days
hours
minutes
until the total solar eclipse.

How to See the Moonbow at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky in 2024

The Cumberland Falls Moonbow is a spectacular lunar rainbow at this Kentucky state park. Here is how to see it yourself.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

Share this post

Nearly a hundred people crowded the Upper Overlook, eagerly gazing into the dark abyss above the thundering waterfall looking for a hint of a lunar rainbow. It was a perfectly clear night with twinkling stars above and the moonlight was beaming brightly. Somewhere in the mist above Cumberland Falls, I could see the faint moonbow.

And then my camera’s shutter clicked. The bright LCD came to life. There was the photo of a brilliant lunar rainbow reflecting in the water droplets in the air.

It was the first time I’d seen the Cumberland Falls moonbow in Kentucky. And years later, it’s still something I think about every month. If you want to witness this phenomenal natural event, here is everything you need to know to plan the best trip.

do you love
road trips?
Sign up and be the first to read new road trip itineraries and destination guides.
Yes! I would like to receive updates, special offers, and other information from Road Trips & Coffee.

Cumberland Falls Map

How to use this map: Zoom out to see more lodging options. Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

advertisement
 

What is a Moonbow?

A “moonbow” is a naturally occurring event when moonlight is reflected off water droplets in the air around a waterfall and creates a colorful lunar rainbow.

Moonbows are rare because it requires three elements working in concert:

  • A churning waterfall with a clear line of sight to the sky
  • A full moon
  • A cloudless night

How a Moonbow Works

A full moon will reflect about 13% of the Sun’s light back to Earth. This is just enough light to create a lunar rainbow in the heavy mists at the base of a churning waterfall.

But it must be a cloudless night – even faint, wispy clouds are enough to prevent the moonbow from appearing.

So, if a churning waterfall has a clear line of sight to the sky when the full moon rises on a cloudless night, the conditions are perfect for witnessing a spectacular moonbow.

Cumberland Falls in southeast Kentucky is the only place in the South to see a moonbow.

advertisement
 

Best Time to See the Moonbow

Choosing the best time to see the Moonbow is tricky. It’s not like buying tickets to a movie with a set start time. It’s more like trying to arrive at a baseball game just in time for the seventh inning stretch.

The first thing you need to understand about the Moonbow are two terms you’ll see the calendars below.

Zenith: The time when a celestial object is directly overhead.

Astronomical Twilight: The time before sunrise and after sunset when the fading sunlight in the sky gives way to a dark sky. The end of astronomical twilight is the best time to see the moonbow because the sky is dark enough for stars to appear.

With these terms in mind, here’s how you choose the best time to see the Moonbow:

  • Two days before or after the full moon
  • Arrive about half an hour after the end of astronomical twilight -or- two hours after moonrise, whichever is later
  • Leave before zenith
  • Expect to stay 2-3 hours to see the Moonbow

The earliest you should attempt to view the moonbow is about half an hour after the end of astronomical twilight. This is about two hours after sunset. Winter sunsets are early. But in the summer, astronomical twilight won’t end until almost midnight.

Did you know a full moon rises at sunset? The moon rises about half an hour earlier each day before the full moon and half an hour later after the full moon. This means the best time to see the moon changes by about half an hour each day. And it’s better to see the Moonbow earlier than later – on or before the full moon.

It takes about 2-3 hours after moonrise for the Moon to rise high enough in the sky for the reflected sunlight to strike Cumberland Falls. If you arrive earlier, you might see the moonbow – but it won’t be as bright as later.

The latest you should attempt to view the moonbow is about half an hour after zenith. Once the Moon reaches the highest point in the sky for the night, it quickly descends into the forest surrounding the waterfall.

The best time to see the moonbow is from half an hour after the end of astronomical twilight until half an hour after zenith when the Moon reaches the highest point in the sky.

advertisement
 

Cumberland Falls Moonbow Dates in 2024

Are you ready to see the spectacular moonbow? Use these charts to plan your trip to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Keep track of the upcoming schedule with this Google Calendar with all of the dates listed below.

Dates in bold are the full moon.

January

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Tuesday, January 233:46 p.m.11:36 p.m.8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Wednesday, January 244:47 p.m.11:59 p.m.8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Thursday, January 255:49 p.m.12:28 am9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Friday, January 266:51 p.m.1:17 am9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Saturday, January 277:51 p.m.2:02 am10:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 7:21 to 7:25 p.m.

