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This Passageway Through the Appalachian Mountains Was Created by a Meteor — and Has 85 Miles of Trails and Epic Stargazing

How to plan a visit to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in any season.

Evie Carrick is a writer and editor who’s lived in five countries and visited well over 50. She now splits her time between Colorado and Paris, ensuring she doesn't have to live without skiing or L'As du Fallafel.

gap cave tour

Joshua Moore/Getty Images

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park , located where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet, is a 14,000-acre destination that forges a passageway through the Appalachian Mountains . Forming a natural corridor between the mountains, it was used first by migrating animals, then by Native Americans, who used the path for centuries for trade. It was then used by settlers — most famously by Daniel Boone — who used the gap on their journey to settle the West. 

The gap was formed by several geological forces, including a raging river, plate tectonics, and a giant meteorite that struck the Earth less than 300 million years ago.

These days, people come to enjoy the park's 85 miles of trails, to stand in three states at once, to walk in subterranean passages and caves, and to enjoy the stargazing afforded by the park's wilderness. Here's what you need to know to plan a visit. 

Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Start your trip with some context; learn about the history of the park by joining a guided tour of the Hensley Settlement, established in 1903. The four-and-a-half- to five-hour tour is $10.

Those looking for adventure can join a Gap Cave tour through the park's underground passages. The journey passes through rooms filled with stalagmites, bats, and flowstone cascades, a deposit formed from water flowing along cave walls. The Gap Cave tour is $8, and reservations can be made up to one month in advance by calling (606) 248-2817.

If you're not up for a tour, the park has 85 miles of trails that cross into all three states and lead to spectacular waterfalls and vistas (note: Pinnacle Overlook has the best views over Cumberland Gap). Along the 85 miles of trails, you'll find everything from easy, guided strolls to multi-day backcountry trails. One standout trail is the 21-mile Ridge Trail, which runs the park's entire length.

Wildlife sightings in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park include foxes, bears, deer, bobcats, and more than 150 species of birds. Dogs are allowed in the park but must be leashed.

Where to Stay

It's all about sleeping under the stars at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The park's Wilderness Road Campground in Virginia has 160 sites set in a lush wooded area. Of the 160 sites, 41 have electrical hookups, and most are large enough to accommodate an RV or trailer of up to 50 feet. Each site has access to hot showers and potable water and can accommodate up to eight people, four tents, and two cars.

Camping is $18 per night for a tent site with no electricity and $24 per night for a site with an electrical hookup. Sites can be reserved on Recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777.

Those interested in backcountry camping — where the stars are unaffected by light pollution — can obtain a free permit from the park's visitors center. Keep in mind that bears are active in the backcountry, and bear-proof food containers should be used at all times. Backcountry camping reservations can be made up to three months in advance by calling (606) 248-2817.

If camping isn't your cup of tea, head to one of the park's surrounding towns — Middlesboro, Kentucky; Cumberland Gap, Tennessee; and Tazewell, Tennessee — for more traditional lodging. To fully immerse yourself in your surroundings, look into the log cabins sprinkled around the region on Airbnb, too. 

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is open year-round and offers a little something different each season. The caves provide respite from the summer heat, the park's fall foliage is a photographer's dream, and the arrival of snow makes the park look like a winter wonderland. That said, it's hard to top spring, when the weather is mild, and the wildflowers are beginning to bloom.

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Guide — Visitor Center, Cave, and More

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Guide — Visitor Center, Cave, and More

Table of Contents

How to get to cumberland gap national historical park, getting around cumberland gap national historical park, what to see and do in cumberland gap national historical park, best times to visit cumberland gap national historical park, where to stay in cumberland gap national historical park, where to eat in cumberland gap national historical park, cumberland gap national historical park facts, final thoughts.

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Cumberland Gap National Park is located in Middlesboro, Kentucky, but stretches into Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and parts of Virginia. This national historical park has a rich natural and cultural history, breathtaking overlooks, a magnificent cave system, historic sites, and over 85 miles of hiking trails that wind through its 24,000 acres.

Each year, over 700,000 visitors tour this fantastic park and discover the beauty and wonder within its boundaries. 

Where Is Cumberland Gap National Historical Park?

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is located in the Cumberland Mountains. This park stretches over 24,000 acres of land. The park encompasses land in 3 states: Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. 

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Opening Hours and Seasons

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is open year-round. The only days the park closes are federal holidays such as New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Christmas Day, and several others throughout the year. The park is open 24 hours daily to pedestrians and cyclists, but the facilities have separate hours.

Nearest Airports to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Several airport options exist for those planning to fly into the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park area. Let’s look at the airport options for those who want to fly into this area. 

Blue Grass Airport (LEX)

The Blue Grass Airport is located in Lexington, Kentucky, approximately 130 miles from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. This airport isn’t as frequently used as others but is still an option for those flying into the park area . 

This airport offers dozens of connecting flights to many U.S. cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, and Miami. Airlines served by Blue Grass Airport include American and United.

This airport option is about 2.5 hours from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. While it isn’t the closest airport option, it is still a good one for those who want to fly into the Cumberland Gap area.

McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS)

McGhee Tyson Airport is located in Knoxville, Tennessee, about 85 miles from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. This is the most commonly used airport near the park.

This airport offers a long list of flights to and from many popular cities in the U.S., including Atlanta , Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, and New York. Airlines serviced by McGhee Tyson Airport include Allegiant, American, Delta, and United.

From TYS, you are just an hour and a half from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Flying into this airport is the best option for visitors who want to make the most of their travel time.

Driving to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Visitors from I-75 in Kentucky will take Highway 25E and then travel 50 miles to Cumberland Gap. Those from I-75 in Tennessee will exit on Highway 63 and then take Highway 25E to the park. Other routes can be taken, but these are the 2 most commonly used by visitors driving to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. 

Taking the Train or Bus to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

There is no train or bus service to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The best way to get around Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is to drive to the sights and attractions. Other options for getting around the park are to explore by bicycle or on foot. The National Park Service offers a variety of printable and interactive maps online and maps for purchase at the visitor center. 

From guided tours and hiking trails to exploring an underground cavern and viewing historic sites, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at this national historical park. Let’s explore the top things to see and do at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and see which items you’d like to add to your itinerary. 

Dripstone formations in Gap Cave

Gap Cave , with its mesmerizing stalactites and stalagmites, is one of the main highlights of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The park offers 2-hour guided tours of Gap Cave from late April to the end of September, which is a great way to learn the history of the cave and how it has been used throughout the centuries. Some of the sights that can be seen in the cave include ancient graffiti, bats, salamanders, and cascading flowstones. 

Hensley Settlement

Hensley Settlement

Hensley Settlement is a community established in 1903 atop Brush Mountain and was inhabited until 1951. Burton Hensley first settled this small community. He owned 200 acres of land at the top of Cumberland Mountain.

Over time, other families joined Hensley, forming a small community. Farming and trading were the way of life during those times. This settlement has farms, old trade shops, a cemetery, and a 1 -room schoolhouse.

The park offers 4.5- to 5-hour guided tours from mid-May to late October and virtual tours online. Visitors can see the springhouse, enter the 1-room schoolhouse, and walk along the fence-lined lanes. Touring Hensley Settlement is like stepping back to the early American days when life was simple and sweet. 

Fees are associated with the guided tours of Gap Cave and the Hensley Settlement. Reservations can be made up to a month in advance. Be sure to secure your spot on the tour, as they are limited to 10 guests per tour.

Hiking and Backpacking

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park has over 80 miles of hiking trails winding throughout the park and several more in the backcountry and wilderness areas. The hiking trails at this national historical park range from a quarter mile to multi-day adventures in the backcountry.

There are even ranger-led hikes offered throughout the year that explain the natural and cultural history of the park area. 

Iron Furnace

The Iron Furnace , one of the top visited areas of the park, was built in 1819 on the stream that flowed below Gap Cave. This furnace was 35 feet tall and made of limestone. For 10 years, Martin Beaty, with the help of enslaved people, operated the cold-blast charcoal furnace to produce iron ore.

Later, in 1830, the Iron Furnace was bought by John G. Newlee. Before the Civil War, the furnace produced 150 tons of iron annually. Once the Civil War was over, the Iron Furnace continued in operation until 1881.

Visitor Centers

Visitor Center Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

The visitor centers for Cumberland Gap National Historical Park include the Main Park Visitor Center and the Daniel Boone Visitor Information Center.

