Lake Cumberland at Sunset (Photo from Kentuckytourism.com)
By Marty Rosen
Special to KyForward
Some folks come to Somerset and Pulaski County in Kentucky because the sparkling waters of Lake Cumberland are known as the “Houseboat Capital of the World” – a place where friends and family can fish, play and find cozy anchorages under sunny (or starry) skies.
And it’s worth noting that recent repairs to the Wolf Creek Dam that impounds the lake raised its levels this year, creating more water and much more excitement for tubing, skiing or just camping on the shore.
Some are lured here by the wild hydraulics and gorgeous scenery of the Lower Rockcastle and Big South Fork Rivers. Some want to visit the magnificent sandstone bridge – 50 feet high and 100 feet across – at nearby Natural Arch Scenic Area. Some find Somerset is a convenient home base for exploring the woods, waters and trails of Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Even if you’re not inclined to hike the Big South Fork, you can ride the rails of the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, which carries you through the country and back in time to Stearns, Kentucky, where you can get up close and personal with Kentucky’s mining, logging and railway roots.
And still others come because this part of South-Central Kentucky has grown into a vibrant, hospitable center of arts, crafts, culture and shopping with thriving galleries and abundant musical opportunities.
Summer time, fun time
SomerSplash water park (Photo from Kentuckytourism.com)
When visiting during the summer months, you’ll want to dip in the area’s cooling waters during a time when the region buzzes with energy. It’s when places like SomerSplash – the city’s 30-acre water park complete with slides, a wave pool and adjoining skateboard park – take on the feel of an old-fashioned resort town. The water park offers visitors a fun alternative to the magnificent waters of Lake Cumberland.
And it’s when Somerset’s annual Master Musicians Festival – an annual mid-July event since 1994 – draws crowds from all over the country to hear an eclectic list of legendary rootsy artists like Odetta, Pinetop Perkins, Vassar Clemens, Richie Havens and the legendary Willie Nelson – right alongside regional performers who reflect Kentucky’s rich and varied musical traditions.
If you happen to be visiting on the fourth Saturday of the month (not only in summer, but April-October) be sure to take in the Somernites Cruise car show in downtown Somerset, fun-filled weekends devoted to vintage cars, live music and the sort of community spirit that hearkens back to an earlier time. With a Rock and Roll Block Party on Friday and then the car show/Cruise on Saturday, there’s nothing quite like it!
Somernites Cruise (Photo from Kentuckytourism.com)
But Somerset and Pulaski County are also spectacular in fall, when the area’s hills, gorges and plateaus blaze with color. And for me – and so many others who love this part of Kentucky – the still, cold winter months always hold a special glory. It’s then when the forested landscape, its wildlife and sharp-edged contours can be seen in snow-covered clarity.
No matter which direction you’re coming from, every approach to centrally located Somerset offers a scenic look at Pulaski County. The main north-south route, U.S. 27, runs from Ohio through Lexington then on down to Tennessee. Travelers along I-65 will find that east on the Louis B. Nunn Parkway, offers quick passage to Somerset. And to the east, Kentucky Highway 80 – which connects to London, Kentucky, I-75 and beyond – spans the gorgeous Daniel Boone National Forest.
Stay more, play more
There are lots of ways to get around these parts – by kayak, boat, bike, foot and car – and exploring the area is just one of many reasons to come. But there are plenty of places to settle into as well.
Just a few minutes from Somerset, on the shore of Lake Cumberland, Lee’s Ford Resort offers rustic cottages and casual-upscale dining at the Harbor Restaurant & Tavern (featured in Southern Living), where you can feast on ribs, pork chops and blackened grouper while gazing at the lake. Boaters won’t miss out either, since the restaurant delivers to marina slips and cabins. (How cool is that?)
Haney’s Farm Store (Photo from Kentuckytourism.com)
If it’s a campsite you crave, they’re abundant in Pulaski County. You’ll find lakeside spaces for RVs at Shoreline RV Park, Waitsboro Recreation Area, Lake Cumberland RV Park and others. There are nearly a hundred sites with utility hookups, showers and full amenities at General Burnside Island State Park, home to one of the state’s most beautiful golf courses. There are also primitive campsites at Bee Rock, east of Somerset on the banks of the Rockcastle River – the take-out point for audacious paddlers who’ve tackled the frothy waters upstream.
And all around the region you’ll find a mix of amenities and locations that will satisfy every taste. Somerset itself is blessed with an abundance of locally-owned and national hotels and motels at price points that give visitors plenty of choices.
Visit historical sites like Mill Springs Battlefield Museum/Visitor Center and National Cemetery, where Union troops achieved the first major victory in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Browse arts and crafts or listen to the music of local and regional artisans at the Carnegie Community Arts Center in downtown Somerset. Take a walking tour of historic downtown Somerset to get a sense of how time and history have shaped this 200-year-old town.
Come wine and dine
No matter where you’re staying, you’ll want to visit the tasting rooms at Sinking Valley Winery (where the wines are aged in hand-crafted barrels produced in adjoining Laurel County) and Cedar Creek Vineyards located in a scenic mountain setting.
And, of course, you’ll eat well! With luck, you’ll haul in a mess of fish on your own, but area restaurants stand ready to serve everything from grits, biscuits and gravy to fried chicken, sushi and steak with potatoes.
Whether you’re shopping for produce from the area’s rich agricultural bounty or antiques and hard-to-find knickknacks, local farm markets, unique antique shops/malls and vast flea markets are great places to meet the locals and get personal advice about the items and places they treasure.
Ready to plan your next great getaway? Call 800-642-6287 or visit www.lakecumberlandtourism.com for comprehensive information and advice on activities, attractions, lodging, events, shopping and dining throughout the region. Your dream vacation awaits on the shores of Lake Cumberland!
Click here for information about other attractions in the Lake Cumberland/Somerset area.
Marty Rosen writes for the Kentucky Department of Travel website, KentuckyTourism.com, where this story first appeared.