Cumberland Gap: Rangers in the Making

Obviously one of our priorities as parents here at Camp Granola is fostering a love of the outdoors, adventure, and nature in our littlest granolans. Fred and George are curious about a great variety of things, not all of which are related to these pursuits but it makes for a happy granola mom when they embrace it. Part of fostering that curiosity and connection to the natural world is making it interesting and fun.

That’s where tours and activities come in. Not only do events like this give them exposure to things outside of my range of expertise but it allows them the opportunity to, quite honestly, listen to someone besides me. And that’s why we took part in a couple of offerings at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

Little Spelunkers
The Gap Cave tour...Fred and George approved.

Gap Cave Tour…

I’ll preface this by saying that we Camp Granolans haven’t seen a lot of cave action. Most of our experience has been with really cheesy, over-processed, touron locations like Ruby Falls in Chattanooga…but thats a rant for another day. So for the boys to explore a mostly unadultered cave was quite a novelty.

A clue from Bubba the Bear.

Jester was the escort for this tour since one of us had to stay with the pup so I pretty much just have to report second-hand. The consensus amongst my fellas was that the cave was amazing. They reveled in the formations, bats, and mystery of the underground world. Jester was probably the cutest though with his insistence that there was, in fact, an overturned lakebed, complete with fossils and dessication cracks. He rarely gets that excited about anything geologic so I didn’t want to deflate his enthusiasm…but, yes dear, that can happen over the course of geologic time. (Insert head pat here.)

The Camp Granola boys definitely came out of the deep, dark cave with a lot of new information and they were pleasantly surprised at being able to explore at a reasonable pace with a knowledgeable ranger. At any rate, the boys highly recommend the Gap Cave tour, especially if you like your travels to be authentic. For the details, you’ll want to go straight to the source at the NPS Gap Cave page.

Surprise visit
The rescue helicopter certainly had everyone's attention.

Junior Ranger Training…

One of the events I insisted the kids take part in was a Survival Techniques Junior Ranger class. While Jester and I are both former backpackers, we’re admittedly very rusty and we haven’t formally trained the kids either. (I know, I’m a slacker granola mom…I hang my make-up-less face in shame.)

So I thought this program would be a good opportunity to get them a lot of information they might actually listen to since it wouldn’t be coming directly from us. Because, even as granola-happy-family as we are, we still have plenty of Charlie-Brown-adult syndrome going on. And this subject-matter is too crucial for them to tune us out into a series indistinguishable grunts.

Inspecting the Chopper
The SAR team found Bubba's SOS and came in for the rescue.

The Rangers took the lot of kids, a good two dozen of them by my estimate, through a faux search-and-rescue of Bubba the Bear, a puppet stand-in for a lost child. They covered the basics of what to do if you get separated or lost and how to stay safe, hydrated, and warm.

They also squeezed in a wow-factor at the end by having a SAR helicopter land in the clearing next to the Visitor Center. That was pretty slick. Aside from the helicopter, I think the aspect that left the biggest impression with my boys was how easily (i.e. in the blink of an eye) people, especially kids, can get lost. The rangers had some pretty astounding tales to share.

The rangers clearly put a lot of work into the program and provided a lot of good information. And while it was worth the time, it was geared a bit towards the younger crowd than my budding teenager would have liked. Even George, three years Fred’s Junior, found it too young for his tastes. Even so, I’m glad they went and upped their trail cred. Hopefully we’ll never have to put any of this into practice.

Hensley Settlement…

Or what I’ll call the missed opportunity.

One of the main attractions at Cumberland Gap NHP is the Hensley settlement, a collection of early 1900s historic buildings. This was the tour I was to take the boys on since history is a little bit more in my area of geekdom than Jester’s. Alas, in spite of my desire to take the tour, we opted out. It’s a long tour, about four hours, two of which are driving from what I understand.

Pouty Pup
Dobby has a Rudolph complex...always excluded from the fun.

And Fred and George were simply “historied” out. With this trip and recent visits to the Atlanta History Center as well as Fort Yargo State Park, they’ve simply had their fill. One of those little parenting nuggets of wisdom is to know how to quit while you’re ahead.

Yes, I could have gone by myself, but the way the timing was working out with different tours and hikes and whatnot, we would have needed to spend another night and everyone was ready to move on to North Carolina for some fun in Asheville. So yeah, leave it to Camp Granola to visit a place and not see the main attraction.

And the point is?

The point is, these are some of the great things you can do at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park with or without kids. More generally, these are the kinds of activities our national parks have to offer for little or no cost and for a variety of ages, backgrounds, abilities, and interests. Particularly for curious families, there’s nothing like national (or even state) parks for exploring and learning. Call them a granola gold mine if you will.

What are your favorite park features?

And now for your moment of green…

Dogwood Treasure
This post has been a service of your automatic granola dispenser. We're currently out exploring Cloudland Canyon State Park. Hope you'll be having lots of fabulous outdoor fun this weekend too.


  1. Val, I am so loving your site. First off, I must say that your boys are just beautiful. Truly.
    I love the photographs and the writing makes me feel like I’m sharing coffee (well, I drink tea but anyway) with a dear old friend. Thank you for sharing the beauty that is. I can’t wait to keep reading of your granola thoughts….

    1. Thanks Gabi. It’s nice to hear that you feel so welcome…that’s exactly what I’m going for.

  2. Val, you are so right. Our kids are 2 and 4 and we are planning to…. I have not settled on a term yet… homeschool/roadschool/worldschool…LOL. But having just begun to really engage with our state and national parks I’ve been really impressed by all of the educational offerings. We’ve thought about what a resource these activities will be for us through the years!

    1. Yes, deciding on the label for how you educate your children is tough. There’s really no one good term is there? Our style always seems to be evolving too so that adds to the confusion of trying to give it a concrete descriptor.

      Whatever type of non-traditional schooling you do, state and national park programs are such a fabulous resource. I always get out my granola mom pom-poms when it comes to them. Museums and nature centers have great stuff too but I love to support our parks as much as possible.

      And now that we’ve been homeschooling for a few years I SO wish we’d started from the beginning like you guys. I think we’d have taken a completely different path from where we are now and been better off for it. Hindsight is a booger isn’t it?

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