Dog Slaughter Falls Trail #414 | 2.4 Miles
Dog Slaughter Falls (NEW) Trailhead Location | Google Maps
Our stop at Dog Slaughter Falls was part of a day trip to visit several waterfalls and arches in the London Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest that included hiking The Eagle Falls Trail to view Cumberland Falls, Moonshiners Arch, Curd Garden Ridge Arch, Phoenix Arch, and Schoolhouse Arch. Though Dog Slaughter Falls is reachable from Cumberland Falls State Park via the Moonbow\ Sheltowee Trace Trail, this majestic waterfall also has a dedicated 3.75 mile trail deep in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Getting to the trailhead requires a lengthy backcountry drive on narrow gravel roads, but is manageable for most vehicle types.
New Trailhead parking area
Dog Slaughter Falls Trailhead (New)
To reach the Dog Slaughter Falls Trail, we headed down Cumberland Falls Rd (KY-90) to find Forest Service Rd 195. Keep your eyes peeled for a narrow gravel road opening in the forest just west of the Sheltowee Trace Outfitters and RV Park. Once on this road it is a 1 mile drive to the (OLD) Dog Slaughter Falls Trailhead. Many people still use this as their starting point to visit the falls as it travels through a picturesque portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest. With this being our second hike of the day, we are more interested in getting straight to the falls and cutting out some of the sightseeing. Partly due to overcrowding, the Forest Service created a second trailhead and parking area for Dog Slaughter Falls nearly 2.75 miles into its original 3.75 mile length. Now visitors can decided wether to take the longer 7 mile day hike to the falls or the short 2.4 mile stroll.
Dog Slaughter Creek foot bridge
Driving past the Old Trailhead, its a 2.75 mile drive further up the road to the New Trailhead. Once parked at any of the pull outs found here, walk through the trailhead and turn LEFT to get on the short 0.13 mile spur trail. There are several large clearings and wide paths near the trailhead, so first time visitors often get confused as to how to find the main trail. You’ll walk across the famed Dog Slaughter Creek Foot Bridge which connects you directly to the main trail. At the trail junction turn RIGHT. From here it is a brisk 1.20 miles to the falls. Though this trail is considered moderate, there are a handful of steep inclines, a lot of burly tree roots to trip over, a hand-over-foot scramble near the half way point, and finally a moderate scramble to the base of the falls.
Only 1 mile to Dog Slaughter Falls from here
Theory of Dog Slaughter Falls History
As Thomas Walker and Daniel Boone carved a path through the Cumberland Gap to explore modern day Kentucky in the 1750’s, Whitley County was one of the farthest points west they eventually reached. Accounts of innumerable wild beasts and plentiful game set the stage for a flood of long hunters to enter the region in the hopes of striking it rich. Dog Slaughter Creeks name is believed to have arisen from this period, as hunting parties suffered the loss of hunting dogs to wild animal encounters in this raw wilderness. If you pay a visit to this same area during summer, the deeply shaded forest with its speckles of light radiating through holes in the dense canopy, will instantly transport you back to that time. The Dog Slaughter Falls Trail is one of the Daniel Boone National Forests true “four seasons” trail.
Rockshelter along Dog Slaughter Falls trail
As it is currently Fall, the forest is awash in the vibrant colors of burgundy from ash trees, ochre yellow from beech, and burnt orange and ruby reds from maples. The papery white undersides of big leaf Magnolias adorn every step of this trail as a reminder of just how special this area truly is. A native of the southeastern United States, Magnolia macrophylla is relatively uncommon because of its specific preference to rich, loamy soils and semi-shade. The dense stands of hemlock found in the cove forests of this secluded ravine offer protection to an assortment of wild game that includes ruffed grouse, wild turkey, woodcock, deer, elk, and at one point bison and black bears.
dense mat of leaves covering up trail
While some of the larger game animals these early pioneers first witnessed are no longer present in the area, elk populations have been slowly returning to Kentucky in one of the most successful wildlife restoration efforts ever in the eastern United States. Native to Kentucky and much of the east coast, elk were hunted to extinction prior to the onset of the Civil War. Sixteen of the states most rural counties containing a sufficient land base and low population density were intertwined with public lands to make the project feasible. Today, Whitley County is considered a vital addition to the Elk Recovery Zone as it provides an important wildlife travel corridor between Kentucky and Tennessee.
Approach to Dog Slaughter Falls
Dog Slaughter Falls
With the severe drought much of the southeast has been experiencing this past year, Dog Slaughter Creeks flow is mild at best, but still makes for a picturesque scene along the journey. After a series of dry creek crossings, the trail begins its sharp ascent over Dog Slaughter Creek as it nears the crest of the falls. Hearing it before we could see it, the trail approaches the falls from behind and traces the outer perimeter of a large gorge created by the 17 foot waterfall. There are no guard railings here, making a deadly thirty foot fall all too possible so take extra precautions while navigating this area. It is all too common for first time visitors to arrive at the top of the falls and not seeing a clear way down just turn around and leave disappointed.
Gorge carved out by Dog Slaughter Falls
The path down to the base of Dog Slaughter Falls is roughly 0.13 miles further up the trail. As you round the farthest crest of the gorge along the trail, opposite of where the falls is located, you’ll begin a rocky descent back towards the creek bank, but not all the way. It’s at this spot that a narrow path will appear on your RIGHT that hugs the cliff wall pointing directly at the falls. Manageable for most visitors, this rock scramble looks like a long ramp and can be slippery even after a light rain so take it nice and slow. The walk towards the base of Dog Slaughter Falls is magical with its larger than life boulders scattered about and its dense stands of rhododendrons framing the views. I approached one of the main viewing areas directly in front of the falls and found it draped in a vibrant blanket of leaves that just screamed FALL.
Close up of Dog Slaughter Falls and its downed log
Though really only dropping from a third of its total width, the falls are awe inspiring. A new addition to the view in recent years is the downed log propped up directly in front of the water stream. Dog Slaughter Falls has a very pronounced “key hole” opening that adds to its iconic look. The shape of the overall gorge from down here resembles the cliffs surrounding Eagle Falls, but twice as big. With warmer weather, this trail gets packed and visitors can often be found wading in the natural pool at the base of the falls or further down the creek. Once at this location, it’s less than 0.25 miles to the end of the Dog Slaughter Falls Trail where it joins the Sheltowee Trace on the banks of the Cumberland River. To head back, simply retrace your steps back to the trail junction near the start and turn LEFT across the foot bridge to the parking lot.
Hiker looking out over Dog Slaughter Falls
Up next, we’re driving a little further north into Pulaski County to explore a little visited stretch of trail in the Daniel Boone National Forest with a lot of personality. The Nathan McClure Trail #530 is a 14-mile hiking and horseback riding trail that follows the densely wooded ridges, streams, and ridge lines of the Cumberland and Rockcastle River. Split into two unique trails, its northern section is also widely known as “The Bear Creek Falls Trail”. This 7 mile out and back trail beginning at Forest Service Rd 122A is considered a strenuous hike, but totally worth every inch as you explore several seasonal waterfalls and arches along the way to the impressive Bear Creek Falls. Stay tuned for this upcoming article and as always, see y’all on the trails!