DescriptionAt the convergence of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park covers 24,000 acres of heavily forested, rugged mountains honoring the historic pass.
The gap provides a natural doorway through the mountains. It was first used by migratory animals as a seasonal thoroughfare, then by Native Americans, whose footpaths followed buffalo and deer trails. The westward movement of settlers seemed barred by the Allegheny ridge until April 1750, when Dr. Thomas Walker discovered the gap while seeking the fabled land to the west, the “Kentucke” of Native American lore.
Daniel Boone passed through with a hunting party in 1769, and in 1775 he blazed the Wilderness Road. From 1775 to 1796 the gap could only be used by those on foot or horseback, and although no wagon passed over it during this period, more than 200,000 people made their way through the gap into Kentucky and beyond.
A strategic point during the Civil War, Cumberland Gap changed hands several times without any major battles. Some of the earthwork fortifications remain.
In the 1990s, the 4,600-foot-long Cumberland Gap Highway Tunnel was built; the project also included rerouting US 25E through the tunnel and the addition of new bridges, highway interchanges and parking areas. Although the final cost of this joint effort led by the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration was a staggering $265 million, the construction plan alleviated traffic problems and improved motorist safety while simultaneously restoring the historic appearance of the Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road.
General InformationAt an elevation of 2,440 feet, Pinnacle Overlook provides a view into the gap as well as views of the mountain range and parts of three states. It is accessible via a 4-mile paved road from the visitor center. No trailers or vehicles more than 20 feet long are allowed. Shuttle service may be arranged for a small fee when staff is available; reservations are required.
Still a wild area, the park offers approximately 85 miles of hiking trails ranging from relatively easy nature trails to those requiring an overnight trek. Many park features, including Sand Cave, a multicolored sandstone overhang, and White Rocks, a prominent sandstone outcropping, can be reached only by trail. Ridge Trail, a 19-mile-long route offering panoramas of the valley, approaches five primitive campsites, all accessible by foot. The Wilderness Road Campground has 160 campsites, 41 of which have hookups.
Hensley Settlement is a reconstruction of a community that was occupied 1903-51. Reminiscent of a time much earlier than that from which it actually dates, Hensley seems like a community of the late 1700s or early 1800s. The settlement sits atop a mountain in the eastern end of the park. With more than 70 acres of land under cultivation, it has several reconstructed log houses, barns and outbuildings. The site can be reached by an all-day hike or, from mid-May through Oct. 31, via a guided tour that departs the park's visitor center daily. Building interiors may be seen during the 3.5- to 4-hour trip, which includes shuttle transportation to and from the settlement. The cost is $10; $5 (ages 0-12 and senior citizens with an Interagency Senior Pass). Phone (606) 248-2817, ext. 1075, for the shuttle tour schedule; reservations are recommended.
It is not advisable to hike alone; overnight camping requires a permit. Trail guides and other information can be obtained at the visitor center. The visitor center also contains a museum, which chronicles the rich history of the gap. Throughout the year ranger-led programs suitable for the entire family introduce visitors to the historical, cultural and natural aspects of the park; phone for a schedule of events.
The park is open daily. Some parking areas close before dusk. The visitor center at the park entrance is open daily 8-5, Memorial Day-Labor Day; 9-4, rest of year; closed Christmas.
ADMISSIONADMISSION to the park is free.
PETSPETS must be restricted at all times, either in vehicles or by leash, and are not allowed in public buildings.
ADDRESSADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, 91 Bartlett Park Rd., Middlesboro, KY 40965; phone (606) 248-2817.
Points of Interest
Things to SeeGap Cave
GEM DescriptionRetrace Daniel Boone's historic steps as you take in the sweeping vistas of the Allegheny mountain range.