Main Visitor Center

The Main Visitor Center is on Highway 25, south of Middlesboro, Kentucky. This center features exhibits and artifacts and offers a gift shop for purchasing souvenirs, park maps, and books.

The Main Visitor Center also features Civil War-era canons, a garden, a picnic area, and a 19th-century-style tavern. Visitors can watch a film showcasing the natural and cultural history of the park during their visit. 

Daniel Boone Visitor Information Center

The Daniel Boone Visitor Information Center is located off Highway 58 near Cumberland Gap. This visitor center has parking, outdoor exhibits, information, and restrooms, but it may not be staffed during your visit . The Wilderness Road trailhead is located at this visitor center, and guests can hike to the historic Cumberland Gap or Iron Furnace from this center.

The visitor centers are great starting points for a visit to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. There is a wealth of information and plenty of opportunities to learn more about the park.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a fantastic park to visit any time of the year. Check out the best times to visit and see if one of these times works best for your vacation. 

Best Time To Visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park To Avoid the Crowds

If you want to beat the crowds, plan to visit in September. The park sees a dip in visitation once schools have returned to session and after Labor Day. A trip in September allows guests to explore the park at their own pace and not have to deal with crowded situations.

September is also the best month to visit to participate in one of the incredible tours.

Best Time To Visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park for Wildlife

Bull Elk Cumberland Gap

Spring is an opportune time to visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park if you hope to see the wildlife that calls the park home. April is an incredibly amazing time to visit. During this month, you may see the new baby mammals or one of the many resident bears. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Traveling can rack up a lot of expenses, so saving money while traveling is always a bonus, but it doesn’t always happen. If you want to save money when visiting Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, plan to visit in early to mid-September. There are typically lower prices on flights and accommodations at this time of year, which can save hundreds of dollars. 

There are plenty of options for places to stay when visiting Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. There’s something perfect for every visitor: campgrounds, quaint bed and breakfasts in historic towns, affordable motels and inns, and luxury hotels.

Inside the Park

Wilderness Road Campground

The only option for lodging within the boundaries of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is to camp in the great outdoors.

Wilderness Road Campground is the sole campground in the park and is located 3 miles from the park’s visitor center. This campground is open year-round and has 41 RVs and tent camping campsites.

Campsites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance, but sometimes visitors are lucky and can reserve a site the day of their visit. Showers and water are available at the nearby comfort stations.

Towns Near Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Several towns near Cumberland Gap National Historical Park make a perfect home base during your trip. Let’s look at the 2 most popular towns and see if either will work for your vacation needs.

Cumberland Gap, Tennessee

Cumberland Gap is a historic town 5 miles from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. It is located at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains and offers several places for dining, lodging, and recreation. 

The accommodation options are primarily locally-owned inns, bed and breakfasts, and private rentals . The restaurants are also mostly locally owned and offer a variety of cuisines that will please every palate. Pubs, steakhouses, coffee shops, diners, and drive-ins are the types of restaurants you will see in this charming town. 

Recreation abounds in Cumberland Gap. Most visitors will spend quite a bit of time exploring the park, but there are also specialty shops, museums, and walking trails to check out.

Cumberland Gap is the ideal location for staying near Cumberland Gap National Historical Park as it is the closest town and most convenient to the park.

Middlesboro, Kentucky

Middlesboro is another popular town where visitors can stay and has numerous options for accommodations, dining, and recreation.

The lodging options include chain hotels, budget-friendly motels, and charming bed and breakfasts run by locals. Whatever you desire for accommodations can be found in Middlesboro. 

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat as this town offers an authentic taste of the Bluegrass State. From barbecue and fried chicken to country ham and biscuits and gravy, there’s no shortage of mouth-watering delicacies in Middlesboro. 

There is so much to see and do in this Kentucky town. There are lots of outdoor recreation options, including golfing, hiking trails, horseback riding, and exploring parks. For those who prefer indoor activities, there are several historic sites, museums, galleries, and shops. 

With its proximity to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and its abundance of accommodations and restaurants, it’s no wonder many people chose to make Middlesboro a base camp.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park does not offer dining options. However, thanks to its incredible location, countless exceptional restaurants are near the park in the surrounding area.

Pelanchos Mexican Bar and Grill

Pelanchos Mexican Bar and Grill is an authentic Mexican restaurant in Middlesboro, just 3 miles from the park. This restaurant is great for a delicious meal, refreshing drinks, and fun times. Pelanchos is open daily for lunch and dinner and often hosts karaoke night and live music events.

The menu includes classic Mexican favorites like tacos, burritos, fajitas, and margaritas. Customers rave about the chips and fresh salsa, the chicken fajita chimichanga, and the Steak Mexicano. 

Shades Cafe and Steakhouse

Shades Café and Steakhouse is also located in Middlesboro and is open for lunch and dinner every Tuesday through Saturday. 

Creative appetizers, freshly-cut salads, high-quality steaks, and signature cocktails are some of the items you will find on the classic American cuisine menu. Some popular menu items include the ribeye, grilled pork chop, smothered chicken breast, and the Shades Cheeseburger.

You won’t want to miss the house cocktails while dining at Shades Café and Steakhouse. The Signature Old Fashioned, Kentucky Buck, and the Lavender Lemon Drop are all customer favorites.

Mountains as viewed from the Pinnacle overlook at sunrise

1. A New National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was established on June 11, 1940, by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

2. Original People of the Park

The original people that inhabited the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park area were the Native Americans. Later, long hunters and pioneers settled in the area. Remnants from the early settlers can still be found in the park today.

3. The First Great Gateway to the West

Cumberland Gap was considered the first great gateway to the West. This was where 300,000 people crossed the Appalachians to explore and settle in America. 

4. Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone was an early American frontiersman who helped to blaze the trail through Cumberland Gap long ago. He also played a vital role in the American Revolution. If you look closely during your visit to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, you will see many tributes to him. 

5. Civil War History

The Union and Confederate forces fought for control of the Cumberland Gap. The park offers a driving tour, which is a great way to learn the area’s Civil War stories. 

There’s so much to discover and explore at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. From settlements from the pioneer days to hiking trails, and from touring historic cave systems to camping in the great outdoors, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in this national historical park.

Book your trip to Cumberland National Historical Park and see what brings in so many visitors each year. This park is just waiting for you to uncover the incredible story within its boundaries. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter cumberland gap national historical park.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park does not require an entrance pass. There is no fee to enter the park. There are fees for some of the guided tours and camping.

How long should I spend exploring Cumberland Gap National Historical Park?

A full day is the perfect amount of time to spend exploring Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. This allows time to participate in one of the guided tours and see all of the park’s highlights.

Can I bring my dog to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park?

Pets are allowed to visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park with their owners as long as they are leashed at all times and the owner picks up after their waste.

What is the weather like at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park?

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is located in a region that experiences 4 distinct seasons. Winter temperatures can dip into the mid-20s, and summertime highs are in the upper 80s. Fall has gorgeous bursts of colors in the trees, with temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to the upper 60s. Spring brings temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to the low 70s.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Home » Places » Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

91 Bartlett Park Road, Middlesboro, KY 40965

(606) 248-2817

Come explore the “first great gateway to the west” as you experience the rich history, natural features, and activities of Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Located on 24,000 acres at the three borders of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, this national park is one of the largest in the northern United States and offers a plethora of activities and features suitable for any traveler.

The Cumberland Gap is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains, and has served as a gateway for eastern travelers to access the Western lands of North America. The Cumberland Gap has been traveled on for thousands of years, by wildlife, indigenous peoples, and colonial pioneers. With the region’s long history of use comes a rich history of the land and various animals and people who have populated it over time. 

The National Park invites visitors to explore this history and experience the extraordinary features of the park. Since its designation as a National Park in 1940, visitors to the area can immerse themselves in the beauty and history of the gap through hiking its trails, viewing its geological features, seeing its diversity of flora and fauna, and participating in guided historical tours. 

Read about some of the more popular activities and attractions the park offers below to plan your trip to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

Hiking and Backpacking

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park offers 85 miles of hiking and backpacking trails, offering visitors the opportunity to experience the diverse terrain, geographical features, and historical sights within the park. Hiking these trails also allows one to get a glimpse of what the gap’s travelers experienced during their trek. 

Trail lengths vary from ¼ mile to 21 miles. With a wide range of trail length and difficulty, hikers of every level of expertise are bound to find a rewarding experience suitable for them. 

Many of the park’s trails lead to prominent geological features- such as cliffs, caves, and limestone formations- and scenic vistas of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounding landscape.

