The Cumberland River is 687 miles long. It starts in eastern Kentucky on the Cumberland Plateau and flows through northern Tennessee, then curves into western Kentucky. It drains into the Ohio River at Smithland, Kentucky. A large section of the river is navigable because of a number of locks and dams.
Dams at various locations of the Cumberland River have created large reservoirs for recreation such as Lake Barkley in western Kentucky and Lake Cumberland (the deepest lake in the Tennessee and Cumberland river valleys) in eastern Kentucky and the Dale Hollow Reservoir in middle Tennessee.
Several American Civil War battles occurred near the Cumberland River, including the battle for Fort Donelson.
Before European settlers came into the area of the river, it was known by the locals as the Warioto and the Shawanon.