February

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Thursday, February 224:43 p.m.11:22 p.m.8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Friday, February 235:43 p.m.12:00 am8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Saturday, February 246:42 p.m.12:43 am9:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Sunday, February 257:39 p.m.1:23 am10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Monday, February 268:36 p.m.2:03 am10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 7:49 to 7:53 p.m.

March

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Saturday, March 236:33 p.m.12:23 am10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Sunday, March 247:30 p.m.1:02 am10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Monday, March 258:27 p.m.1:41 am11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Tuesday, March 269:26 p.m.2:20 am11:30 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
Wednesday, March 2710:26 p.m.3:01 am12:00 to 3:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 9:18 to 9:22 p.m.
advertisement
 

April

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Sunday, April 216:20 p.m.11:41 p.m.10:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Monday, April 227:18 p.m.12:19 am10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Tuesday, April 238:18 p.m.1:00 am11:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Wednesday, April 249:21 p.m.1:42 am11:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Thursday, April 2510:26 p.m.2:28 am12:00 to 3:00 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 9:51 to 9:56 p.m.

May

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Tuesday, May 217:10 p.m.11:43 p.m.10:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Wednesday, May 228:14 p.m.12:23 am11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Thursday, May 239:20 p.m.1:11 am11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Friday, May 2410:25 p.m.2:04 am12:00 to 2:30 a.m.
Saturday, May 2511:25 p.m.3:01 am12:30 to 3:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 10:28 to 10:33 p.m.

June

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Wednesday, June 197:06 p.m.11:54 p.m.11:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Thursday, June 208:12 p.m.12:19 am11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Friday, June 219:15 p.m.12:50 am12:00 to 1:00 a.m.
Saturday, June 2210:12 p.m.1:49 am12:30 to 2:00 a.m.
Sunday, June 2311:00 p.m.2:50 am1:00 to 3:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 10:51 to 10:52 p.m.
advertisement
 

July

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Friday, July 197:59 p.m.11:34 p.m.11:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Saturday, July 208:52 p.m.12:35 am11:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Sunday, July 219:36 p.m.1:35 am12:00 to 2:00 a.m.
Monday, July 2210:13 p.m.2:34 am12:30 to 3:00 a.m.
Tuesday, July 2310:44 p.m.3:29 am1:00 to 4:00 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 10:34 to 10:39 p.m.

August

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Saturday, August 177:27 p.m.11:22 p.m.10:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Sunday, August 188:07 p.m.12:18 am10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Monday, August 198:42 p.m.1:15 am11:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Tuesday, August 209:12 p.m.2:09 am11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Wednesday, August 219:39 p.m.3:01 am12:00 to 3:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 9:52 to 9:59 p.m.

September

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Sunday, September 156:36 p.m.11:53 p.m.9:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Monday, September 167:08 p.m.12:18 am10:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Tuesday, September 177:37 p.m.12:46 am10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Wednesday, September 188:05 p.m.1:38 am11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Thursday, September 198:34 p.m.2:29 am11:30 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 9:03 to 9:10 p.m.
advertisement
 

October

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Tuesday, October 156:02 p.m.11:31 p.m.9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Wednesday, October 166:30 p.m.12:13 am9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Thursday, October 177:01 p.m.1:05 am10:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Friday, October 187:36 p.m.1:59 am10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Saturday, October 198:17 p.m.2:57 am11:00 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 8:20 to 8:25 p.m.

November

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Wednesday, November 133:56 p.m.10:42 p.m.7:30 pm to 11:30 pm
Thursday, November 144:28 p.m.11:37 p.m.8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Friday, November 155:06 p.m.12:09 am8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Saturday, November 165:52 p.m.12:36 am9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Sunday, November 176:47 p.m.1:38 am9:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 6:55 to 6:57 p.m.

December

DateMoonriseZenithBest Time to View
Friday, December 133:39 p.m.11:18 p.m.7:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Saturday, December 144:29 p.m.11:49 p.m.8:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Sunday, December 155:29 p.m.12:21 am8:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Monday, December 166:35 p.m.1:24 am9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Tuesday, December 177:44 p.m.2:24 am9:30 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
Astronomical Twilight Ends: 6:53 to 6:54 p.m.
advertisement
 

Getting to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park

I returned to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park a year after learning about the moonbow. I was staying at a cabin in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation about 45 minutes away. For months I had planned to see the moonbow – the time was finally approaching.

