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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Overview

The story of the first doorway to the west is commemorated at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, located where the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet. Carved by wind and water, Cumberland Gap forms a major break in the formidable Appalachian Mountain chain. First used by large game animals in their migratory journeys and followed by American Indians, the Cumberland Gap was the first and best avenue for settlement of the interior of this nation. From 1775 to 1810, the Gap's heyday, between 200,000 and 300,000 men, women, and children crossed the Gap into the unknown land of Kentucky.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a wonderful tapestry of historical, cultural, and natural resources woven intricately together.

Visitation peaks in July and in October when the mountains come alive with brilliant fall foliage. Historically, visitation is lowest during the months of January and February.

The park is located in southeast Kentucky, southwest Virginia, and northeast Tennessee.

Operating Hours, Seasons:
The Visitor Center is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, the Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Visitor Center is closed on Christmas and New Year's Day.

Park Grounds are open daily with picnic areas operating on a seasonal schedule. The road leading to Pinnacle Overlook may be closed periodically due to inclement weather, including ice, snow, and lightning.

Climate, Recommended Clothing:
Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures commonly in the mid to upper 90s. Winters are generally mild with rain and some periods of snow January through March. Temperatures usually range in the 30s and 40s. If hiking in the backcountry, please remember that temperatures on the mountain are at least 10 degrees cooler.

Wear comfortable sportswear appropriate to the season. Good walking shoes will definitely make for a more pleasant visit.

Fees, Costs, Rates:

  • There is no entrance fee. A donation box is located in the Visitor Center.
  • Camping: $10/night for sites without electricity
  • $15/night for sites with electricity
  • Sites one-half price for Golden Age/Access Passport holders
  • A nominal fee and reservations are required for some of the ranger-guided activities offered throughout the year.
  • Reservations/Permits:
    Reservations for school group or other educational groups should be made prior to the visit. Special use permits are required. Backcountry use permits are required for backcountry camping, and may be obtained at the Visitor Center.

Basic Visit Recommendation:
Plan to spend at least two to three hours at the park, exploring the park Visitor Center and driving to the Pinnacle Overlook. Better yet, plan to spend the night and truly become acquainted with this national park.

The park's Visitor Center complex included a museum, first-floor auditorium, sales area and restrooms. All are accessible, allowing for wheelchair use. Designated parking allows easy access to the building.

At an elevation of 2,440 feet, the Pinnacle Overlook is perhaps the most visited area in the park. A level 1/4-mile paved trail provides access to this overlook, from which visitors have a spectacular view into Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Accessible drive-in campsites are available at the park's Wilderness Road Campground. Surfaces within these sites have been hardened, the height of fire grates has been increased, and picnic tables have been modified. A short, paved trail guides visitors to the campground's amphitheatre, where park rangers present programs on the cultural and natural history of the park.

Special Needs:
Parking areas at the Visitor Center can accommodate large buses. Visitor parking is available at all other sites accessible by vehicle.

Visitors Opportunities:

Visitor Center/Exhibits:
Visitors to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park should set aside an hour or two to browse through the park's Visitor Center, located on U.S. Highway 25E just south of Middlesboro, Kentucky. Exhibits, artifacts, and a film tell the story of the Gap as a transportation corridor.

Trails, Roads:
Leaving the Visitor Center, park visitors can drive a winding four-mile-long road up the mountain to the Pinnacle Overlook (elevation 2,440 feet) for a spectacular view into the three states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. The road is closed to vehicles 20 feet or longer in length. When park staff is available, shuttles to the Overlook can be arranged; cost is $1.00 per person.

Over 55 miles of hiking trails meander through eastern deciduous forest in this 20,000 acre national park. Distances range from a 1/4-mile loop trail to the 21-mile-long Ridge Trail. Trails lead to Hensley Settlement, a restored mountain community located atop isolated Brush Mountain. Folks can visit chestnut-hewn cabins and learn about the self-sufficient lifestyle of the Hensley and Gibbon families, who kept alive characteristics of early pioneer life. Restored by the National Park Service, the Settlement is accessible by hiking, horseback, or shuttle (seasonal; shuttle reservations are recommended).

