By Andrea Jasper | Photography By Greg Davis
This article is the first entry in a series written by graduate students in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Eastern Kentucky University, developed as a partnership with The Explore Kentucky Initiative. Find out more about EKU RPA by visiting www.recreation.eku.edu. You can also follow the department on Twitter @EKURecAndPark and Instagram @EKURECANDPARK.
Nestled in the Big South Fork, right outside Whitley City, you can find a waterfall that peaks at 113 feet and releases a beautiful cascade of water after a heavy Kentucky spring rain. Depending on when you go, you might be the only visitor that day, or you may find yourself among tourist groups and sightseers from across the state. Yahoo Falls is a hidden gem often under-appreciated in our vast park system.
The National Park Services list Yahoo Falls as Kentucky’s tallest water fall when measured from the top to the bottom of the pool. While not as powerful as the mighty Cumberland Falls, Yahoo Falls offers a quiet, more tranquil visiting experience with a pleasurable 1 mile loop hike. Equipped with picnic facilities at the trail-head, this is easily a quick family trip with a moderate set of stairs descending down to the falls trail. The falls trail is also a great addition to the more seasoned hiker who wants to add this to their Big South Fork itinerary.
For those interested in Kentucky history and lore, Yahoo Falls also has a controversial past. My father first brought me to Yahoo Falls with my family in 1995, the year I moved to Kentucky. I found the overgrown trail almost maze-like and was delighted with the discovery of the beautiful cascading waterfall.
My father told me of his trips to the Falls when he was a young boy, and retold the macabre tale of the Cherokee Children Massacre of Yahoo Falls. Legend states that the women and children of the Cumberland River valley's Cherokee tribe were offered an education by Reverend Gideon Blackburn, a well known Presbyterian clergyman, educator and friend to Cherokee and Creek nations, at one of his schools that was located 125 miles away in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Under the protection of Princess Cornblossom, daughter of War Chief Doublehead, the aforementioned women and children made plans to seek refuge from Indian fighters at Yahoo Falls. Once everyone made it to Yahoo Falls, they planned to travel together to the location where the women and children would receive their education. On August 10th, 1810, the women and children that had gathered under the falls were massacred by John Sevier and his Cherokee fighters, who operated under the authority of the United States War Department. Many historians have expressed doubts if the massacre actually occurred as there is no modern documentation or records that mention the massacre, and there is no record of the existence of Princess Cornblossom. Many believe the story is one of Cherokee oral history that was passed down from generation to generation.
Yahoo Falls provides wonderful scenery, an enjoyable hike, and also a snippet of obscure history/lore that you can share. The knowledge of Kentucky history compliments the visiting experience, especially the storied past of Yahoo Falls. If you find yourself there in the summer months there is still enough water to take a dip in the pool and cool yourself off. The fall months offer amazing photography opportunities during the changing of the leaves and welcoming of winter. If you are planning on taking a road trip across the commonwealth, and/or compiling a list of unique Kentucky destinations, you should definitely add Yahoo Falls of the Big South Fork.
How to get there: From US 27 in Whitley City, head west on HWY 700 for 4 miles. Turn right at the sign for Yahoo Falls Picnic Area. At the end of the gravel road you will reach the parking area with restrooms, picnic shelters, and the trailhead for Yahoo Falls.
Trail Length: 1/4 mile from the parking area to the falls.
For More Information: www.mccrearytourism.com/index.php/nes-events/item/151-yahoo-falls