The park is hidden, but easy to find along KY Highway 90 – it’s only about a 20-minute drive from I-75. But it will feel like much longer on the winding, two-lane highway. It’s a scenic drive during daylight hours, but at night it feels like a tunnel on a carnival ride.

There is plenty of parking at the visitor center beside the river. But on the night of a moonbow, particularly if the conditions are favorable, the parking lot frequently fills up. If the parking lot is full, try parking at the picnic area across the road – but be careful walking across the road at night!

7351 KY Highway 90, Corbin, KY | 606-528-8412 | https://parks.ky.gov/corbin/parks/resort/cumberland-falls-state-resort-park

Insider Tip: Plan to arrive at the park about 3 hours before the Zenith Time – see the chart above – to guarantee a parking space. Looking for something to do while waiting for the moonbow? Bring a folding chair and walk about ten minutes on the Moonbow Trail to a beach area beside the river.

advertisement
 

Best Place to See the Cumberland Falls Moonbow

After finding parking, head toward the visitor center. There is no admission fee for seeing the moonbow, but you’ll need to pass through the visitor center complex to reach the waterfall.

The best place to see the Cumberland Falls moonbow is the Upper Overlook. It’s less than a five-minute walk along a paved path from the visitor center. The overlook is situated at the top of the waterfall just feet from the churning water. Metal rails cemented into the exposed rocks keeps people a safe distance away from the turbulent water.

From this overlook, you’ll see the full spectacle of the moonbow.

The appropriately named Moonbow Trail descends a flight of concrete stairs, leading to a hidden Lower Overlook. Although this was my favorite place to view the waterfall by daylight, it was not a good place to see the moonbow.

Travel Guide to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Learn about the best places, alternate locations, and how to plan a trip to see the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Tips for a Fantastic Experience

Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your trip to witness the Cumberland Falls Moonbow.

  • Arrive early. You won’t be able to see the best effect of the moonbow until about an hour or two after sunset, but I would still recommend arriving early to snag a parking spot.
  • Don’t wait until the last day. There is a five-day window each month to see the moonbow. Try going a day or two before the full moon, rather than waiting until a day or two after.
  • Bring a flashlight or headlamp. For obvious reasons there are no street lamps or lighting around the Upper Overlook. But be careful not to shine the line in anyone’s face or toward any cameras.
  • Bring a chair, snacks, maybe a blanket, and get comfortable.
  • For the best experience book a couple of nights at DuPont Lodge in the park. It’s just a 0.5-mile hike from the lodge to the visitor center parking lot along the Cumberland Falls Trail.

Photography Tips for Capturing the Moonbow

A mirrorless or bridge camera or a smartphone with the ability to manually control the settings is the best kind of camera for capturing photos of the moonbow. But although smartphone cameras have come a long way over just the past few years, most smartphone still cannot capture a great photo of the nighttime event.

Here are some tips on setting up a camera or smartphone to capture photos of the moonbow:

Digital Camera

  • Set the camera on a sturdy tripod
  • Use a remote shutter release or smartphone app to trigger the camera
  • Set the ISO to 800-1600
  • Set the aperture to f/5.6, f/4, or f/2.8
  • Start with an exposure of 30 seconds. If the photo is too dark or bright, adjust the exposure time – but do not change the other settings

Smartphone Camera

  • Turn off the camera flash
  • Attach the smartphone to a sturdy tripod
  • Use an app like Camera+
  • If possible, set the app to Shutter Priority mode
  • Lock the focus in the camera app
  • Start with the longest exposure possible for the smartphone
  • Set a selfie timer to capture the photos
advertisement
 

Where to Stay

The obvious choice would be to stay at the state park while viewing the Moonbow, but if you want a more comfortable hotel you’ll have to travel back to Corbin, Kentucky. It will be an easy drive, but it will also be late.

Quality Suites is a moderately comfortable budget-friendly hotel located along I-75. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and complimentary breakfast. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or a single king bed.

Red Roof Inn & Suites is an excellent choice for place to stay. Located along I-75, the hotel features interior access rooms and an outdoor swimming pool. Rooms feature renovated faux hardwood floors and comfortable furnishings.

