by Dennis Hoover

In season or out, Lake Cumberland is Kentucky's "Lake for All Seasons".

During the Christmas season, kids carol on Christmas Island as its lights draw visitors from all over Kentucky to the state's only island state park. Come spring it's time for fishing tournaments. June brings the Master Musician's Festival with an eclectic mix of classical, blues, bluegrass, folk and jazz spread over four days. You can shop the Arts & Crafts fair and check out the exhibits too. Summer finds a lively performing arts series and Somerfest's October action fills the town. 

Certainly summer has its fans and is the most popular season. The lake livens with watercraft of all sorts and the best sites to moor houseboats along the lake's 1200 mile shore go to early risers. Hikers head east into Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) with its Cumberland Falls and Natural Arch. Do try to plan trips for the full moon. This may not help your fishing, but you can watch the second largest falls in the East as the Cumberland River drops over a sheer ledge. Time your visit for after dark when the moon forms its own "moonbows" -- one of only two such spots in the world.

DBNF's Yahoo Falls, the tallest in Kentucky, is worth a look, and, if you want to paddle up into the mist at the base of Cumberland Falls you can rent canoes or whitewater rafts. The Big South Fork River has the friskiest rapids in the area. Spring waters peak and gradually drop to "inner tube" mode on most rivers.

The nearby Big South Fork Scenic Railway to the Blue Heron Mining Company offers more sedentary views of its namesake river. Al fresco open cars clank and squeak over trestles and along the river from April to October. You can also check the many DBNF trails on foot or horseback or, drive over to Mill Springs, where a working grist mill offers seasonal demonstrations that haven't quite convinced me that grits isn't pet food.

Fortunately, you've other good options. Two regional dishes worth a try are plates of fresh Lake Cumberland catfish and the Kentucky Hot Brown; an open face turkey and ham sandwich topped with a cheese sauce. Gabriel's and the Dupont Lodge at Cumberland Falls offer the latter. Try extra lemon on the former. These, like huge glasses of iced tea refilled for the asking, are gastronomic glories of the South.

While Somerset and Burnside area restaurants offer solid food from local favorites like biscuits and gravy through some outstanding ham and rib dishes, we find picnics suit lunch most of the year. You can buy the makings in Somerset at the mall or shopping centers -- local apples and cider from orchards are fall treats not to miss. Then it's time to head for the lake.

The nearest waterfront, Pulaski County Park, has all sorts of campsites and a number of shelters which provide both welcome shade from hot summer sun and shelter from summer showers. However, we like General Burnside Island State Park best as there's a seasonal pool, a golf course and a nice boat ramp. If you want to escape the crowds, head over to Bee Rock and Little Lick's primitive camping near the Rockcastle River. Take care if you fish the latter, it's rough country and help is quite a ways away.

Fall means golden leaves, superior fishing and the chance to enjoy the lake without summer tourists. Hunters seek turkey, deer and gamebirds in the hills, and farm harvests peak. It's a favorite time to visit if you bring along a sweater and a coat in case of storms. Locals traditionally haul or close their houseboats just after Thanksgiving, but you can houseboat any time that the lake's not frozen, as happens only once every decade or so.

Winter offers a quiet time. A chance to have a B&B or a favorite fishing cove to yourself. Travelers who visit during off season get a chance to meet the locals when the locals have time to spend. In today's harried world when vacations sometimes seem an excuse to jam too much activity into too little time, winter can let you slow down. We have spent both Christmas and Thanksgiving on houseboats and in resorts, and it's an interesting alternative for the usually home-bound!

Spring means flowers, panfish in the shallows and stripers in the rivers. Locals put their boats back into the water. It's a time to hike before the trails turn dusty and the grass browns. Spring also means seasonal discounts and high water runs down rivers at their best.

While seasonal offerings delight, it's a shame not spend a few hours with the area's history. Pulaski (named after a general on Washington's staff during the Revolutionary War) County's history becomes alive as you follow Steps Into the Past, a booklet from the Visitor's Center or Somerset Public Library that concentrates on the period from the start of the Civil War to the damming of the lake in 1948. The small, but good quality, selection of historic homes in Somerset do put their flowered skirts on in late spring and early summer.

So, it's clear that you can make a case that Lake Cumberland's a "lake for all seasons."