With more miles of running water than any other state except Alaska, Kentucky is bound to have some pretty amazing waterfalls. Protected within the heavily forested gorge of the John B. Stephenson Memorial Forest is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the state, Anglin Falls. At 75 feet high, this is one of the tallest in the region, turning into a roaring rapid during periods of heavy rains. Reaching the falls requires taking a scenic drive through the rural backdrop of Kentucky’s Appalachian Region, to a small farmstead where the trailhead lays hidden. The mile long trail follows along steep slopes leading up to rocky ridge lines, limestone outcroppings, and small caves just waiting to be explored on your way to see this beautiful waterfall.
Finding this 123 acre State Nature Preserve can be a little tricky depending on where you look. Visit Berea, KY.Gov, and several hiking websites have detailed and simple to follow directions leading to the trailhead. A quick GoogleMaps search inevitably yielded the best results with a near exact drop on the trailhead parking lot. The drive through this scenic part of eastern Kentucky, passing historic small villages, post offices for towns that no longer exist, and getting a chance to marvel at the rolling hills that seem to go on forever made this trip worthwhile before I ever even reached the falls.
Once we turned onto Anglin Falls Rd from Hammonds Fork Rd, we slowed down and kept an eye out for a sign pointing to the Anglin Falls parking area. Nearly a half mile down the road we found the small sign and took a left turn down the one lane gravel road that leads to the trailhead. This nature preserve is open to the public year round, but due to limited parking space, you may find yourself out of luck if you visit on a busy day. Trail information and maps are located at the kiosk upon entering the trailhead.
The history of the falls goes back to the early 1900’s, when the Cobb-Venable family owned this parcel of land. It was common for folks throughout this small community to spend a weekend afternoon hiking to view this wet weather waterfall, relaxing under its cool spray. During the 1990’s the family turned ownership of the land over to Friends of Anglin Falls, a non profit organization, in order to preserve the area from development. It then fell under the ownership and management of nearby Berea College. Dedicated in Dec. 10, 1996, as an official State Nature Preserve, it was named after former Berea College President John B. Stephenson.
Map | Anglin Falls Trail
Directions | Google Maps
John was so moved by the incredible beauty and solitude of this place that he spent the last years of his life campaigning for its protection. The preserve now protects more than 450 species of native plants, including 32 different types of ferns. Although I chose to visit in the middle of winter, its preferable to come during the spring as these woods are known locally for their incredible wildflower display. As this is a wet weather waterfall, I timed my visit to coincide with a week of sporadic rain showers and the thawing of a recent snow fall. Hopefully, with any luck, I would get to see a waterfall at the end of this hike
If you have spent as much time as I have exploring the Daniel Boone National Forest, then these woods will look familiar to you. Our 1.7 mile out and back hike begins just past the entrance and initially runs parallel to Anglin Creek. With all of the rain we’ve had lately, sections of the trail are nothing short of a churned up, mucky mess so I do my best to walk along the edges and avoid the mud pits. Wet trails are fragile so its best whenever possible to stay in the middle of the trail and use large rocks as a way to maneuver around large wet puddles. There are a few small tributary crossings along the way, patched over with wide plank boardwalks. Following an easy stroll we reach a log bridge spanning Anglin Creek.
Once across, the trail begins to ascend up the steep embankments of this heavily wooded gorge towards the falls. The going gets a little tough at this point as the slick mud covering the trail makes it difficult to get a good footing. I found myself having to take measured steps, using small trees as anchors from which to pull myself up in certain spots. Looking down the hill towards the creek, you can clearly see areas where Anglin Creek is eroding the bedrock below, continuing the process by which this gorge was created.
This nature preserve is also a popular birding area amongst enthusiasts. Several wooden benches along the trail encourage visitors to sit and enjoy the sounds of the various species of songbirds that nest here. Owls are so commonly seen here, swooping down from their stoops and gliding through the treetops, that they were chosen as the symbol for the trail. In order to make sure you’re on the right path, just look up and search for the bright red circles with a white owl spray painted every few dozen yards.
Heading deeper into the gorge we begin to notice the array of boulders strewn about in every direction. Some of these gigantic, moss covered stones are the size of cars, if not small buildings. On either side of us the limestone cliffs rise above our heads like a wall of stone. A few of the cliffs even resemble small fortresses with protruding pinnacles acting like the turrets.
Through the trees I can make out an area or two that appear to have small caves. My mind starts to wonder of all the things that may be lurking in the shadows within those caves. If I were in a more adventurous mood I would climb the hill to check it out, but alas I’m here to see the waterfall.
At this point the trails begins descending back down the hill closer to Anglin Creek. Ahead of us is the entrance to a large boulder field. These are remnants of the cliff creating the falls as it has receded through this valley over thousands of years to its present location.
As water finds its way through the cracks and crevices near the creek bed atop the falls, it eventually erodes the softer rock below, causing it to crack and separate. This effect leaves a field of rubble in its wake that can sometimes stretch for miles. From here the sounds of splashing water are becoming more and more pronounced so I know we have to be close.
Sure enough as we round a bend following a small stream crossing, I come face to face with Anglin Falls off in the distance. To reach it, we begin the steep hike up to the base of the plunge pool. The trail is seriously eroded in certain parts, requiring a hand over foot climb on the boulders covering every inch of this hillside. Its the most challenging part of this hike, but totally doable. Patience is key, as a few questionable footings caused my feet to slide on some lose dirt and smack my knee on a rock. Lesson learned.
There are some great photo ops midway up the hillside where you can catch the boulder field with the falls splashing overhead. The entire scene surrounding Anglin Falls is simply stunning. With so much rain recently I hoped the falls would be running a little wetter, but it is still beautiful nonetheless. From the approach, the cliff below the falls appears to be one giant rock shelter, until you get close enough to see the cavern that lies right behind the waterfall. Its shape is very similar to Honeymoon Falls in Pine Mountain State Park, but on a much bigger scale.
Climbing up a small dirt path through a stack of boulders is the quickest way to get onto the second level of this rock shelter where the cavern is located. As the water falls into the plunge pool and splashes back out onto the cliff face, it undercuts the softer sandstone, creating these shallow cave like structures. Getting a chance to walk behind a waterfall is a truly special thing.
Doing so brought back scenes from some of my favorite movies growing up, like the hunters hiding behind a waterfall just as a T.Rex plunges its head through the water in Jurassic Park Lost World, and one of the final scenes from Last Of The Mohicans where the main character hides behind a waterfall to evade a band of pursuing Cherokee Indians.
As I made my way back down from the rock shelter, I ran into a group of locals that seem to appear out of thin air. They explained that a small path, off to the right of the falls, works its way through the trees and up the hillside behind the cliffs, leading to the top of the falls. Its very dangerous, but with enough precaution, it could lead to some breathtaking views. I saw no reason to complicate my afternoon and settled for the amazing views from right down here. We ended up hiking part of the trail back together, chatting away and gaining some firsthand insight on the history of this small community.
No matter how many people I meet out on the trails, in every corner of the country, I find it easy to stir up conversations about our shared love for the outdoors. Nature has a way of bridging the gap between people. Despite being naturally introverted, I always find myself eager to speak to hikers I encounter along the trails. Its something that happens almost exclusively when I’m outdoors. If you’re here because you’re thinking of visiting Anglin Falls then by all means please do. This is an amazing waterfall and you’ll have a great time. If you’ve already been here then please drop a comment below and share your experience of visiting this little slice of heaven. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!