Turning Leaves and History Await the Adventurous at Cumberland Gap
By Burt Carey
Fall colors don’t get any prettier and history doesn’t get any richer than what you can find at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park this fall.
Situated where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee come together, Cumberland Gap is a pass in the Appalachian Mountains whose use dates back to crossings by Native Americans, early settlers and soldiers during the Civil War. Today this national park sits on 24,000 acres, and there’s plenty of activity for those looking to fill a getaway weekend.
First, you’ll want to get into the mood. The Tennessee Historical Society’s “Cumberland Gap National Historical Park,” a history of the park by William W. Luckett, can be read here.
And now you’re ready to take in Cumberland Gap. The Pinnacle Overlook provides a panoramic view of all three states while overlooking the Gap. Over the next few weeks, you’ll definitely want to snap photos from up here. The scenery is spectacular.
This is the park where you’ll want to strike out on a day hike or two. The park offers 85 miles of hiking trails.
If you want to actually go through Cumberland Gap, you’ll need to get onto the Wilderness Road Trail. It can be accessed in a variety of places within the park.
Park Ranger Carol Borneman says hikers looking for a trail and some history will particularly enjoy a three-mile jaunt that goes where Daniel Boone walked more than 150 years ago. Begin at the Thomas Walker parking area, near the intersection of the Pinnacle and Sugar Run roads, and follow the Object Lesson Road to its intersection with the Wilderness Road Trail.
“Along the way, you’ll be immersed in a sweet grove of hemlocks,” Borneman said. “Once on the Wilderness Road Trail, it’s another 0.2 miles to the historic Gap itself. The view into Kentucky from the Gap is spectacular in the fall as the mustards of the hickories, the maroons of the sour gum and the orange of the maples paint the mountainsides.”
A side trip of 0.6 miles along the Tri-State Trail will take you to Tri-State Peak. Here you can stand in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Head back to the Gap and the Wilderness Road Trail, and at the Object Lesson Road Trail/Wilderness Road Trail intersection, continue on the Wilderness Road Trail back to the Thomas Walker parking area. The Wilderness Road Trail winds around the side of the mountain through immense tulip poplars and oaks.
Oh, and watch for wild turkeys that frequent the area.
Some of Cumberland Gap’s trails are very strenuous and go through steep terrain. Others are easy trails with no elevation gain. All of the trails are well marked and mapped. You can download a map of its hiking trails here.
The park visitor center opens daily from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The visitor center houses a museum, book sales, handmade crafts from the region, and an auditorium.
The park itself is open daily. It has a limited number of camping sites with electric hookups that are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. There are plenty of campsites for those who do not require electric hookups.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is closest to Middlesboro, Ky and Cumberland Gap, Tenn., both of which also have lodging. The park is at 91 Bartlett Park Road, Middlesboro, Ky., 40965. Need more information? Call the park at (606)248-2817 or go online.