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Cumberland Gap

About Cumberland Gap

Cumberland Gap is situated on the Kentucky-Virginia boundary approximately one-quarter mile north of the point where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet. Indians used Cumberland Gap as a gateway through the mountains before the arrival of the white man. In 1750 Dr. Thomas Walker discover Cumberland Gap while searching for a settlement area. In 1775, Daniel Boone lead a group of about 30 men and cut out a road which led through the gap to the mouth of Otter Creek on the Kentucky River.

During the Civil War the Gap changed hands several times and was considered a strategic location. However, the Gap never saw much action.

Today the Cumberland Gap is a National Historical Park, dedicated on July 4, 1959. Visitors can camp, hike, horse back ride and cave in this 20,184 acre park. There are over 70 miles of hiking trails in the park ranging from short, easy .25 mile hikes to the 16.25 mile Ridge Trail and the difficult 3 mile Ewing Trail. Other trails include: Shillalah Creek Trail (10.7), Gibson Gap Trail (4.2), Lewis Hollow Trail (.8), Sugar Run Trail (2.6), Harlan Road Trail (1.6), Cumberland Trail (2.6 in the park), and Boone Trail (1.6). Backcountry camping is allowed in designated sites with a permit. There is car camping at National Park Camp (Wilderness Road campground)

Areas of interest include: White Rocks, Pinnacle and Powell overlooks; Gap, Sand and Skylight caves; Martins Fork Cabin and Hensley Settlement. The park visitor center has a theater and interpretation center.

mountain ridge and lake view from gap overlook


Ewing Trail

Ewing trail starts at the Civic Park parking lot and climbs a steep 2.5 miles to White Rocks trail. White Rocks trail short very steep .5 mile trail that leads to the junction of Ridge Trail. Go straight to White Rocks campsite, go right to White Rocks overlook or go left to Sand Cave. The total ascent from the parking lot to the top to White Rocks overlook is 1,655 ' and takes about 2 hrs.

0.0 Ewing Trail to White Rocks trail to Overlook (Start Civic Park) elev 1735 start 11:12 am

0.11 Cross dry stream bed

0.21 Merge logging road turn left

0.36 Bench to rest

0.40 Starts to level out.

0.90 less rocky, trail mud and sand

1.02 2436 elev.

1.09 cross dry creek with bouldered rocks on hill side

1.66 sharp rt. turn good place to rest

2.0 more rocky 2938 elev.

2.04 good resting point

2.30 White rocks trail junction Ewing trail continues straight, White Rocks trail .50 take White Rocks trail.

2.8 Junction with Ridge Trail(3160 elev.). Right leads to White Rock overlook, left leads to Sand Cave, Straight leads to White Rock campsite (0.30 down hill). Campsite is marginal, not many flat areas. 3 cooking grates and an outhouse. 1st. site is best choice. maybe fit 3-4 (2) man tents.

3.10 Top of White Rocks elev. 3390 (over all 1655 elevation gained) time 1:15 p.m. (2 hr. total)

Ridge Trail

The 21 mile Ridge Trail follows along the ridge top of the Cumberland Mountains and leads from the west Pinnacle overlook to White Rocks overlook in the east end of the park. The trail has no visible blazes but does have some mile marker posts along the way. We found that the mile markers and the official map of the area did not match. The trail surface changes from dirt to rock to sand to pebbles and all combinations in between. It is a shared horse trail that is in good condition and is wide. There are many changes in elevation that make this a challenging trail.

There are several features to see while hiking the trail, White Rocks is a large sandstone escarpment that over looks Poor Valley Ridge. Sand Cave is a large 250 feet across rock house who's sand filled floor is like a east coast beach. A water fall flows over the rock house during wet periods. Martins Fork Cabin has a large stone fireplace, three wooden bunk beds, and a picnic table, and can be rented for $10.00 per night. Be prepared for mice! Hensley Settlement is a restored pioneer settlement (1903-1951) with cabins, farm buildings, schoolhouse, church, spring houses, wooden fences, and family graveyard. Skylight Cave is .4 off the trail and has an opening that lets light in from the top of the cave. We found Indiana brown bats and a small rodent which we could not identify. Pinnacle overlook has a lot of history and was the site of a civil war fort. The overlook sports vistas of Powell Valley, Fern Lake and the city of Middlesboro.

It is advised to carry water during dry periods, for there are few places to obtain it.

0.0 Ridge Trail to Pinnacle Overlook

0.10 trail is level and in good condition

0.33 Large rock out cropping on right that is massive. It is wedge shaped formation with steep walls. Trail begins to descend.

0.71 trail levels out with a stand of pines on the right and Rhododendrons on your left.

0.80 Sand Cave spur is 0.20 leads down to creek (with water) and then up to cave. There is a registration box at the trail head and a place to tie horses. Cave is really a vast 250' wide rock house with large amounts of sand that is like walking on a beach. Walk clockwise and find a short connector to steps that lead you back out.