Those looking for a trail with historical significance can trek along the Wilderness Trail. Blazed by a crew led by Daniel Boone in 1775, the Wilderness Trail served as the main route for western pioneer movement for the next half-century after its establishment. Today, visitors can follow the footsteps of those pioneers by hiking on a 3.5 loop that traces sections of the Wilderness Trail.

Avid backpackers will find an abundance of options for their next trek, many of which stem off the Ridge Trail. At 21 miles long, the Ridge Trail is the longest in the park, following the top of the Appalachian Mountain ridge. Backpackers can branch off onto other trails from this main vein as they enjoy the scenery and wildlife surrounding them. There are 5 designated backcountry camping locations along the trail; be sure to pick up a free permit before you set off on your backpacking journey.

Other popular trails are those that lead to the White Rocks and Sand Caves areas of the park. White Rocks is a massive limestone outcropping that sits atop a 3,500 foot mountain top and offers spectacular views onto the Virginia valley. Sand Caves is a 75-foot limestone overhand that features (seasonally) a cascading waterfall that falls over 7 distinct colors of sand.

Visit the National Park’s website to find more details and maps of the park’s extensive trail network.

Aside from backcountry camping options for adventurous backpackers who choose to stay overnight on the park’s trail system, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park offers other camping options for park visitors. 

The Wilderness Road Campground offers 160 sites for RV and tent camping. The campground is complete with electrical hookups, hot showers and potable water, and a dump station. 

Group campsites are also available for those looking to enjoy the park with the company of many others. 

The Wilderness Campground sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Group and backcountry sites can be reserved up to three months in advance by calling the park visitor center. Please remember to obtain a permit before backcountry camping. 

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park holds an abundance of natural geologic features to see and explore. One of the most prominent of these features are the various caves located on Cumberland Mountain.

Cumberland Mountain hosts over 30 caves on its south face. Due to safety concerns and the preservation of these delicate habitats, most caves in the park are closed to the public. Visitors looking to try their hand at spelunking, however, can find their adventure at Gap Cave.

Guided tours of Gap Cave take visitors on a two-hour journey exploring the “majestic underground cathedral”. Visitors can view flowstone cascades, dramatic stalagmites, and catch glimpses of the cave’s native creatures- such as salamanders, bats, and crayfish. 

The tour is moderately strenuous and includes a 1.5 hike to reach Gap Cave. Plan accordingly.

This tour is an opportune experience for those interested in exploring one of the area’s most notable and known-for attractions. Caves are an important part of the region’s history and carry rich cultural and natural significance. Tour tickets must be purchased ahead of time in person or by calling the park visitor center. 

The park’s diverse terrain and range in elevation provides diverse habitat types that host a range of plant and animal species. 

371 types of animals have been recorded within the park’s grounds. More common sights include deer, bobcat, black bear, rabbit, fox, snakes, and turtles. Lucky visitors might even catch a glimpse of an elk.

Avid birders will be happy with the variety of avian species within the park. Song birds, turkeys, hawks, and vultures are all common sights. For a spectacular birding opportunity, visit the park in the fall season to see the autumn hawk migration. This phenomenon can be viewed from various vantage points along the park’s Ridge Trail.

With the diversity of animal life comes a wide diversity of plant life, too. The park has recorded 855 floral species within its grounds. Rare plants can be spotted in various unique vegetation communities, such as mountain bogs, low elevation wetlands, and sheer rocky bluffs that lie on the park’s mountain sides. 

Hensley Settlement

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is a place full of historical significance for all the groups that have populated its land over the years. Cherokee and Shawnee groups used the gap as a hunting ground, often confronting and conflicting with each other over the land’s use. European settlers to the United States explored the gap to get to the Kentucky wilderness. During the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces vied for control of the gap, which presented itself as a stronghold for each group. 

After the displacement of indigenous peoples on the land, some pioneers and settlers moving west through the gap decided to stay in the rugged mountain territory. These Appalachian settlers carry with them a history of rugged survival, unique traditions, music, and language. 

Visitors to the state park can explore this Appalachian history and lifestyle at the Hensley Settlement. The settlement is a living history museum which aims to emulate traditional Appalachian life. The settlement is made up of 45 settlement structures original to the area that were occupied by Appalachian inhabitants from the early to mid 20th century. These buildings have been restored to give visitors an educational experience. 

Those interested in exploring Appalachian history can take guided tours of the Hensley Settlement. Tours take visitors through various settlement buildings to show them different aspects of settlement life, such as a blacksmith, one-room schoolhouse, and a springhouse. 

Tour reservations come with a small price and can be made up a month in advance by calling the park visitor center.

MORE PLACES in this watershed

Jarfly brewing company, dupont lodge, dr. thomas walker state park, about this site.

The Cumberland River Basin project aims to promote the ecological and economical health of the Cumberland River Basin, an 18,000 square mile region that stretches across 70 Tennessee and Kentucky counties and home to more than 2 million people. 

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A majority of the photography featured on this site was provided courtesy of Chuck Sutherland. For more information please visit Chuck’s website.

The Cumberland River Compact works to enhance the health and enjoyment of the Cumberland River and its tributaries through education, restoration, and collaboration. Learn more by visiting cumberlandrivercompact.org .

Our Wander-Filled Life

An Amazing Weekend at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Last Updated on May 22, 2024 by Bonnie

Nestled at the corner of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky is a small gap in the wall that is the Cumberland Mountains. This pass through the mountains was used for hundreds of years as a game trail and path for Indian raiding parties before becoming the Wilderness Road leading settlers into Kentucky. The area is now preserved as Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. It is a perfect spot for a weekend of history and hiking. 

This 24,000-acre park has 85-miles of trails including several backcountry campgrounds, caves, historic structures and the remains of several Civil War fortifications. Atop the Pinnacles, there are views into Virginia and Tennessee for miles. 

Fog rolling over the Cumberland Gap. On the Kentucky side of the gap, the area was completely socked in with fog. On the Virginia/Tennessee side of the gap, blue skies.

This park has far more deciduous trees than evergreens. That makes it one the best places to spend a fall weekend hiking in the eastern US. In short, we loved it and look forward to coming back.

(Disclaimer: When we link to places where you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes that earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our  Review Policy   for more information.)

How to Spend a Weekend at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Your first stop at Cumberland Gap NHP , as with any national park, should be the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center has an excellent video on the history of the gap. 

The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Visitor Center, a low brick building with a cannon parked out in front.

The path through the gap started as a game trail blazed by bison migrating to and from salt licks. It blows our mind that bison used to range this far east. Raiding parties from the Cherokee and Shawnee also used the gap. They raided each other’s settlements and the trail was known as the Warrior’s Path. 

Bonnie, wearing a mask and hiking clothes, checking out the exhibits for Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The park video focused on the efforts of Daniel Boone to find a path for settlers to move into Kentucky. Eventually, with a team of axemen, Boone carved out the Wilderness Road to allow wagons to cross the pass. 

The exhibits in the Visitor Center trace the importance of the gap over the years. They look at it as a route through the mountains up until the construction of the tunnel through Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Hike up to Tri-State Peak and the Saddle of the Gap

From the Visitor Center, head into the park and stop at the Thomas Walker Parking Area. From there, hike up the Object Lesson Road to the Saddle of the Gap.

The Object Lesson Road is a leftover from a US Department of Agriculture program. The government promoted using light gravel instead of dirt roads to help control erosion and dust. It’s an easy uphill to the Saddle of the Gap. This spot, marked by a sign, is the highest point of the pass. You will find a sign marking the significance. 

The Object Lesson Road was a demonstration by the US Department of Agrictulture on the benfits of putting down small gravel on dirt roads. This path leads up through the woods and is covered in small gravel.

This spot is the crux of this park but it is not that picturesque. Still, it is cool to know you are standing where Daniel Boone led settlers through the mountains and into Kentucky. Indeed, just down the trail toward the Tri-State Peak is a large monument to Boone.

The Saddle of the Gap is the actual spot where folks passed from Virginia into Kentucky along the Wilderness Road. This road was used by centuries by animals, the tribes and eventually white settlers. A wooden sign sits at the gap and says: "Salt seeing buffalo/ Moccasin clad warriors/ Dreaming Pioneer/ Battling Civil War soldiers/ Each was here in the Historic Cumberland Gap and now so are you/ This is the Cumberland Gap"

A little further down the trail, you will find a small crater and a spur trail leading off to one of the many “forts” in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The crater is leftover from the Civil War. Union troops blew a supply of ammunition as they retreated from Cumberland Gap, preventing it from falling into Confederate hands.

