Center rock from up high

Center rock from up high
Photo of Center Rock Rapid by Duane Cottle taken 07/01/06 @ 800

A two tiered drop with large eddies in between. The first being a basic wave/hole leading you straight into the second. The second drop is where it gets its name beacuse of the huge boulder in the middle of the river creating a nice splat/spin spot and pillows. There are currently large tree sized logs in both the right and left sides of the first drop.  Boat scout and run in the middle.  While the left and right mini slots are sieved there have been reports of the Center Rock itself being undercut but I have seen it at less than 100CFS it is not appearant,  proceed with caution.  

Misery (Class II+, Mile 2.0)
Straight down the middle wave train that virtually goes unnoticed. It gets its name from river guides at low water. At high water the eddies are very strong here. At 23500 a 20' curler wave forms from left bank curling right.

Bradfords Rock (Class II+, Mile 2.5)

Bradfords Rock

Bradfords Rock
Photo of Undercut rock by Dave Leachman taken 03/31/07 @ 1500

A pretty straight forward rapid except for the huge undercut on river center-right. The rock is more undercut on each end than in the middle.  At most levels over 800 CFS it is a tasters choice, (go where you want), it is shallow across the entire river and the slot on the left of the undercut feeds into it somewhat if you take that line.  At low levels right is the only line.

Willie Nelson's (Class II+, Mile 3.0)
This one gets its name because just like Willie Nelson it sounds much better than it looks. Boofing spots galore on river left but beware there is at least one human sized pothole in this rapid. Straight down the middle is the conventional line.

Dog Slaugter shoals (Class II, Mile 3.4)
Coming in just downstream of the biggest tributary (Dogslaughter Creek) on the section this is a very un-noteworthy rapid except undercuts on the right and left. The right one is big as a two story house and the one on the left is much smaller but will pull you in from the current blowing into it. The left undercut currently has strained out with large trees and a canoe. You can't miss the only two big boulders in the section they are the ones to avoid, right down the middle. At low water (below 400CFS) far left and directly in front of the undercut is the only route.

Surfers (Class II+, Mile 3.8)


Photo of Omer Hall and Jason Foley by Gordon Byrd taken 07/15/04 @ 1000

River wide hole that is the best play on the entire river. Great for spins, 360's and learning surfers. The river right side is more of a deeper hole and the left is the best eddy. It is head knocking shallow here so don't even think of that upstream brace! Good eddies on each side make it nice to stay and play all day!

Pinball (Class III, Mile 4.0)

Lower part of pinball

Lower part of pinball
Photo of Luke by Andy Dill taken 10/18/03 @ 700

This is a fun rapid but at low water has both a pinning slot and a two-sided broach pin hazard in the middle/main drop.  Scout from the river left eddy above the drop or on the left bank and avoid the pin spot by running down the middle. At flows above 12000 CFS this rapid has two incredible holes for big air play right in the middle.  During spring its common for the bottom of this rapid to be flooded by the lake and the water coming in from the river.  This rapid is fully in when Lake Cumberland reaches 718 ft in elevation

Screaming Right (Class III+, Mile 4.2)

Screaming Right

Screaming Right
Photo of Spalding Hurst by Jay Thomas taken 07/10/05 @ 1500

A great first teacher of technicality at lower levels but a humoungus munchy riverwide hole between levels of 1800-2500 CFS. Be careful and scout when this rapid is in. This is the first of the lake rapids that require Lake Cumberland to be below winter pool Screaming right rears its head when Lake Cumberland's pool drops below 717 feet of elevation but the rapid itsel has an additional 4-5 of elevation to completely be in.

Stairsteps (Class III, Mile 5.0)

Middle of Stairsteps

Middle of Stairsteps
Photo of Guy Cottle by Duane Cottle taken 11/25/06 @ 1900 cfs

A great big water style rapid with several offset holes and one really great catch on the fly wave. Pretty much down the middle and be prepared to punch some holes. Another under the lake rapid untill around the first of August when the lake pool gets down to around 710 feet in eleveation.

Last Drop (Class III+, Mile 5.3)

Top of last drop

Top of last drop
Photo of Guy Cottle by Duane Cottle taken 11/25/06 @ 1900 cfs

A great rapid at all levels but many munchy holes at the bigger levels including a terminal hole in the middle of the river, dynamic boiling eddies and large pillows are common. At medium-low levels river left is the desired route. This upgrades to a IV at levels 5000 CFS and above. This rapid is inundated by Lake Cumberlands summer pool and only comes in during the late summer draw down in mid-late August at 706 feet in elevation. 

Bark Camp Creek Shoals (Class II+, Mile 7.5)

This rapid is under water and only in when Lake Cumberland pool is below 690 ft. Its a straight forward rapid with a nice hidden surfing wave in the middle.  

Take-out (Class N/A, Mile 10.0)

From the end of the whitewater to the take-out is 4+ miles of flat water depending upon the season and Lake Cumberland's pool elevation. This paddle out takes about1.5 hours depending on the water level. The current can only help you if the river is running 1000CFS or more, with less its a longer paddle.

The Sheltowee Trace Outfitters offers a tow out May - September when they have raft trips.

