Location: Cumberland Gap, Tennessee
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park covers over 20,000 acres that runs along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from the gap to the northeast including parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. Most of the park consists of hiking trails, with only a short 4 mile drive from the Gap itself to the summit in the southwest corner of the Park that is accessible by car. The Visitor Center is located just past the tunnel that takes US Highway 25E under the Gap, on the Kentucky side. From the Visitor Center the drive has parking areas for hikes up to the Cumberland Gap along either the roadbed of the Object Lesson Road or part of the Wilderness Trail, a short hike up to one of the Civil War gun emplacements used by both the North and South to control the Gap, and finally at the summit with constructed overlooks from the heights above the Gap. The history of the Cumberland Gap begins with the Warriors’ Path used by the Cherokee Indians to access the rich hunting grounds in Kentucky. The gap was named for Prince William, Duke of Cumberland by the explorer Thomas Walker who discovered the gap in 1750 by following the Warriors’ Path. However, Walker turned north from the gap instead of continuing west and failed to find the path out of the mountains into the bluegrass area of Kentucky. After years of hunting in and around the Cumberland Gap, Daniel Boone was hired by Judge Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company to blaze a trail to the Kentucky River, providing access through the gap to over 20 million acres of land the Transylvania Company had purchased from the Cherokee Indians in the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals in 1775. This trail became known as the Wilderness Trail and by 1800 it is estimated that 75% of the 400,000 settlers that had migrated west used the Cumberland Gap, which by this time had been widen to a wagon trail. During the Civil War, the Cumberland Gap was strategically located as a gateway from the border state of Kentucky to eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia and the vital railroad between Virginia and Tennessee. While no major battles were fought in the Cumberland Gap, it did change hands multiple times during the war. Following the Civil War, the Cumberland Gap remained a major access route to the west with numerous improvements to the roads. The last major improvement was the construction of an Object Lesson Road through the Gap in the early 1900s to demonstrate the best road construction technologies of the time. US Highway 25E went overland through the gap until the Cumberland Gap Tunnel was completed in 1996 allowing the original trails to be restored.
1) The Visitor Center was one of the bests I have seen in its architecture and layout. The museum itself was not the great, but it gives a brief history of the Gap. The film highlighting Daniel Boone was very well done and is worth seeing.
2) The hike up to the Cumberland Gap along the old road bed for the Object Lesson Road was neat. You can certainly tell you are on an old road bed with stone culverts and drainage turn-outs.
We choose to hike back along the Wilderness Trail, which was longer and narrower. You could still see the erosion that had occurred over the many years it was used as a wagon trail.
3) Although they are called “forts” the gun emplacement from the Civil War that you can access from the road is surprisingly small. I don’t suppose it needed to be any larger than a flat spot for 2-4 cannons. The view of the Gap from their was worthwhile though.
4) The views from the summit are spectacular!! At one point you can stand on the Tennessee-Kentucky line and there are great views of both states.
5) We did not take advantage of any of the hiking trails that make up most of the park and I understand there is a cave that is part of the park as well. We spent a very enjoyable morning and early afternoon in the Park and would recommend it to any outdoor or historian types.