Bonnie standing in a pavillion with a marker for the border of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. She is spread out so she is in all three states at the same time.

Tri-State Peak allows you stand on the spot where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet. There is a nice pavilion and a decent view toward Middlesboro, KY below. 

As we headed back, we detoured along the Wilderness Road Trail, which follows the original route of the path leading through the woods. 

Grant hiking on a trail through the woods with a pack on his back.

All told, we spent about 90 minutes on the trail and covered 3.5 miles with a 733-foot elevation gain. While there were a few spots we felt the uphill, this was a relatively easy hike. If you are going to do no other hiking in the park, this is a good choice.

Drive the Pinnacle Road

The most scenic area of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park sits atop the ridge straddling between Kentucky and Virginia. To get up there, you have two options: hike or drive. For most folks, driving is going to be the preferred option. 

From the Thomas Walker Parking Area, take the winding Pinnacle Road up the mountain towards the top. Just bear two things in mind: you cannot take any vehicle more than 20 feet long up the road and there is limited parking at the top. 

A hairpin turn winds through the woods.

Along the way up, you will find a small turn-off for Fort McCook. Stop here to check out the earthen Civil War fortification. It’s really more of a redoubt than a fort. It is still worth the stop to learn how the Civil War impacted this area.

Read more about exploring the Civil War through the National Parks here.

As you keep following the road up to the top, there is a nice pull-off on the left which gives an excellent view into Kentucky. There’s not a ton of room so you may want to hit it on the way back down.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is home to several "forts," most of which are not much more than earthen artillery emplacements to control the road. A lone cannon sits among grass-covered fortifications.

Once at the top, you might be tempted to head straight for the Pinnacle Overlook. If you have time, we recommend checking out the Powell Valley Overlook and Fort Lyon, another Civil War fortification, first. This saves the best view for last.

Pinnacle Overlook is spectacular, especially at sunset. It is well worth your time to head up here at sunset to check out the view.

Sunset over the mountains.

Hiking the Sugar Run Trail

If you are looking to see the Pinnacle Overlook but want more of a challenge, hiking-wise, the Sugar Run Trail combined with a section of the Ridge Trail, the Fort McCook Trail and the Harlan Road Trail forms a nearly 9-mile loop with a 1,800-foot elevation gain.

There are two places you can pick up this trail: the trailhead or the Sugar Run Picnic Area. We parked at the picnic area and followed the trail along the Sugar Run Creek up to Ridge Trail, then cut back towards the Pinnacle Overlook then down to Fort McCook. 

Check out our 10 essentials for hiking here .

Grant enjoying a picnic lunch from the local grocery store before hitting the trail. He is biting into a sandwich. There is a small container of Pringles and

Once you get past Fort McCook, you have to cross the road and briefly walk along the road before picking up the Harlan Road Trail back to the parking area. The Harlan Road Trail follows the old Harland Road bed, which was constructed to get cannons up to Fort McCook and Fort Lyon during the Civil War. 

We really enjoyed this loop. The ranger who recommended the trail to us said to keep an eye out for mushrooms and the trail did not disappoint. We saw plenty of really cool mushrooms along the way. 

Mushroom along the trail with Bonnie's feet in the background offering perspective on the size of the mushroom.

All that said, the trail did kick our butts when combined with the Tri-State Peak hike. If we had it to do over again, we might have skipped this hike to be able to another hike out on the east end of the park out to Sand Cave and White Rocks Overlook.

But after doing about 12 miles in one day, we weren’t feeling another 10 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Since you can see pretty much everything on this hike by driving up Pinnacle Road, it is not necessary to enjoy the park.

Looking out from the Cumberland Mountains from the Sugar Run Trail.

Iron Furnace and Wilderness Road Campground

On the Tennessee/Virginia side of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, you will find the small town of Cumberland Gap, which has great views of the gap itself. If you stop at the Daniel Boone Visitor Information Center, you can hike the Wilderness Road up to the Saddle of the Gap from that side of the mountains. If you are looking to follow in Boone’s footsteps, this is a great spot to do so. 

A pavillion with informational signs and metal silhouettes of various types of travelers of the Wilderness Road.

You will also find the Iron Furnace on this side of the mountain. The Iron Furnace dates back to 1819. Locally mined iron along with limestone would be used to create pig iron ingots, some of which would be used by local blacksmiths but most of which would be shipped down the Powell River to Chattanooga.

A winding staircase goes up to a pyramid-shaped stone furnace.

Not far down the road is the Wilderness Road Campground, which is a nice campground with some electric sites and is home to a nice nature loop trail. It’s only a mile but it is quite pretty. If you are staying at the campground, it’s worth your time.

Gap Cave and the Hensley Settlement

Two of the major attractions of the park, Gap Cave and the Hensley Settlement, were closed when we visited due to COVID-19. 

The Gap Cave is a cave system that is only accessible via a ranger-led tour. The cave is home to bats and salamanders and some pretty cool cave formations, at least according to pictures. 

Bonnie on the nature trail in the woods at the Wilderness Road Campground.

The Hensley Settlement was open but the only way to get to it during COVID-19 was to hike a 10-mile one-way trail. Normally, you can take a ranger-led tour which involves being shuttled to the area in a van as the road there is only open to park service vehicles. 

Honestly, the Hensley Settlement is the one thing I think our visit to this national historical park really needed: historic buildings, though we did get some of that by visiting the nearby Wilderness Road State Park (see below).

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park offers ranger-led tours to Gap Cave and Hensley Settlement in the summer. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting the park via phone or in person up to a month in advance. Read more about guided tours here.

Wilderness Road State Park

This state park is right down the road from Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and is everything that is missing from the national historical park in terms of telling the story of the gap. 

The gunsmith at Wilderness Road State Park shows off one of his pieces.

This excellent state park tells the story of Martin’s Station, the frontier fort and trading post that served as the westernmost outpost before heading to Kentucky through the gap.

The fort had several reenactors dressed in period attire to explain the various parts of the fort, including how the cabins within the fort worked as fortifications against Indian attacks. The fort has a working smithy and one of the reenactors demonstrated how period blacksmiths would have worked. There was also a gunsmith demonstrating how rifles were built and which long guns were popular during the time.

Looking at the Cumberland Mountains from the recreation of Martin's Station. A wooden fort is on the right side of the picture.

Lastly, the park has a small bison pasture. Now, these bison aren’t the subspecies that was found in the eastern US all that time ago but, still, it is really cool to see their cousins make a return to this part of the world.

We highly recommend visiting Wilderness Road State Park on your visit to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The two parks really are two sides of the same coin.

A bison standing in the shade of two trees.

Where to Stay and Eat Near Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

The surrounding towns around Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are relatively small and there is not a lot in the way of hotels or campgrounds. 

In terms of camping, if you don’t have a large camper or are tent camping and don’t mind being without full hookups, the Wilderness Road Campground was quite nice when we drove through. 

Our room at the Holiday Inn Express in Middleboro, KY was quite comfortable. A king bed with a chaise lounger beside it.

In terms of hotels, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Middlesboro, K Y , which is right down the road from the Visitor Center. We found the hotel comfortable and the folks working there were great. Our only minor complaint was our room being located next to the elevator, which was a bit noisy. We will certainly stay here again when we return, though.

Read TripAdvisor reviews and book it

We got dinner after hiking at Pelancho’s, a pretty good Mexican restaurant right down the road from our hotel. We split an order of fajitas and got some pretty tasty margaritas to help recover from doing more than 10 miles on the trail. It was quite tasty.

We also got lunch over in Harrogate, TN at Haymaker BBQ . We got a couple of BBQ sandwiches, which really hit the spot. I had the Korean-style BBQ and Bonnie had the Haymaker special, which we both enjoyed. 

Final Thoughts on Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

This park is perfect for a weekend getaway, especially if you want to get out on the trail. You cannot overstate the part this place played in early westward expansion.

While you could visit this park in a day and see most everything, an extra day would make all the difference in being able to get in tours or a solid hike. 

Be sure you check out the Wilderness Road State Park right down the road in Virginia. It is well worth your time and it really is the missing piece for the historical picture at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Travel Resources

What do you use to find a flight.

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start. Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties , so we use the Hilton website . You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express. Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way. Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN , or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them. Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia . Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct . We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper. Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip. Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first. Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J. Click here to get a Good Sam membership. We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there. Click here to get a AAA membership.

