My trip to the Lake Cumberland stop on the Taste of the Bluegrass Culinary Trail began with a happy mistake. I got so excited when I saw “Cumberland,” the glittery unicorn and rainbows section of my brain took over and thought “moooon booooow,” and I instantly invited my girlfriends to come with me. Growing up, I’d heard of this magical moon bow that appears at the Cumberland Falls waterfall under a full moon. So, I saw the name “Cumberland” and went cross eyed.
So, I looked at Lake Cumberland on the culinary trail list of parks and set out to plan an awesome weekend with friends. I looked up an Airbnb cabin that google said was 27 minutes away. What I didn’t know is that Lake Cumberland and Cumberland Falls are 1.5 hours away from each other. (Also, Cumberland Falls is not on the culinary trail.)I feel like such a bad Kentuckian for not knowing, but that’s why I decided to follow this culinary trail over the summer anyway – to get to know our state better. Luckily, the Airbnb owner told us the falls were an hour and a half away in time for us to book a cabin at the Cumberland Falls lodge and offered to let us use his cabin in the future, since it was too close to the booked date for a refund. It was a happy mistake, because I got to see the moon bow (and a rainbow) AND Cumberland Lake.
So, I already had the cabin booked when I finally made the trip to the correct park. It was indeed about 27 minutes away from the Lake Cumberland State Park. I bring up this misadventure and cabin, because it led to kicking off our foodie fun with a lovely evening sipping Four Roses Small Batch with Ale8 One and some bourbon caramel sea salt fudge from Cellar Door Chocolates. My friend and I enjoyed the evening reading and writing and tasting within the cozy walls of a little cabin in the middle of rural Russell County, listening to the torrential downpours that killed Bourbon & Beyond.
The next morning, we took a quiet walk to the Cumberland river through the lush country setting before we set out for our Lake Cumberland lunch and planned to return to a nearby country general store from the 1800s. We felt transported back to the sixties as we rolled up on the lodge. It was reminiscent of the first park I visited, Kentucky Dam Village, in more ways than one. The vintage vibe at Lure Lodge definitely reminded me of Kentucky Dam Village, and this park definitely rivals Kentucky Dam Village for best value. The ungodly amount of food actually probably buries all the other culinary trail stops in the amount of food for the price.
The appetizer came first, and it alone was enough for a meal: a huge hunk of spider cornbread, a large bowl of pinto beans, and a small bowl of sweet coleslaw with crackers. I had to ask what spider cornbread is, because I’d never heard of it before. It turns out it has to do with the type of skillet it is cooked in and how it is cooked. The cornbread is cooked in a cast iron spider skillet over coals. Halfway through, the lid is placed on top and coals are piled on top to brown the top. The server was kind enough to bring out a skillet of freshly made cornbread to show us.
We tread lightly on the appetizer, so we would have enough room for the entree. It’s a good thing we did. When the entree arrived, we were just as floored at the portion sizes. Four pieces of fried catfish, hush puppies, collard greens and mashed potatoes. I nibbled a little of each while I spoke with park manager Stephen Eastin about the park and his background before the also huge bowl of fried apple pie with ice cream arrived. At $14.99 per meal, this is a pretty unbelievable amount of food. I had to box most of it up. Throughout the meal, I enjoyed my first taste of Kentucky made Ski soda.
There was still a pretty steady rainfall as we looked out over the beautiful view of the lake from our table in the dining room as Eastin told us about the park and some of their attractions. Like many of the parks, they have camping, cottages, birding, mini-golf, geocaching, hiking and horseback riding. However, they are one of the only lodges in the state with a temperature controlled indoor pool, and so they do have some visitors outside of the busy summer season. Their largest attraction however, seems to be the lake itself. With 50,250 acres, Lake Cumberland has an abundance of largemouth, smallmouth, white and Kentucky bass, bluegill, crappie, rockfish, and walleye, so fishing is popular as is boating.
“The state dock has the largest fleet of houseboats in the United States,” said Eastin.
Eastin went on to tell me about how the lodge sells out for a poker run that happens every year on the weekend after Labor Day at the state dock. As we were surrounded by the sixties decor, Eastin’s racing description reminded me of the movie Grease if it happened on the water. The event is no longer focused on speed, but over 150 boats travel to at least 5 out of 9 marinas to get a card for their poker hand. If I participated, I would name my boat “The Poker Pirate” and annoy everyone with bad poker pirate quips like “I’m the queen of hearrrrrrrts” all day.
After our meal, we drove around the corner from the park to view the dam. Even with overcast skies, the view was beautiful, and we could imagine how beautiful the lake must be on a nice summer day. We didn’t get to stop in, but Wolf Creek Fish Hatchery is also nearby. The center is free to visit, and visitors can tour the hatchery and education center or fish.
After spending some time taking in the views at the dam and speaking with a couple fellows who were birding and watching for eagles, we headed back to Jamestown to visit Creelsboro Country Store, which features a gift shop and farm to table restaurant. The store was built in the 1800s. While we loaded up on Kentucky T-shirts, goat milk lotions and gifts, we listened to the young lady at the antique cash register tell us about the nearby uncommercialized Creelsboro Natural Bridge, adding one more stop to our trip.
We followed her directions to find a dirt road and made our way by foot down it to the bottom of the hill where we found a family memorial at the trail head. It was a little difficult to find, but I’ve discovered you can type “Rock House Natural Bridge” in your GPS, and it will take you to the dirt road. We didn’t know it at the time, but you can drive down the dirt road to the trail head.
“To the public:,” the memorial reads alongside a plaque declaring it a national natural landmark. “This arch was saved from destruction by Thomas Goff and wife, hours of work, and a large sum of money. Please enjoy, respect and clean after your self. The Goff Family.”
We braved the rain drizzle and followed the trail and a small creek about 75 paces or so to a huge natural arch. When I say huge, I mean a few hundred people could easily hang out under it and stare at the Cumberland River through the opening on the other side. Aside from some graffiti on the rock walls, people seem to respect the wishes of the memorial. The area was clean and even had a small fire pit. Watching the mists rise from river as we wandered around under the arch was truly one of the most special moments of the year so far for me. Not only because we had been lucky enough to find this unmarked wonder, but because a family is open enough to allowing visitors to enjoy this landmark. As we wandered back up the hill to the car, we found a smattering of brachiopods and crushed bits of geodes glittering in the ground beneath us. We stopped here and there to admire them before hopping in the car for the trek back to Louisville.
If you’re looking to truly get some lovely solitude or maybe even throw down like a poker pirate, you should make a trip to Russel County.