The take out is at the Mouth of the Laurel River boat ramp. From interstate 75 exit 25 in Corbin take 25W west approx 5 miles to 1193/1277. 1193 turns right and 1277 dead ends at the take out. Click here for a link to the shuttle: Cumberland Shuttle Map

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
October 15 2017 (402 days ago)
Rick SDetails
3 of us ran this on August 26, 2017 @ 2000 cfs then the next day @ approx. 1800 cfs. We took the
Sheltowee Trace Outfitter's ride in and ride out with the rafting expedition. We had a perfect
sunny day for paddling with water temps in the high 60's F. This was out first time paddling this
river, and we had a blast! Center Rock was moving quicker at lower water on the 2nd day and had a
crispy eddy line. Bradford's Rock is pretty easy to avoid the under-cut rock on right. The
under-cut rock on river Left @Dog Slaughter Shoals was a bit more treacherous as the current feeds
strongly into it @2000 cfs (and above I would guess). One of our boaters was nearly pinned there.
She was able to work herself off to the Right side of the pinning rock before flipping and getting
washed downstream. Not exactly sure what happened in this instance. Though the current feeds into
the undercut it is fairly easy to recognize and avoid. Don't stare at the hazard, rather where you
want to go All 3 of us flipped on Screaming Right the 1st day. The 2nd day we all took a different
line...only one of us made it without flipping. The first day we weren't sure which rapids we were
on after the Center Rock because the descriptions of how far the rapid is into the trip are
completely wrong! I used my Garmin Montana 680 on both runs and here are the actual mileage of the
rapids: No Name (class II) 0.3 Initiation 0.5 miles Center Rock 1.0 miles Misery 1.27 miles
Bradford's Rock 1.62 miles Willie Nelson's 2.10 miles Dog Slaughter Shoals 2.97 miles Surfers 2.74
miles Pinball 3.44 miles Screaming Right 3.75 miles Stairsteps 4.2 miles the Last Drop 4.5 miles
All of the rapids were in on our trip except the Last Drop which was still covered by Lake
Cumberland. On the 2nd day we took a side-trip-hike up to Dog Slaughter Falls It is about a 1/3 of
a mile hike with some nice scenery and a waterfall you can play and swim in. It took us a little
over 2 hours to run the rapids part of the river and paddle to the riverboat buoy. The river boat
ride is just under an hour once they get all the rafts and kayaks loaded. For an extra $10 you can
eat at the buffet on the riverboat. It is just cold-cuts, chips, and potato salad with soda, but it
did in a pinch and satisfied our hunger.
August 13 2016 (829 days ago)
Kytrapper (158501)
Usgs has a gage at Cumberland River at Cumberland Falls that has been collecting data for 105
years. The discharge from this gage is much more accurate for flow if you are interested in running
from Cumberland Falls to Mouth of Laurel than the Williamsburg gage. The Williamsburg gage would be
your choice if putting in at Williamsburg. If you go to our website you can see actual measured
discharge ( red dots) on the discharge graph. The graph will go back 120 days if you want to
compare what the discharge was and what you thought it was on the day you took the trip.
June 20 2016 (884 days ago)
Drewavan (158200)
I ran this one with my older brother and we had a blast for the first few miles. After that it was
a very long paddle to the take out. The flow was at 434cfs and the lake level was at 720. A fun run
but the lake paddle did indeed take a while with the strong head wind we paddled against.
August 24 2011 (2646 days ago)
Chris StoopsDetails
Here is some info about the pinning hazard on the Pinball rapid I collected from the Viking Canoe
Club forum: Viking member kblack said he ran it at 300 CFS and didn't see any pinning hazard and
asked at what flow it becomes a hazard. Dania Egedi with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters volunteered
this answer: "yes, at low water, there exists a real possibility of a 2-point pin. There is a very
narrow shoot that you go through. It would be below 300 cfs (wburg gauge) though. Probably closer
to 150 or 200". Viking member Gunner had this to say: "ran it once at low flow and my bro-in-law
tried to catch a left side micro-eddie by turning left and riding a pillow upstream of a midstream
rock but it turned out it wasn't much of a pillow and he flipped on the upstream side of the rock
and broached it with head under water. Safety was pre-set so a bullseye rope throw that he grabbed
blind resulted in pulling him out of his boat. We then tied the rope to boat to pull it out. That
said, running it straight without being sideways trying to catch that little eddie was no problem
for others that day". Source:
August 9 2011 (2661 days ago)
John Grace and Nate Helms ran the falls. It's supposed to be recorded on LVM #37 "The Last Dwarf
Drops His Drawers". Last I heard it's illegal...and not so intelligent.
February 20 2011 (2831 days ago)
Jake boggsDetails
Has anyone ever hucked the falls?
November 22 2009 (3286 days ago)
Brandon HughettDetails
Great River! 10.5 miles of water, 3 or 4 rapids, the rest was flatwater. I won't be running this
one again....
December 4 2007 (4004 days ago)
When the lake is filled again there are two possibilities of a takeout about 3-4 miles before the
boat ramp at devil's creek and bark camp creek. Devils creek is an old road that would require a
4x4 outfitted for aggressive situations and bark camp is a 1/4 mile up hill hike back to the road.
I had directions posted for devils creek, but thought best not to advise this one. Bark camp can be
accessed via 1277, left onto FR 193, first right onto FR 551 and go to the end of the gravel. Trail
will continue downhill. Otherwise, just paddle to the ramp.
April 30 2007 (4223 days ago)
Will CrimminsDetails
Myself and two friends paddled the cumberland river this past weekend and learned two things. One,
to find the take out you must turn left on 1193 when headed east on 25 to find 1277 and the take
out. Secondly, Last Drop is a bit tricky when the river is running at 5000cfs or more. My friend
had to wet exit at the top of the rapid and was pushed into the boulder mid stream where he was
temporarily pinned then continued to river left of the first big boulder to a second boulder which
he was pinned on then sucked underneath giving me the impression that the boulder is undercut. When
looking downstream from up above last drop @5000+ cfs, you see a huge boulder where the main river
flow hits, to the left of that main boulder its the second boulder over that is undercut. Please
use caution when running this rapid!
October 27 2006 (4408 days ago)
Bill LynchDetails
The paddle out took an hour and a half when the lake was at winter pool.

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