Towering 3,500 feet above the valley, White Rocks was a welcome sight to the settlers traveling along the Wilderness Road in the 1700s. Upon seeing this massive limestone outcropping, the settlers knew they were but a day's journey from the Cumberland Gap. Today, visitors can hike or ride horseback three miles to the top of White Rocks, from where the view into Virginia is breathtaking.

Sand Cave , a 75 foot high sandstone overhang, is decorated by nature with at least seven different colors of sand. In rainy seasons, a small waterfall cascades over the edge. The cave is reached via a beautifully wooded eight-mile round trip hike or horseback ride.

Folks visiting Cumberland Gap not only have the opportunity to journey back into history, tracing the footsteps of notables such as Daniel Boone, but can also participate in a wonderful medley of ranger-guided activities. Toe-tapping mountain music, tours to the restored Hensley Settlement, walks along the Wilderness Road, longhunter and pioneer encampments, and campfire programs are but a sampling of the programs offered. Each program offered by park rangers introduces visitors to the magic which makes national parks so special.

Several of the programs require reservations or are seasonal in nature; others include a nominal fee. For a listing of park programs, please call (606) 248-2817, or write the park at: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, P.O. Box 1848, Middlesboro, KY, 40965.

Lodging and camping facilities:
The Wilderness Road Campground, located off Highway 58 in Virginia, is open year-round. The 160 woodland sites welcome tent, trailer, and RV campers. Electrical hookups are available. Hot showers are located at the comfort stations. Campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Backcountry campsites are located throughout the park and require a backcountry use permit, which must be picked up in person at the Visitor Center.

Motels, hotels, and bed-and-breakfast establishments are available in the area.

Restaurants and grocery stores are available in nearby towns.

Other Concessions/NPS-Managed Visitor Facilities and Opportunities:
A sales area is located in teh Visitor Center and is operated by Eastern National, a non-profit organization. An intriguing selection of Appalachian crafts, notecards, posters, and books on the natural and cultural history of the park allows visitors to take a piece of their park experience home with them. Information on sales items can be obtained by calling (606) 248-7606.

Recommended Activities/Park Use:
Sightseeing at the historical sites; observing plants and wildlife on the trails; hiking/biking; picnicking at designated areas.

Visitor Impacts:
Information on road and trail conditions, special events, and local activities may be obtained at the park Visitor Center.

Adjacent Visitor Attractions:
Nestled among the mountains of east Tennessee, two miles from the historic Cumberland Gap, is Lincoln Memorial University. At the main entrance to the university stands the Abraham Lincoln Museum, a living memorial to the sixteenth President of the United States.

The Lost Squadron P-38 Recovery and Restoration Museum is located at the airport in Middlesboro, Kentucky. Once restored, the P-38"Glacier Girl" will be on display at air shows around the country and will remain as the center attraction at the musuem.

Kentucky's first state park, Pine Mountain State Park, was created in 1924. Located in the heart of the Kentucky Ridge State Forest, the setting of this modern resort features some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Kentucky and is home to the Mountain Laurel Festival held Memorial Day Weekend.

Festivals and heritage days abound in the Towne of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Quaint stores and local culture make for a memorable trip to the towne. Outfitters in the towne offer bicycle rentals and canoe and inner tube rentals for the Powell River, located several miles outside the boundaries of the park.


Visitors traveling on Interstate 75 in Kentucky should exit on 25E at Corbin. Cumberland Gap is located 50 miles south of Corbin on 25E.

Visitors traveling on Interstate 81 in Tennessee should exit on 25E at Morristown, Tennessee. The park is located 50 miles northwest on 25E.

The park can also be accessed from Virginia by traveling west on Highway 58 to its intersection with 25E in Tennessee.

US 25E South
P.O. Box 1848
Middlesboro, Kentucky 40965
Phone: (606) 248-2817
Fax: (606) 248-7276

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