Hiking and History at Cumberland Gap
It makes sense really, that Cumberland Gap is a place where so much history happened.
After all, it was the only way through the rugged Appalachian Mountains. Buffalo and deer wore a path so firm that Native Americans and later longhunters used it as a corridor into the wilderness of Kaintuck.
Generations of settlers, a hardy band including Abraham Lincoln’s parents, would use the Cumberland Gap as the first great gateway to the west. When Lincoln’s presidency begot the Civil War, the Cumberland Gap became coveted ground.
I like visiting the town for a respite into a quieter time. A short walk along Colwyn Street gets you to the drug store, post office, general store, art gallery, Webb’s Country Kitchen, and Whistle Stop Antiques. Gertie’s Commissary, set in train depot buildings, rests on the banks of Gap Creek. The big waterwheel at Olde Mill B & B entices people to relax in this sylvan locale embellished with rosebushes and front porches.
A little warning note: the good folk of Cumberland Gap honor the Lord’s Day. Some stores and eateries are closed on Sundays. However, the streets will overflow with visitors during a big celebration marking Cumberland Gap’s heritage as a bootlegging town on June 29-30 for the White Lightning Trail Festival.
In the tradition of Daniel Boone, going through the woods is done with foot power. You can hike and bike the Cumberland Gap Greenway into the national park via the short Tennessee Road Trail. It takes you past the iron furnace, a stone structure used as early as 1830. A trailhead for the Wilderness Road Trail is near town and has a visitor’s center. Sculpted Native Americans, settlers, and buffalo mark the entrance. The pathway is almost exactly the same as the one blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775. It connects to 85 miles of trails in the national park which stretches into Kentucky and Virginia.
For a bird’s eye view of the little town, go to Pinnacle Overlook, elevation 2,440. Heavily forested mountains and rolling farmlands stretch to the horizon. You gain appreciation for the pioneer spirit that led them across the seemingly impregnable Appalachians.
The Cumberland Trail rambles south offering overlooks, waterfalls and steep gorges. About 185 miles of the trail are open. An excursion of a different variety is the Gap Cave Tour. Rated moderately strenuous, this 1.5-mile hike follows the Wilderness Road, and then descends into a cave once used as a hideaway for escaping Southern slaves riding the Underground Railroad. In an interesting twist of history, the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University are just south of Cumberland Gap on Highway 25E in Harrogate.
What’s your history at Cumberland Gap? Tell us your story in the comments.