Cumberland Gap National Historical Park encompasses 24,000 acres straddling the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia and is one of my favorite parks to visit. The Park’s official dedication on July 4, 1959 was preceded by Vice President Richard Nixon’s visit and commemoration one day earlier. Since then numerous guests have toured, hiked, and picnicked through the grounds. Myself on more than one occasion.
Cumberland Gap NHP offers many incentives for the casual or the seasoned visitor. There are 85 miles of trails through stunning mountain scenery to appeal to hikers of all types. Backcountry camping is permitted for those choosing to experience nature up close and in the wild. Civil War enthusiasts and history buffs can examine several Civil War fortification sites with restored cannon, numerous informative markers and an old iron furnace. For the bookish researcher, four document and two photographic archives are available upon request. And any photographer, regardless of skill level, is sure to come away with more than a few stunning photos of scenic landscapes and the abundant wildlife inhabiting the park.
The visitor center is easily accessible and has always been clean on my visits. The entrance is flanked by comfortable seating and the park staff are welcoming and friendly. A small museum leads off to the right along with an auditorium that shows two short films expounding on the history of the park and the local area. Climbing the stairs to the upper level leads to Cumberland Crafts, a craft shop showcasing work from local artisans. The well-stocked bookstore in the main lobby has plenty of souvenirs and information pertinent to the area. Purchase tickets for the Gap Cave tour at the main desk and also get your National Parks Passport book stamped.
Things you must see: Pinnacle Point, Tri-State Peak, The Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave, and Fort McCook. Follow in the footsteps of Daniel Boone along part of the Wilderness Road or participate in one of the Full-Moon Hikes and see the park’s natural wonders in a different light. Or just show up with a packed lunch and enjoy a leisurely repast in one of many scenic picnic areas. The views are hard to beat and I hear aid in digestion.
Other attractions close by are the Abraham Lincoln Museum on the Lincoln Memorial University campus, Pine Mountain State Park in Kentucky, and Wilderness Road State Park in Virginia. The town of Middlesboro, Kentucky, built in the crater of a meteor strike that occurred some eons ago, is just a short trip up the highway and offers numerous places to eat after a day’s worth of hiking, photographing, and exploring.
The park and I have shared a long and rewarding relationship that extends across three different decades. In the Nineties I made my first hike up Pinnacle Road to the Pinnacle Overlook and was forever hooked. Since then I have visited caves, explored an early pioneer settlement, and spent many rewarding hours seated on an out-of-the-way overlook enjoying a pack lunch and listening to chatter on my CB radio. I have taken my sons on a Ranger led nighttime owl hike and watched my wife try to photograph herself in all three states at once.
Whether I’m taking in the breathtaking views from scenic overlooks, having my photo taken with interesting and unusual rock formations, or tracking down cascading waterfalls I end my visit already planning my return.
© 2013 G. Scott Brinkley. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.