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gap cave tour

Gap Cave Tour at Cumberland Gap NHP

The Gap Cave Tour at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is the busiest tour in the park.  The cave tour is offered every day from Memorial Day to the middle of August.  After that the tour decreases to three or four days a week until the end of the September when the tours stop.  The only way to see the cave is to be on one of the tours.  Our first 20 visitors in the Visitors Center every day are generally the people who have signed up for the cave tour that day.

gap cave tour

Gap Cave is a karst cave formed by water pouring through limestone.  It is a living cave, meaning that air and water continue to flow through the cave so that the cave is still growing.  Gap Creek continues to flow through the lowest level of the cave and out through the town of Cumberland Gap.  Although about 20 miles of the cave have been explored, only 1/2 mile is on the tour taken by the public.

Gap Cave has the usual karst cave formations:  stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstone, and cave bacon.  It is very important that people not touch anything in the cave.  The slightest touch can impede the growth of formations.  Other living things in the cave include salamanders, cave crickets, and five kinds of bats:  Big Brown Bat, Little Brown Bat, Northern Long-Eared Bat, endangered Indiana Bat, and tri-colored bat.  During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union soldiers occupying the gap spent time exploring Gap Cave.  Some of them left behind signatures and dates.

gap cave tour

Tours of the cave started in 1888 when the owner of the land, Major Cockrill, blasted a large opening and named the cave “King Solomon’s Cave.”  In 1920, Lincoln Memorial University acquired ownership and renamed the caverns “Cudjo’s Cave,” after the fictional slave whom novelist James T. Trowbridge had taking refuge in a Tennessee cave during the Civil War. LMU subsequently leased all but the lower level of the cave to two entrepreneurs in Cumberland Gap, who continued commercial tours of the cave. Electric lighting was installed in Soldiers Cave in 1934, and shortly thereafter a tunnel was dug connecting Soldiers Cave to the lower Solomon’s Cave sections, enhancing the tours. Concessionaires continued to operate tours of the cave until 1992 when it was acquired by the National Park Service

Although commercial tour operators took steps to protect the cave, as many as 100 persons were permitted to tour the cave under the “supervision” of a single tour guide. Security of the cave was often a problem and vandals frequently broke into the cavern, wreaking havoc in terms of graffiti and broken formations.  “Cleaning” caves of graffiti and similar damage is discouraged by cave preservationists. The chemical and physical processes involved often create undesirable collateral damage.  The cleaning might also obliterate prehistoric pictograms or petroglyphs.

gap cave tour

Once the National Park Service took over the cave, they removed the electric lights.  The lights promote algae growth.  Instead, visitors are provided with a battery-powered lantern that they can carry and use as needed.  Tours are limited to 20 people with a ranger leading the tour and a volunteer acting as sweep to keep the group together.

gap cave tour

Tom and I had an opportunity to train as the sweeps for the Gap Cave tours in June.  Training mostly consisted of learning how to operate the locks that open and close the cave.  To discourage vandalism, the caves are kept locked even when a tour group is inside.  The sweep opens the cave and locks it again after the group has entered.  Then the sweep mostly reminds people not to touch anything and to be careful of low ceilings or steep, wet steps.  When the tour ends, the sweep unlocks the exit, helps everyone through, and then locks the cave again.  The sweep also radios the Visitors Center to tell how many people are entering the cave and then how many are exiting.

gap cave tour

Cave training also included what to do in case of an emergency.  There are first aid kits scattered around the cave, but if a squad is needed, the sweep has to run to the entrance or exit and call because there isn’t any cell or radio service inside the cave.

gap cave tour

Tom and I are serving as sweeps on the Sunday tours.  We alternate Sundays, but with special events we only do it about once a month.  Tom has been the sweep on one cave tour.  I was supposed to be the sweep on a cave tour last week, but we had lightning and thunder when we were getting ready to hike up to the cave.  Can’t have 20 people walking through lightning to get to the cave.  We waited close to half an hour for the storm to pass but the thunder and lightning just got worse.  Finally the ranger called off the tour and told everyone to go back to the Visitors Center for a refund.  Of course, as soon as we got back to the Visitors Center the storm was finished and the sky was blue.

gap cave tour

People really enjoy the Gap Cave Tour.  For many, it is a highlight of their trip.  Sandy, Eric, Cheryl, and Megan all took the cave tour when they were visiting and were fascinated.  I am glad that I am trained and able to help people have a good experience on their visit.

Cumberland Gap National Park

Cumberland Gap National Park

View from White Rocks at Cumberland Gap National Park. Courtesy National Park Service/Scott Teodorski.

Associate Pages

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  • Blue Ridge Parkway
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  • Mammoth Cave
  • Shenandoah NP

Visitor Statistics Cumberland Gap NP

Hensley Settlement and the Cumberland Gap

Photo above: Hensley Settlement within Cumberland Gap National Park. Right: View of fall colors at the park. Photos courtesy National Park Service.

Cumberland Gap National Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

It's the gap in the mountain between the three states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky that allowed the mountain men west. Yes, Daniel Boone , now moving into the interior from his Pennsylvania upbringing, and his cohorts would ply the Indian paths through the Cumberland Gap to explore the valleys to their west. No, he wasn't the first, but yes, the most famous. Today, you can see remnants of the mountain men and the subsequent settlers in settlements that are preserved for your visit, you can descend into caves here long before either white settlement or Indian settlement were even a thought, or just marvel at the vistas of the mountains in either spring, summer, or fall. Cumberland Gap National Park, not far off the Interstate 81 corridor, provides a variety of nature, outdoors, and history fun, a park known more in the region than the nation, but waiting for your next adventures. Com'n Daniel, I need to visit a cave.

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Cumberland Gap

Cumberland Gap Then

Cumberland Gap - The gap is a V-shaped dent in the Appalachian Mountains, allowing Indian tribes and later white settlers access to the western frontier in Kentucky from the original settlements in Virginia. Dr. Thomas Walker of the Loyal Land Company is often credited for its founding, although other white settlers had traveled there before. He set a western course on March 6, 1750, found the gap one month later, and described it for those that would follow. It began the migration west into the blue grass region of Kentucky and further inland. Daniel Boone began his adventures in the Gap and land west in 1769, missing the gap in a previous adventure two years earlier. He would trap and hunt the region with various conflicts with Indian tribes over the next four years before survey companies began to plot the Kentucky region for further settlement. Gap Cave - Known by various names over the years, the cave has seen use by animals (15,000 years ago as evidence by the remains of a prehistoric bear found three miles in) and by humans 2,000-4,000 years ago. In more recent times, the cave was toured in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, and during the Civil War, the cave was occupied by troops on both sides. Only minor skirmishes occurred at the Gap and both sides claimed it twice during the 1861-1865 timeframe. Some areas of the cave were used as a hospital and munition dump. When the idea of using the cave for tourists surfaced, an entrance was blasted in 1888 for tours by Major Cockrill known as King Solomon's Cave. It was acquired in 1920 by Lincoln Memorial University and renamed Cudjo's Cave after the fictional slave in a novel of the same name by James T. Trowbridge. It would be run by concessionaires until sold to the National Park Service. Hensley Settlement - Inlaws Sherman Hensley and Willy Gibbons founded the small settlement in 1904 on part of a five hundred acre claim made in 1845 by the Brothers Bates, who would lease the land to others. In 1903, Barton Hensley bought the entire plot and subdivided it for members of his family. More than forty-five structures would be built, a high of one hundred people would live there around 1925, which dwindled to one in 1951. Image above: Lithograph by Middleton, Stobridge, & Company, 1862-1865, of army troops passing through the Cumberland Gap during the Civil War. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Fall at the Hensley Settlement. Courtesy National Park Service.

