Cumberland Gap: Heart of the Park

So diving a bit more into the details of our recent trip, let’s start with a short introduction to the first stop, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, shall we?

Gap Visitor Center
The heart of Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Plan on spending some time exploring this visitor center. There's lots to see and learn.

The big picture…

The timing of our trip put us too early to experience the fall colors but Cumberland Gap did not disappoint in spite of that. We spent three nights at this park and barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do. This park is huge…24,000 acres huge…and is filled with 85+ miles of trails, limestone caves, and gobs of history. While many of our national treasures have a focus on either history or wilderness, Cumberland Gap has an intriguing mixture of both which is one of the reasons we wanted to explore it.

American History 2
Rustic goodness to be found right at the visitor center.

The park sits mostly along the state lines of Virginia and Kentucky but also dips a little into Tennessee. The campground is nestled on the Virginia side and the visitor center on the Kentucky side. To get between the two, you have to do the state hokey-pokey through the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in Tennessee…much to George’s delight. So keep in mind that while there are trails between the campground, visitor center, and other points within the park, you’ll need to drive if you don’t want to take the whole day to get there. Like I said, this park is big.

In a nutshell, the Cumberland Gap area is a historical crossroads of sorts…the gateway to the west used by pioneers, Native Americans, and bison. Throw in some Civil War action and you can imagine there’s a lot to be learned there. Even having recently refreshed my own American History knowledge through Fred and George’s homeschooling, I came away with a lot of new and astonishing information about America’s pioneer era…and now I’m actually old enough to appreciate the magnitude of it.

Lonely Rockers
As is the way of the south, you can always sit for a spell and enjoy the view.

Start at the Visitor Center…

It’s a no-brainer that any time you visit a new park, especially one of this size, a stop at the Visitor Center is a good measure to orient yourself. Cumberland Gap’s is of particular importance since that’s where you can make reservations for tours. It also happens to have no shortage of photography subject-matter. I could have spent days just shooting around the Visitor Center itself, much less the remainder of the park. Plus, being a high-traffic park, they seem to always have some sort of event or program going on so there’s no better place to start exploring than at the hub of the action.

History Secured
I love the nuances maintained by the park, right down to the rustic-looking padlock.

What to do…

I think one of the most appealing traits of this park is that it does have a little bit to offer just about everyone. You can get anything from a quick drive up to Pinnacle Overlook for an easily accessible grand view to a hard-core backcountry wilderness hike. There are also day hikes, history tours, history movies & displays, cave tours, Jr. Ranger programs, and so forth. During our visit, they even had a craftsman building dulcimers.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this prologue to our time at Cumberland Gap and a few more shots of the heart of this fabulous park. Stay tuned for more Camp Granola tales from Kentucky/Virginia. And, of course, if you’d like more in-depth information on the park, you’ll want to get it straight from the horse’s mouth here.

Lonely Tree
I was a total photo-dork for this ensemble of lines, textures, and colors.

And now for your moment of green…

End of Summer
Too late for summer blooms, too early for fall leaves, I still found delight in the textures and variation of the garden in front of the visitor center.


  1. Ooohh. Makes me want to visit!!!

    1. Ah, then my work here is done!

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