Cumberland Gap: Grab Your Walking Stick

Muddy Summit

Welcome to the next installment of our Cumberland Gap adventures granola friends. I have no idea how many parts this Cumberland Gap series will be but there’s a good bit more ground to cover so I’ve just decided to dole it out in little bits and pieces in order keep the whole tale from being a 10,000 word opus.

If you haven’t figured out from the title, this particular granola morsel is about the trails. Or should I say, some of the trails. With roughly 85 miles of trails, there was certainly more park than we had time. At any rate here’s a glimpse of the kind of exploring you can do at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

Pinnacle Overlook Trail
Jester and Dobby on the foggy trail from Pinnacle Overlook.

So starting with Pinnacle Overlook…

This fabulous vista is easily accessible to all via a drive on the winding Pinnacle Road. Once at the top, you’ll find a paved footpath that takes you across the state line from Kentucky to Virginia and then to the overlook which provides a grand view over the town of Cumberland Gap, TN and beyond.

View from Pinnacle
In between bursts of clouds, we got a glimpse of the ridge and valley topography.

The thing to realize about the overlook is that the view is in constant flux depending upon the weather. During our visit, we’d withstood a mild rainstorm the previous night so by morning, the low-hanging clouds made for an ethereal landscape as they rolled and molded themselves over the peaks. Fred and George had their big blue eyes open to full aperture in amazement as we eased our way through the fog to the top.

You can’t help but be inspired when looking out over this ridge and valley section of the Appalachians. It’s very impressive even if you’re not a geology geek. And it’s downright exciting if you are. Of course on our visit we were simply teased by the possibilities here. One minute we’d have an eye-popping view and the next we’d be engulfed in moody, soggy pillows. I know I probably just made that sound like a bad thing when in fact it was quite dynamic and groovy.

So if you’re just passing through the area and don’t have much time, give this little detour a try. It’s a quick jaunt to the overlook and it’s well worth the visit.

Choosing the Path
The Wilderness Road choice...easy bridge or slick ford.
Daniel Boone Visitor Center
A glimpse of the Daniel Boone Visitor Center complete with Jester's "Do you have to take a picture of everything?" look.

Wilderness Road…

With a little more time, you might want to consider doing at least some of the Wilderness Road Trail. I’m going to admit a very high history dork factor right up front on this one. The Wilderness Road is the reconstruction of the path taken by the pioneers (including Daniel Boone) through Cumberland Gap. This area was also used by soldiers during the Civil War so you get some extra history bang-for-your-buck.

At the very least, it will certainly give you pause to walk the path of eras-gone-by and imagine the people who passed through in search of opportunity. And if you have an active imagination like yours truly, this trail will have it churning with visions of what must have taken place in these mountains.

Tri-State Summit
As you can see by the state of our boots, it was a bit muddy on the trail. But that's why you wear boots.
Fern Hill
Here's that sun-dappled hillside of ferns I mentioned.
Foggy Morning
One of the foggy views at Pinnacle.

Tri-State Peak…

We didn’t hike the extent of Wilderness Road but instead peeled of to Tri-State Peak. For the kids, it’s always the carrot-on-the-stick to have a destination to the hike that’s got some wow factor. All we had to do was show Geography George the map with the peak on it and he was ready to get his hike on. Although Fred was is full pre-teen mode that day, I think he secretly enjoyed the novelty of the destination.

The Texture of Pinnacle Overlook Trail
Even in the fog, the rich textures of Cumberland Gap are eye-catching.

You can reach the Tri-State peak from either park visitor center but by starting at the Daniel Boone Visitor Center instead of the main park visitor center, you get to experience the oddly appealing tribute to the pioneers that consists of large flat-metal sculptures. From either direction, it’s a reasonable length for an afternoon hike with kidlets. Having arrived in the area at the tail-end of a several-day rainfest, the trail was a bit muddy…not that it bothers us really, just an observation.

As muddy as this section was, it would have been a complete slog in the rain so we were quite relieved just to have overcast skies and not a downpour. Either way we carried half the trail back on our boots. In fact, the only way to preserve Blubaru given the lack of proper adventuring floor mats, was to strip off our boots and throw them into the roof box.

Clearing Skies
The vista over Cumberland Gap, TN from Pinnacle Overlook.
Wilderness Road
Fred stepping back in time along the Wilderness Road trail.

Green Leaf Trail…

There are so many trails at Cumberland Gap that even the Wilderness Road Campground has trails running directly from it to various points within the park. Here though, you’ll also find shorter nature trails that wiggle through the lower elevations where you can enjoy the lush, mossy goodness along the creeks.

Fading Sun
Groovy light through the trees on the Green Leaf Trail.

I ventured out on the Green Leaf nature trail on a slow afternoon to explore. I certainly dig the large, open landscape views that can be had at places like Pinnacle Overlook but there’s something about the subtleties of these hidden treasures that can keep me occupied for hours. It’s in places like this that you find the surprises…every shape of fungi, amazing dappled sunlight over delicate ferns, a lone miniscule flower amongst towering tress. You get the idea…it’s a nature dork’s paradise.

And so many more…

Again, there’s lots of mileage at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park to get your hike on. We didn’t even put a dent in the possibilities. And since I have more pictures than words for this post, here’s a few more shots to tempt you to visit.

Defying Location
Where in the world is George?
Following in Boone's footsteps
Seeing the Daniel Boone trail monument from every angle.

And now for your moment of green…

Fungi on a Log
I know I'm not alone in my love of 'shroom-covered logs. Fess up everyone. Who else thinks this is neato?


  1. Great photos. Actually your whole site is full of amazing photos!! Off topic you mentioned boots. Any tips to buying a decent pair? I’m going to take a pair to Asia but besides buying a decent pair and not skimping I don’t really know where to start. I’m guessing they don’t come in stiletto???????

    1. Boots can be a tough decision. First you have to decide the type you need i.e. leather vs. cloth/fabric. And that just depends upon how you’ll be using them. In the past I’ve kept both on hand. The “sneakery” cloth types are lighter and breathe but aren’t going to keep your feet dry in water or warm in winter. The heavier leather types will keep your feet dry if you find yourself having to get through some water and they will be warmer in cold months but they definitely don’t breathe so they’ll be hot. If you’re going to be in a variety of environments, I’d consider getting both. If cost and space are factors and you can only bring one, I’d opt for the heavier-duty leather…but again, that depends on what kinds of situations you think you’ll find yourself in.

      In either case, definitely don’t skimp. And don’t just try them on and walk around for a couple of minutes….really walk around, bend, etc. It’s crucial; an ill-fitting boot can and will ruin your trip (maybe one day I’ll tell you about my biggest boot mistake ever and the ensuing misery). Make sure you give them a thorough test drive to make sure you’re not getting any rubbing, pinching, and so forth. Keep in mind, much of that can be remedied with how you lace up. And believe it or not there are many ways to lace your boots that will alter how they fit/feel. What I do recommend is going someplace that has knowledgeable staff that can help you through the process.

      I’ll see if I can find some good links for you with some more info and post them to Facebook. (But give me a few days, it’s nuts here!)

  2. I think the shroom covered logs make a great picture!

    1. They’re really cool. And unlike mobile wildlife, they stay still for pictures.

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