Condors at Pinnacles National Park

Cumberland Gap Now

Cumberland Gap National Park is essentially a living history museum with its predominant feature, the natural gap through the mountains providing the impetus for settlement of the immediate region, exploits by pioneers such as Daniel Boone, and the subsequent settlement of Kentucky along the Wilderness Road. A visit provides a glimpse into the history predating the American Revolution, the history of the Civil War, and the history of the Appalachian region through the present day. Tours of the Hensley Settlement, an early 20th century community of one family which attempted to carve life north of the Gap with varying degrees of success, today brings life back to the hardscrabble existence the mountains provided. Inside the mountain itself, the caves of nature suggest a different story, one of natural wonder, plus man-made use after prehistoric bears roamed the indentations and soldiers made use of its natural protection while protecting the Gap for Confederate or Union purposes. It's a park not thought of in the same terms as nearby wonders such as Shenandoah , the Blue Ridge Parkway , or Great Smoky Mountain National Park , although in many ways that's a shame. Take a trip on your way home from one of those and ply the paths of Indian heritage, a pioneer Boone, and Appalachian families who called the Cumberland Gap region home, or used it as a pathway to a home further afield. The somewhat odd combination of beneath the earth wonders and overlook beauty makes a nice foray from those better attended parks. And you can even stand at the spot Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee meet. Can't do that anywhere else, I don't think. Gap Cave - Purchased by the National Park in 1992, once or twice per day cave tours are available, but sometimes fill up quickly. Check during the month prior to your visit and reserve a time to be safe. Descendents of the early settlers remain in the ridges and valleys that proceed from the Cumberland Gap down the Wilderness Road. It's estimated that forty-seven million Americans come from the several hundred thousand settlers who used that path west. The Wilderness Road weaved from Roanoke, Virginia, to Lexington, Kentucky. The area and park represent one part of the Appalachia culture that came from those settlers and remains today as an integral part of the region. Crafts in the Visitor Center show pieces of the handwork made in the past and kept alive in the traditions of today. The rough cabins and settlement buildings at Hensley lay testament to the conditions and life of the people who braved the mountain terrain and farmed the fields of the Gap. Restoration by the Job Corps of the Hensley Settlement began in 1965; it now serves as a living history museum.

Minute Walk in History

Take a walk with us through the spectacular above ground and below ground nature and history of Cumberland Gap, the gap used by Daniel Boone to explore and eventually settle Kentucky and Tennessee. By 1810, 200,000 to 300,000 had used that trail through the gap to emigrate west. Today, the National Park is a glorious place to site vistas for miles, explore caves by guide or by yourself, and learn about the Civil War history and site earthworks built atop a mountain. Great hiking and camping here, too. Music "Cumberland Gap," played by Uncle Am Stuart, 1924.

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap Things You Should Not Miss

1. The Cumberland Gap National Park Visitor center has two films to watch in the auditorium. They provide a great glimpse into the history of the Cumberland Gap region and a nice introduction to your stay. And they're high def. One, "Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement" (23 minutes) focuses on the pioneer days. The other, "The Cumberland Gap" (11 minutes) focuses more on the natural history, plus other park history. 2. Take a ranger guided tour. We suggest taking both main tours; the Gap Cave Tour and the Hensley Settlement Tour. They're very different, one focusing on what nature provided beneath the earth, and the other, what man tried to do to tame the land above it. The cave Tour takes only two hours, so if you only have one day here, that's probably the one to take. It does require a 1.5 mile walk and negotiating 183 steps. Children under five not allowed. The Hensley Settlement Tour takes a half day, includes a shuttle ride to the settlement, about a one mile walk, and a suggestion to bring a light snack and drinks. Other tours are sometimes available; ask at the Visitor Center when you arrive. 3. Trek to the Pinnacle Overlook. For those that can walk, it's four miles one way from the Visitor Center and provides a great glimpse into your surroundings, even before you reach the top and view those three states from it's 2,440 foot peak. In the northern part of the park, the White Rocks Overlook is also great. Ask where and what it takes to get there. Photo above: Winter at the Hensley Settlement. Photo courtesy National Park Service. Below: Man with four children fronting a mountaineer cabin in the Cumberland Gap region circa 1919. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Cumberland Gap

Visitor FAQ

Gap Cave, Cumberland Gap National Park

What's There Now

Visitor's centers.

Cumberland Gap Visitor Center - Located off U.S. Highway 25E near the town of Middlesboro, Kentucky in the southern end of the park, the visitor center is open year round, except some holidays, and provides park orientation, films, exhibits, crafts about Appalachia, and a bookstore. Daniel Boone Visitor Center - Located outside the park off Highway 58 in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Exhibits, facilities, and tickets for the Gap Cave Tour can be purchased here.

Other Sites

Gap Cave - Tours of the cave are available most days and provide a great glimpse into the earth beneath the gap. Explore stalagmites, stalagtites, for two hours. Limited folks allowed per tour; reservations can be made one month in advance. Accessed from the Daniel Boone parking area. Pinnacle Overlook - A four mile walk from the Visitor Center, or drive if your vehicle is under twenty feet long, and at some times available by shuttle from the visitor center, the overlook provides a fantastic view of three states; Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Hensley Settlement - Guided half-day tour available of this Brush Mountain settlement in the northern part of the park. Requires a shuttle ride to the 1904 settlement of pastural lanes, blacksmith shop, springhouse, cabins, and schoolhouse. Hiking Trails - Over eighty miles of them here, from the quarter mile type to twenty-one miles. These spur from the Visitor Center to trailheads around the park; Thomas Walker, Ft. McCook, Pinnacle Overlook, Iron Furnace, Daniel Boone, Sugar Run Picnic Area, and the Wilderness Road Campground. Photo above: One scene within Gap Cave. Courtesy National Park Service.

Cumberland Gap National Park

Lodging and Camping

Well, there's really only one lodging in the park, and it's more a camping oriented place. Martin's Fork Cabin is located in the backcountry and requires a long hike and a reservation. It's cheap, but as we said, more the camping experience. Other than that, the surrounding area has a few towns with motels, including Middlesboro and Pineville, Kentucky; Cumberland Gap and Tazewell, Tennessee. We wouldn't say a plentiful amount, so check a bit early with your favorite online lodging site for the lodging type of your choice. There is one seasonal campground in the park itself, Wilderness Road. It has hookup sites and primitive tent sites. Campground does have hot showers and restrooms. It's located three miles from the visitor center and contains one hundred and sixty campsites. A fee is charged. Primitive backcountry camping is also allowed in the park, requires a permit, and is free. Photo above: Boardwalk on the Greenleaf Trail. Photo by Scott Teodorski, National Park Service.

Cumberland Gap National Park

Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap, and Charleston Railroad

Thoughts of building a railroad along this line began in 1853, with first work grading the road in 1855. Construction would be halted during the Civil War in spring of 1862, and would not resume until 1866. Much damage had been sustained during the conflict. Reports state that it was completed in 1867 and ran until 1883 when it was purchased by the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad. Photo above: Bear cub, just one example of the wildlife at Cumberland Gap National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service/Scott Teodorski. Photo below: Locomotive of the Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap, and Charleston Railroad. Courtesy National Park Service.

Cumberland Gap Railroad

Cumberland Gap Links

Nearby attractions.

Shenandoah National Park Daniel Boone National Forest Cherokee National Forest Virginia Tourism Kentucky Tourism Visit Tennessee

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gap cave tour

The top 5 things to do at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

gap cave tour

By AAA staff

Published July 12, 2019 Last updated: May 29, 2023

Migratory animals such as bison, elk, and deer forged the first paths through the great Appalachian pass known as the Cumberland Gap, and humans followed in their footsteps. 

Long known to American Indian peoples such as the Shawnee and the Cherokee, the Cumberland Gap came prominently on the radar of Euro-Americans in the mid-18th century. Frontiersman Daniel Boone made a name for himself by establishing a road through the Cumberland Gap under commission. Boone’s Trace, as it was originally called, became the Wilderness Road, which funneled several hundred thousand settlers westward into the bluegrass country of “Kentuckee” and beyond until 1810.

Set along the boundaries of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park protects this momentous break in the Cumberland Mountains and a long stretch of the ridgeline eastward to the high ramparts of the White Cliffs. From tours and guided spelunking to breathtaking Appalachian vistas and backcountry adventure, this long, narrow park is a must-see for history buffs, nature enthusiasts, and outdoor recreationists.

Here’s a look at the top 5 experiences within this tri-state treasure.

The view from the Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

1. Take in the view from the Pinnacle Overlook

The grand panorama from the Pinnacle Overlook is the most-visited attraction in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. A steep, twisty, but well-maintained paved road climbs 4 miles from the park’s visitor center up to the 2,400-foot vantage point, which overlooks the Gap with a view encompassing 6 states.

Those long views are the chief attraction, but there are other things to experience as well: Stand in 2 states at once by straddling the painted line marking the Kentucky-Virginia border, and visit the old Confederate breastworks of the Civil War-era Fort Lyon on a short loop path from the overlook.