The Cumberland Falls State Resort Park Lodge features a dozen types of rooms ranging from a single bed to a two-bedroom suite in a cottage. The rooms feature comfortable furnishings, free on-site parking, and a range of amenities.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park includes two campgrounds with a total of 50 campsites. 21 campsites have electric hookups while water is available for all the sites. The two campgrounds are located along the river with spectacular views.

Corbin/Laurel Lake KOA would be a great place to spend a few nights. The property features large RV sites, tent sites, and tiny home rentals. You’ll enjoy the nights with a hiking trail to the lake and outdoor swimming pool.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes moonbows?

Moonbows are created when moonlight from a full moon is reflected in water droplets above a waterfall.

Are moonbows rare?

Yes and no. Moonbows can happen every month when there is a full moon. However, to see a moonbow you need a cloudless night and lots of water droplets in the air.

Where can you find a moonbow?

Moonbows can appear anywhere a powerful waterfall has clear sky overhead. Some of the most popular places for a moonbow in the United States is Niagara Falls, Yosemite Falls, and Cumberland Falls. Victoria Falls in Africa is one of the best places to see a moonbow in the world.

What does a moonbow look like?

A moonbow looks like a faint rainbow with the full spectrum of color reflected in water droplets.

What time can you see a moonbow?

You can see moonbows two days before and after a full moon each month. However, the spring months are the best time of year to see the moonbow.

About the Author

31 Responses

  1. Jason,
    I am so excited that I came across your article. A group of 5 of us planned a trip to see the February 2024 Moonbow. Fingers crossed for a clear night. I want to extend my gratitude to you for putting together & sharing such a fantastic resource. I hope to have a great experience using all the tips and comments on this page.

    1. And I am so excited you found this useful! I’ve kept this updated every year since my first experience. I try my best to get the times accurate. I hope you have a great time!

  2. This is a very informative article that told us everything we needed to know to see the moonbow. We planned to camp at Cumberland Falls during the full moon, but your details helped us a lot. We were able to get wonderful photos with just the night setting on our iPhones. We went three nights. The first night had wispy clouds so the bow came and went; the second night was crystal clear so the moonbow was much brighter and extended farther, and the third night, which was actually the full moon, was a little cloudy again. So thank you for an excellent article that really helped us prepare for maximum enjoyment.

    1. We’re y’all able to walk from the campground?
      We are leaving for the Falls on Monday so I’m doing all the research and planning now!

      1. I’ll reply for everyone else! You cannot walk to the Falls area from here (Ridgeline Campground) or you can but it’s dark and winedy roads. Best to drive. We drove down about 845 last night. About 150-200 people easy by about 9. Parking was pretty full but I couldn’t tell if people were having to walk or anything. Well worth being up. We took chairs and blankets. Left just before 11 back for campground. Bows start showing up a little at a time. Full bow last night by 1045! So beautiful!!!

        1. Haha. Thank you so much for answering your own question for everyone else to see! Do you mind if I use this comment in the text of the article? It would be nice to have a summary from someone who read the article! And I’m really glad you got to see it last night.

  3. When you say the upper overlook do you mean right at the falls? We have gone down lots of stairs & path to be able to see the falls. Thinking it was better view thinking it was upper. Please help. We have full moon tonight, June 14, 2022. Last night we saw moon bow at 12:05 am. Not great even tho clear sky – could see stars. Chart said 10-12 was prime time. Thanks

    1. Emily, the upper overlook is directly beside the top of the falls. It’s the best place to see the moonbow. For some reason, the overlook at the base of the falls doesn’t have a good view of the moonbow at all – it has something to do with the angle of the moonlight. I hope you had a chance to see it last night!

  4. The times posted here are way off. I went to see the moonbow on March 17, 2022. The moonlight didn’t hit the spray until almost 1 AM. I had to wait 3 hours. I heard the lodge saud prime time that night was 1:00 – 3:00 AM. Please update your schedule.
    That said, it was still fun to see. I could only see a white bow but that was cool too!

    1. Eric, I am very sorry. I don’t know how my numbers were so far off. Interestingly, the viewing times in the winter and autumn months were accurate, but the closer to the middle of the year the further off the time schedule. I’m sure there is a correlation there, but I can’t see it haha. I have corrected all the times throughout the year so this won’t happen again.

