Running through Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, Broke Leg Falls consists of several streams and waterfalls, with the main attraction cascading 60 feet into a picturesque canyon. A short, family-friendly trail leads visitors through the scenic surroundings to come face to face with the falls and their encompassing splendor; however, one freak weather event destroyed much of what this place once was, as evidenced by the terrain damage and tree debris strewn around the site that yet remains beautiful in a dark, eerie way. In spite of the F-3 tornado that wreaked havoc on the area, Broke Leg Falls is still one of Kentucky's most magnificent places to visit and never fails to charm its nature-loving visitors, as does the site and its surrounding area's intriguing history that played a solid part in America's past.
The History Of Broke Leg Falls
Broke Leg Falls in Kentucky is one of the state's oldest tourist attractions found just a short 20-minute drive north of Red River Gorge. It's been a popular stop for most of a century; boasting an illustrious history as a weekend cabin retreat, an adult dance hall, and a failed state park makes it worthy of a visit, especially for those interested in mid-twentieth century America.
Located on Kentucky Highway 460 near the small town of Wellington, early proprietors of the place clocked its natural beauty and decided to capitalize on its allure by commercializing the destination around the turn of the century.
In a time when automobile travel gained traction, and the road trip craze of Route 66 garnered a nationwide audience, bringing economic prosperity to this rural area became an appealing and viable option, with almost every possible idea imaginable deployed to attract visitors to Menifee County.
In 1958, Broke Leg Falls was decreed an official Kentucky State Park, bringing touristic and thus economic success as it attracted hordes of visitors. This refreshing period of popularity brought much-needed economic activity to the area - but that lively financial success wasn't to last. Indeed, Highway 460 was one of the major lifelines between Lexington and the numerous southeastern counties of Appalachia, which extended all the way to West Virginia.
With the ever-changing Broke Leg Falls landowners, the business tactics they deployed to persuade the public to stop and pay their 10-cent fee to see the falls also adapted - techniques that saw them do well, albeit for a short time.
Only five years after the state park's unveiling, the newly constructed Mountain Parkway Toll Road was inaugurated, effectively rendering Highway 460 useless and with it redirected traffic. As traffic flow reduced, park attendance died down, which led to the state abandoning the site and selling it again not too soon after.
In the 1980s, the land was handed to private owners, after which it remained virtually abandoned for fifty years, sitting idle right up until 2002, when Menifee County repurchased the property and began undertaking its maintenance.
The county then launched a ten-year project to restore the falls, incorporating the construction of a new gazebo, hiking trails, and a picnic area to make the site an attraction worthy of tourists' attention once again - and that's exactly what the campaign's teams accomplished. However, sadly, their labors and resulting success were not meant to be.
After the park and its falls were finally redeveloped for public enjoyment and things appeared to take a turn for the better, the site was sadly hit by an EF-3 tornado only six months after the reopening.
The Broke Leg Falls tornado barreled through the park, buffeting the scenery and altering it dramatically. So much work and finances had gone into the restoration and reopening of the park, meaning the natural disaster was particularly devastating to the local communities; all the love and effort gone into its revitalization felt like it was for nothing, as much of it was obliterated in a matter of minutes.
In the aftermath of the tornado's destruction, the county began to restore the site yet again in an earnest effort to clean it back up to its former glory, removing the fallen logs and tree stumps left in the wild wind's wake.
However, officials recognized that the heavy machinery employed as part of the cleanup initiatives was causing more harm than good; the delicate ecology of the gorge and the ecosystems within the park weren't able to withstand the hefty works, which became burdensome to the natural structures and put stress on the wildlife.
As a result, the county decided to leave the area be, instead of letting nature take its course and repair itself.
The park's officials chose to leave debris to let nature do what it does best, which has thus left the scars reminiscent of that fateful natural event for all to behold.
Though the site was left in the trusted hands of Mother Nature, the stairs and bridge at the falls were rebuilt several years after the tornado swept through the park, totaling over $38,000 in costs.
Even with some reconstruction efforts, the falls and most of their trails are still blocked, granting an enchanting yet creepy realm prime for exploration - some of which can be challenging to access, such as the abandoned walking bridge set over the creek.
Still, the main trail offers a wonderful easy hiking opportunity to leisurely saunterers who wish to soak up the scenery and the history of the park; although tragedy struck this place, it's a stunning off-the-beaten-path hidden gem in Kentucky, once that's seldom visited, gentle to explore, and beautiful to behold.
All that remains is this last burning question: how did Broke Leg Falls get its name? The local folklore tells of an ox that was gored and broke its leg, after which it was swiftly carried by the stream's water over the cliff and into the gorge below.
Whether or not the tale is true, it's a spectacular spot on the map to discover - one that's perfect for US history appreciators, nature enthusiasts, wildlife spotters, and those who adore off-the-radar crowd-free attractions that most tourists seem to miss.
How To Get To Broke Leg Falls
Getting to Broke Leg Falls is very easy; it's posted on most map applications, including Google Maps, which is easy to follow. The waterfalls are found directly off Kentucky Highway 460 near Wellington, KY 40387.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Broke Leg Falls?
The Broke Leg Falls trail is open year-round to visitors and is always beautiful to hike, no matter the season. That said, it's not recommended to go during a dry spell, as the creek is very small, and the waterfall can run dry when rain has been scarce.
Are Dogs Allowed At Broke Leg Falls?
Dogs are permitted on the Broke Leg Falls hike, but they must be kept on a leash. Remember to bring a portable pet bowl and a water bottle for your four-legged friend in the summer; it can get rather hot, and your pet will need plenty to drink in the heat!
What To See At Broke Leg Falls
At only half a kilometer, this pretty yet simple out-and-back trail at Broke Leg Falls near Wellington, Kentucky, takes around seven minutes to complete at a brisk pace. Short and sweet, the walking route takes visitors down a few sets of concrete steps to view the waterfall in all its remaining majesty, which is fed by its namesake, Broke Leg Creek.
Plunging 60 feet into a wooded gorge just outside the Appalachian town of Frenchburg, the falls also attract daring explorers curious enough to descend into the huge cavernous rock shelter hidden behind them, through which people can walk.
A platform under the bottom of the steps is grants a more serene view of the falls from a unique angle and is a sublime space to soak up the solitude on a quiet day; however, it does take a bit of effort to access.
Also, an unofficial path continues behind the falls, while another one to the left of the nearby parking lot opens up a number of smaller cascades presenting access to the swallow water.
Of course, there are the waterfalls, the lush trees, and the eerie canyon to view and explore here, all featuring visible signs of the powerful tornado that pummeled the area - but this spot is also a popular trail for wildlife observing and birdwatching, thus bringing a camera and a pair of binoculars for the trail is never a bad choice.
Last but not least, of all the things not to forget when heading out for a long walk, trail-goers should bring comfortable footwear when hiking Broke Leg Falls; it may be a short jaunt; however, all it takes is a pair of ill-fitting, inappropriate shoes to ruin the beauty, serenity, and enjoyment of this peaceful place in Kentucky state.