Gap Cave at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

2. Go on a tour of Gap Cave

Dozens of limestone-pocked caves riddle the Cumberland Mountain, the best-known and most accessible of which is Gap Cave. A part of the multilevel cave is open to the public via roughly 1.5-mile-long ranger-led tours. Take in remarkable  speleothems  (cave formations) such as stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, and soda straws while keeping an eye peeled for cave crickets, cave salamanders, and multiple bat species including big browns and eastern pipistrelles.

There’s a lot of history woven into these caverns: Union and Confederate soldiers occupied Gap Cave during the Civil War, and going further back in time, the remains of a Pleistocene short-faced bear were collected here. Visitors should plan to wear comfortable shoes to walk about a mile of the historic Wilderness Road to reach Gap Cave.

Iron Furnace at Cumberland Gap

3. Visit the Iron Furnace at Cumberland Gap

Just off the Wilderness Road Trail, visitors will find what remains of the iron-smelting complex originally known as the Newlee Iron Furnace. The 30-foot-high blast furnace was built in 1819 on the stream below Gap Cave and operated throughout the 1800s. The iron produced was sold to local blacksmiths or shipped down the Powell River to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Sand Cave at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

4. Explore the Cumberland Gap backcountry via the Ridge Trail

About 20 miles in length, the Ridge Trail runs the length of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park along the spine of the Cumberland Mountains. While day hikers can explore this backcountry route via multiple spur trails, it is best experienced via overnight backpacking at one of several designated campsites.

Sights along this route include Hensley Settlement, the wind-scoured alcove known as Sand Cave, and the soaring sandstone palisades of the White Rocks. Looming more than 3,500 feet above Poor Valley, White Rocks serves as a landmark for travelers journeying to Cumberland Gap.

5. Let the visitor center put it all in context

Visitors can set their Cumberland Gap National Historical Park exploration in context via the interpretive experience at the visitor center. Besides hands-on exhibits and a showcase of handicrafts, the well-maintained facility shows 2 educational films in its auditorium.  The Cumberland Gap  serves up an overview of the natural and cultural history of the mountain pass and  Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement  digs into the saga of Daniel Boone and the significance of the Cumberland Gap’s westbound trace in the expansion of the American frontier.

Check park conditions before visiting:  Conditions at National Parks can change without notice. Be sure to check the latest information about conditions on the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park website when planning a trip.

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Why Kentucky's Cumberland Gap Is A National Park Worth Visiting

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10 additional scenic stops to make if you're visiting the grand canyon, 10 underrated small beach towns in florida to kick the winter blues, quick links, the cumberland gap - america's large tri-state national park, explore gap cave with a park ranger tour, the historical significance of the cumberland gap, planning a visit to the cumberland gap national historical park.

Kentucky is home to one of the largest national parks in the eastern United States. The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is situated on the borders of where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all come together. The Cumberland Gap is located in the Appalachians and is of significant historical importance to the nation. It tells the tale of American expansion in a similar way as the famous Lewis, and Clark Trail does further west.

Kentucky is an often forgotten state, but it has a number of things to see and do. Take the time to go on a bourbon tour or see the state's stunning autumn foliage. If one is looking for a very unusual attraction, see the giant full-sized replica of Noah's Ark as it was recorded in Kentucky.

Central to the national historical park is the Cumberland Gap . It is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains. The national park follows the Gap and stretches for around 20 miles (or 32 km) along the Cumberland Mountains. It is only narrow, having an average width of 1.6 miles or 2.6 kilometers.

  • Location: Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia
  • Size: 24,000 acres or 9,700 ha
  • Length: 20 Miles
  • Width: 1.6 Miles

Elevation in the park varies between 1,100 feet and 3,500 feet. The region is also home to a number of caves (24 are known). They range from being only small to over 16 miles long.

  • Gap Cave: Can Be Explored With a Park Ranger

One of the attractions to hike to in the park is the Kentucky-Virginia-Tennessee tripoint. It is accessible by hiking the trail to it, and then one can say one stood in three states at once. Travel out west to the Four Corners, and one can stand in four states at once.

Related: Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: Remembering The Dark Days of The Past

Join the Park Ranges on tour to Gap Cave . See the majestic underground cathedral and see scores of glistening stalagmites and other formations (as well as bats).

Park Range Gap Cave Tour Dates:

  • April 20 - May 14: Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 10.00 am
  • May 15 - June 14: Wednesday, Saturdays at 10.00 am
  • June 15 - August 31: Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 10.00 am
  • September 1 - September 30: Wednesdays at 10.00 am

To participate in the tours, a reservation is required, and one must be at the visitor center at least 30 minutes early. The tour covers around 1.5 miles of moderately strenuous walking through 3 cave levels and 183 stairs.

  • Age Restriction: 5 And Over
  • Tour Size: Limited To 20 People
  • Prices: Adults: $8.00

It is always exciting to explore below as well as above the surface of any destination.

It is a historical park as it was through the Cumberland Gap that American settlers streamed westwards to colonize west of the Appalachians. It was also used by Native Americans long before that time and was the path of the bison and Native Americans for thousands of years.

The Cumberland Gap is regarded as the first great gateway to the west (the Appalachians were an early barrier to westward expansion). It was the path that some 300,000 people used to cross the Appalachians and push the frontier westwards.

  • Gateway: Was the First Gateway To The West
  • Settlers: Used By 300,000 Settlers

The Gap is a place to learn about different parts of America's history, including Native Americas, settler expansion, and the Civil War. See game trails that became the Wilderness Road.

One place to experience what life was like in the 20th-century mountain communities is at Hensley Settlement.

Related: Hike The Natchez Trace: The Shortest National Scenic Trail

The park's visitor center (the Cumberland Gap Visitor Center) is located in Kentucky, just southeast of the city of Middleboro. At the visitor center, one can learn the historical significance of the Gap tour interactive exhibits and the films shown at the auditorium.

  • Open: 24/7 Year Round
  • Entrance Fee: None
  • Visitor Center Hours: 9.00 am to 4.00 pm

Today visitors can explore the park and hike the 85 miles of trails and explore the 14,000 acres of wilderness. Visitors are impressed by the beauty and unique geologic sandstone formations of the park.

  • Destinations
  • Top Sights In Kentucky
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Last updated: December 2, 2022

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91 Bartlett Park Road Middlesboro, KY 40965

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Stars out in full force at All-Star Celebrity Softball Game

Melanie Martinez-Lopez

Melanie Martinez-Lopez

ARLINGTON -- When Rob Bentley first entered the MLB Moments contest, he never thought he would win the experience of being on the same team as Pedro Martínez and Jennie Finch, two of his favorite celebrities.

But that’s exactly what happened -- he had a front-row seat to watch the MLB Hall of Famer and softball legend play in the lighthearted 2024 All-Star Celebrity Softball Game presented by Corona.

“It's very fun and great to experience beautiful facilities and I couldn’t be happier,” Bentley said. “What a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Complete All-Star coverage

• MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard: Tuesday on FOX (8 p.m. ET) • Here are the 2024 All-Star rosters • Looking for tickets to All-Star events? Visit allstargame.com/tickets • Team-by-team breakdown of the 2024 All-Stars • Here are this year's Home Run Derby participants

The Cave Creek, Ariz., native was also in the company of Emmy Award winner and comedian Tiffany Haddish, University of Colorado football coach and former MLB player Deion Sanders, Grammy Award-winning artist Myke Towers, and more at the welcome reception in the nearby Loews’ Hotel before heading to Globe Life Field for the game on Saturday night.

Bentley had one of the best seats in the house to witness an exciting game, filled with antics and an -- almost -- comeback.

gap cave tour

Frontera Teck launches a long ball over the border

Before stepping one foot onto the field, Grammy Award-winning producer Frontera Teck announced that he would homer three times during the game.

He didn’t get all three but he did hit one. In his first at-bat of the night, he took a down-and-in pitch to send the ball over the barriers of the outfield to get his very first (and only) dinger of the night. He gave the American League squad a quick lead that did not last very long.

Benches cleared ... not

Comedian Kid Mero was looking for some backup from his team when he was hit by a pitch thrown by Martínez. The pair got into a tussle but the National League watched from their dugout and did not instigate a benches-clearing situation.

Mero did his best to fight Martínez, but instantly found himself holding onto the former Major Leaguer’s leg, getting a laugh from everyone in the stadium.