0.81 trail start step ascent.

1.0 Junction with Ewing Trail (If you continued on Ewing trail from the White Rocks trail junction it is 1 mile to this point.)

1.45 trail follows the ridge before starting to ascend again.

1.62 trail begins to descend again.

1.95 Cool rock on the left, good place to rest, trail continues pretty level.

2.40 trail begins to descend.

2.64 trail makes a small "s" turn and crosses a man made culvert then begins to climb again.

2.95 trail slowly starts to descend, rock out cropings on your right and the ridge to your left.

3.70 sign to Sand Cave .30 to Martins Fork

4.21 Junction Martins Fork, Ridge Trail. Chadwell Gap camp 0.30.

4.23 Small rockhouse on right. Trail begins steep climb to campsite where it levels out.

4.57 Chadwell Gap campsite 5:00 pm. Chadwell camp has to sites that share one set of bear cables that has 6 hooks to lift your packs. It is fairly flat with room for several tents. There is one outhouse.

4.73 Hensley Camp. Horse campsite, but is much flatter and more spacious than Chadwell camp.

5.17 Junction to Hensley Settlement. There is well water at the near side of the settlement, check at the visitors center to make sure it is still on if camping in November or later. The water was a bit brown, but we did not suffer any effects.

5.30 Trail continues up and down and then drops steeply toward Indian Rock.

5.81 Trail levels out, nice view through the trees to your left. 1st Rock formation on your right looks like a face with 3 eyes, each set of eyes having a nose and mouth. proceeding down the hill you will see patch of Rhododendronms with a rock house on the right.

6.17 Indian rock house. This is a relatively unimpressive rockhouse.

7.32 Trail turns back toward Virginia and you can see the flat land below. Rock formations are on the right and below on the left. This section of the trail is moderate with a few up and down sections.

8.16 Trail begins to ascend steeply, levels for a short distance then descends steeply.

9.02 Trial starts up once again then levels off. Rock outcroppings on the left with restricted views through the trees.

10.10 Butchers Gap, Slight decline turns right and begins to climb.

11.27 Arrive Gibson Camp

11.54 Table Rock

12.45 Trail drops steeply and then ascends steeply again. Nice vistas to the left.

13.20 Trail begins to level off but still is climbing.

13.76 Trail stays level for a while before dropping down steeply

13.91 Trail goes up and down turning West and comes to a nice overlook of Poor Valley. Trail begins to decline steeply around some large rocks.

14:83 Trail descends to the junction at Sugar Run and Lewis Hollow trails. On Lewis trail 0.20 to Skylight Cave, 1.0 to Wilderness Campground Picnic area.

15.85 Overlook Powell Valley trail starts down

15.90 Registration box trial continues up.

15.93 Weather station on your left. Trail becomes paved, spur to left leads to overlook Powell valley.

16.02 Cannon at Fort Lyon memorial. Just past the cannon the trail winds to the left and leads to Pinnacle Overlook.

16.12 Follow trail from Pinnacle around to Fern Lake overlook.

16.25 Trail ends at parking lot.


Back-Country Camping

Permits are required and are free of charge and can be obtained at the park visitor center. Reservations for backcountry camp sites can be made up to 90 days in advance by calling (606)248-2817. There is well water at the near side of Hensley Settlement. Check at the visitors center to make sure the water is still on if camping in November or later. The water was a bit brown, but we did not suffer any ill effects. We also saw water near Sand Cave (usually has a water fall) and Martins Fork (spring). We did not see any water near the Gibson Gap campsite.

Car/RV Camping

Wilderness Road Campground

The Wilderness Road Campground is located approximately 3 miles from the park visitor center off of Highway 58 in Virginia. It has 160 sites with electrical hookups available at 41 of the sites. Hot showers and potable water are available. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground is open year around.

Camping fees:

$12.00 per night per site for tent sites (8 people) with no electricity.

$17.00 per night per site for electrical hookup.

Group Camping

Group camp sites are available. Cost is $30.00 per night per site for 30 people or fewer. There is an additional charge for groups of more than 30 of $1.00 per person.

Kentucky Contacts

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
PO Box 1848
Middlesboro, KY 40965
(606) 248-2817

Trails for Cumberland Gap Area.

Getting There

Cumberland Gap is located near Middlesboro Kentucky. Visitors traveling south on Interstate 75 in Kentucky should take exit 29 at Corbin. Proceed east on 25E through Middlesboro TN to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Visitors traveling north on Interstate 75 in Tennessee should exit on Highway 63 at Jacksboro/La Follette.  Proceed east on Highway 63 to Highway 25E then north on Highway 25E approximately 2 miles to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

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

More Cumberland Gap Links

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