  5. Thank you so much. Your information was most helpful! It hit all the points we needed to make it a wonderful event. I would like to add: The parking lot, restrooms and top part of the path are very well lite. Jason’s comment about bringing a flashlight is spot on as there is a path you follow for 1-2 minutes that is not lite up (for optimal viewing purposes). After speaking to several locals and witnessing the event ourselves- a moonbow can last for a few hours if it is the correct night for viewing and one should be able to see it without the use of a camera (although a camera will enhance brightness and colors). These points seemed to get lost on most of us! A quick shout out to Adriana and her mom from Tyler, TX for air dropping your photos to us. Enjoy worth the trip. Thank you Jason

  6. Hi Jason, I am planning to go the Cumberland fall on this Friday that is 08/20/21 but the weather is not very good, it is thunderstorms and chances of rain and cloudy. I don’t know what to do now…. can you suggest me something
    Thanks

  7. This is awesome! I am going down there 4th of July week ,and of course I won’t get to witness the great Moonbow , Thank you for this it was a wonderful read!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m actually returning to the park this year so I can see the Moonbow again – I can’t wait to see it and the waterfall again!

  8. Saw it last night and was able to play with the settings on my iPhone xsmax and get pictures of it. It was pretty packed there and cold but everyone was friendly. We were airdropping pictures to each other and sharing how to change settings. It was a great time and I enjoyed it! Only hot chocolate was missing!

    1. Haha this sounds so awesome! It’s been a few years since I saw this and I’m sure my iPhone 11 could probably capture pretty good photos now. I’m glad you had a good time seeing it!

        1. Traci, even with the newer iPhone it will be quite difficult to capture a good photo. You’ll need a steady place to set the phone like the stone wall at the edge of the scenic overlook. Use an app like Camera+ so you can capture long exposures. Capture the longest exposure possible – usually around 1 second on the new iPhones.

  9. Hi Jason! Thank you for the article! I have plans to stay at the park and hopefully see the moonbow over Halloween weekend this year. Would you be willing to share what lens, focal length, and aperture you used?

    Also, is the “upper observation” area/deck where most people are funneled to, or is this a place to seek out away from the main herd of people? 🙂 Thank you!

    1. I don’t mind sharing at all! I used my 12-24mm f/4 wide angle lens set to 12mm, f/8 aperture, and a 30-second exposure. This will give you a good starting point, but it also depends on how clear the sky is and even how close the moon is to the Earth. Yes, this is the upper observation deck at the top of the waterfall. It’s the only place to see the moonbow. I tried from below, but saw nothing whatsoever. Get there early, maybe an hour early, and set up your camera on a tripod to “stake” your location before the people arrive.

  10. I took my daughter last summer and we saw it clearly! It was like the ghost of a rainbow. Make sure to look for it from the top of the waterfall and not the bottom. I made that mistake the first night. Then my daughter spotted it for me!

    1. I tried it from both! I started at the upper overlook because the park ranger told me that was the spot to go. But I went back the second night and wanted to try something different, so I went to the lower overlook. Bleh! I’m so glad you two had a chance to see it!

  11. My grandfather was the original owner of the falls. And, much of our people still live here. After the civil war my grandfather was dooped into believing there was silver under the falls. He then sought out investors from all over the U.S. and sadly after found there were no treasures per say under the falls. He spent nearly the rest of his life paying the money back to the investors. After his death I am told that grandma left the falls and travelled, to eventually open a park now known as “Coney Island” it has been said that apparitions dressed in period clothing of that time appear across the water standing on the other side. I believe them to be my Great Great grandfather and grandmother.
    Deborah Perry Randall-

  12. The KFC in Corbin is the original one – Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum. 🙂 Thank you for the info on the moonbow. We are going in Nov or December.

  13. Thanks for highlighting my hometowns claim to fame. I was fortunate enough to see some pale color with my eyes in the wee am of my 50th birthday. There was a camera that caught it in its glory at the same time. No alcohol needed. Visit KFC for our other claim if you come back to Corbin,KY

    1. The KFC is an icon of Corbin?! Or do you just mean the food chain in general haha? I am so glad you were able to catch a glimpse of this amazing natural sight!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
Search
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Email

Share this Article

Did you enjoy reading this article? If so, then share it with your friends. Sharing is caring, after all.