The Kid Mero was looking for a fight with Pedro Martinez 🤣 pic.twitter.com/JjKz5OUTSs — MLB (@MLB) July 14, 2024

Back-to-back inside-the-park

The NL squad was not going to be left behind and give up easily. Reality TV Star West Wilson sent a ball right into a gap in left field. Using his speed, he rounded the bases for the first inside-the-park homer of the inning. It wasn’t long before radio and TV personality Bobby Bones, the eventual MVP of the game, stepped up to the plate and followed suit with a second inside-the-park homer right up the middle of the outfield immediately after.

Bones for MVP

After hitting the homer and even logging a lead-extending triple, Bones made his case for MVP on the mound, recording some quick strikeouts and setting the two for the NL on defense.

“Bobby Bones in the circle definitely earned the MVP,” Finch said. “He shut us down. I think I’ve never been part of something where we had barely any hits the whole time. I think we only hit twice which is unheard of. So he definitely did on the mound.”

During the game, “The Bobby Bones Show” host had scraped his knee, and afterward, with blood dribbling and sweat dripping from his face, Bones held his MVP belt with pride and enjoyed his time with the celebrities.

“It was awesome, it was so much fun,” he said. “I got the belt, but I just wanted to play, much less be the MVP, but it was awesome.”

Bobby Bones is your 2024 All-Star Celebrity Softball Game MVP 🌟 (MLB x @CoronaUSA ) pic.twitter.com/qKYXG39wTw — MLB (@MLB) July 14, 2024

Owens calls yard … then goes over it

Before the game, Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Owens mentioned he played a little bit of all sports growing up including softball, and was going to try and hit a home run.

“I’m going to try to,” Owens said. “That’s the goal. The number one goal is to win but definitely try to go yard if I can.”

At 50 years old, he was able to showcase his ability to remain an athlete and hit a softball deep in a Major League field. Owens contributed to the six runs the NL squad scored in the fourth inning.

The AL(most) comeback

Despite being down for most of the game, the American League did its best to try and make a comeback, scoring eight runs in the fifth and final inning, but it was not enough to take the win.

“I’m super proud of the team,” Finch said. “It was a rough loss but to see the fight and to see us put up [eight] runs in the end, it was a pretty good way to end the game. At least we went down fighting.”

gap cave tour

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COMMENTS

  1. Guided Tours

    If no reservations have been booked by noon the day before the tour, it will be canceled. Reservations can be made up to 1 month in advance by calling the visitor center at 606-248-2817. Reservations are accepted by phone or in person only between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily. Tours are limited to 10 people.

  2. Gap Cave

    We offer guided tours of Gap Cave seasonally each year. For information about Gap Cave Tours, go to our Guided Tours Page.

  3. Gap Cave Tour

    All Gap Cave Tours start at 10 a.m. May 29 - August 13 - every day. August 14 - September 30 - every Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday; Saturday, August 5th; Saturday, August 19th. How to participate in a Gap Cave Tour: REQUIRED! Make a reservation, by noon the day before desired tour date. Come to visitor center and pay for your tour at least 30 ...

  4. gap cave tour

    Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: gap cave tour - See 613 traveler reviews, 622 candid photos, and great deals for Middlesboro, KY, at Tripadvisor.

  5. Gap Cave at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    Join park rangers on an exciting two-hour adventure exploring this majestic underground cathedral! Discover glistening stalagmites and flowstone cascades, or catch a glimpse of a bat. The moderately strenuous, 1.5 mile tour explores four levels of the cave via 183 steps. The tour includes a 1 mile hike along the historic Wilderness Road. For the safety of all, no children under the age of five ...

  6. Gap Caverns in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    Explore a hidden world found underground- inside the mountains! It is a world of darkness, with fantastic dripstone formations and strange animals who have adapted to the cave environment. There are no entrance fees at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. There are fees for camping, guided tours, and other amenities in the park. Gap Cave Tours: Join park rangers on an exciting two-hour ...

  7. This Passageway Through the Appalachian Mountains Was Created by a

    The Gap Cave tour is $8, and reservations can be made up to one month in advance by calling (606) 248-2817.

  8. Gap Cave Tour!...

    Gap Cave Tour! This is YOUR chance to explore the majestic underground world known as Gap Cave. Don't miss out! Tour Schedule: April 20 - May 25 Weekends only 9:00 a.m. Depart 9:00 a.m.; return...

  9. Gap Caverns in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    Gap Cave Tours: Join park rangers on an exciting two-hour adventure exploring this majestic underground cathedral. During the 1.5 mile tour, you'll walk along the historic Wilderness Road to the cave entrance, then through five levels of the cave via 183 steps.

  10. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Guide [2023]

    Cumberland Gap National Park is located in Middlesboro, Kentucky, but stretches into Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and parts of Virginia. This national historical park has a rich natural and cultural history, breathtaking overlooks, a magnificent cave system, historic sites, and over 85 miles of hiking trails that wind through its 24,000 acres.

  11. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    Guided tours of Gap Cave take visitors on a two-hour journey exploring the "majestic underground cathedral". Visitors can view flowstone cascades, dramatic stalagmites, and catch glimpses of the cave's native creatures- such as salamanders, bats, and crayfish.

  12. Gap Cave

    The cave is filled with many diverse organisms, including bats, cave salamanders, cave crickets, and packs rats. Beyond just life, Gap cave continues to grow, being a wet cave, its formations continue to form. During a tour, you will see stalactites, stalagmite, and other formations throughout the cave.

  13. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Middlesboro, Kentucky. 28,386 likes · 294 talking about this · 24,615 were here. Cumberland Gap played a key...

  14. Gap Cave, Virginia

    Gap Cave. Check out this 1.2-mile out-and-back trail near Ewing, Virginia. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 33 min to complete. This is a popular trail for hiking and walking, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime.

  15. Gap Cave Tour

    Gap Cave Tour - A Subterranean Adventure Awaits. Nestled within the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park lies a remarkable natural wonder — Gap Cave. Known for its intricate passages and stunning formations, Gap Cave invites visitors to step into the depths of the earth and explore a world beneath the surface.Offering an exceptional underground experience, the guided tours of Gap Cave ...

  16. An Amazing Weekend at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    The Gap Cave is a cave system that is only accessible via a ranger-led tour. The cave is home to bats and salamanders and some pretty cool cave formations, at least according to pictures.

  17. Gap Cave Tour at Cumberland Gap NHP

    The Gap Cave Tour at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is the busiest tour in the park. The cave tour is offered every day from Memorial Day to the middle of August. After that the tour decreases to three or four days a week until the end of the September when the tours stop.

  18. Gap Cave

    Gap Cave is located just underneath Pinnacle Overlook in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Claiborne County, TN. The entrance to the cave is at the tristate area of Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky, just over the border into Virginia. Currently, the cave has a surveyed length of 18.5 miles and is the 42nd longest cave in the United ...

  19. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and Appalachian Mountain

    Cumberland Gap National Park History, Heritage Tourism, and Appalachian Mountain Travel, Vacations, and National Parks. The site of Daniel Boone, caves, mountain era history, and settlement of the frontier.

  20. Gap Cave Tours

    Tours consist of 1.5 miles of moderately strenuous exploration of 3 cave levels via 183 stairs

  21. The top 5 things to do at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    Dozens of limestone-pocked caves riddle the Cumberland Mountain, the best-known and most accessible of which is Gap Cave. A part of the multilevel cave is open to the public via roughly 1.5-mile-long ranger-led tours.

  22. Why Kentucky's Cumberland Gap Is A National Park Worth Visiting

    The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is situated on the borders of where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all come together. The Cumberland Gap is located in the Appalachians and is of significant historical importance to the nation. It tells the tale of American expansion in a similar way as the famous Lewis, and Clark Trail does ...

  23. 212 Canyon Gap Way #724, Winstead Iii Raleigh, NC 27610

    This 2696 square feet Single Family home has 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. It is located at 212 Canyon Gap Way #724, Winstead III Raleigh, NC.

  24. Caves in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

    There are numerous caves in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Some of these caves are open to the public, including Skylight Cave and Sand Cave. Ranger-guided tours to Gap Cave are offered from April 15 to September 30. Gap cave closes on September 30 to allow the hibernation of bats.

  25. All-Star Celebrity Softball Game 2024

    Reality TV Star West Wilson sent a ball right into a gap in left field. Using his speed, he rounded the bases for the first inside-the-park homer of the inning. ... MLB World Tour; Ticket Terms & Conditions; Shop. MLB Online Shop; Auction; Gift Cards; MLB NYC Flagship Store; European Shop; Teams. AL East. ... The Cave Creek, Ariz., native was ...