For some reason, I have always had a desire to visit Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. I feel like I must have read about it in a book on the Civil War or learned about it in history class at some point, because I have wanted to visit this place for so long with very little knowledge about it or my reasoning behind wanting to see it.
The drive to the park took us through some absolutely beautiful country with great views. From the overlook we stopped at, you could see so far that we could just make out the Smoky Mountains on the horizon. We also drove through the Cumberland Gap Tunnel. We are learning that Little Bird is apparently not a fan of tunnels, so the poor thing cried when we went through each direction. You would never know this girl was born in Pittsburgh and had to go through a tunnel on her way home from the hospital. As a toddler, it would be jarring to go from bright and sunny to very dark, so we of course did our best to reassure her and describe what was happening, including counting down until we emerged.
In doing research on hikes in the park, we decided we wanted to hike to Tri-State Peak. There is a marker at the peak denoting where the state lines of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all meet. I stopped into the visitor’s center to get a map, and the ranger was so helpful in identifying exactly where the best trailhead was and then highlighting the different legs of the trail we needed to take to get there. We were very grateful for her insight and the map at many times throughout the day.
From the visitor’s center, we headed up to the Pinnacle Observation Tower. At this point, we had hardly seen anyone in the park, so we hoped we could make it to the observation area before it got crowded. Luckily, we only saw a couple of people on the trail and at the observation area itself. The views from the Pinnacle were so incredible. It was a huge treat getting to see so far in the distance since our recent visits to higher elevations have tended to be on cloudier or foggy days.
In order to even get to the observation area, we crossed from Kentucky to Virginia, though most of what we could see was actually Tennessee. We were confused at many times during our visit as to what state we were actually in, and that was even before we got to the point where they converge.
We made our way back down to the Object Lesson Road trailhead, which led to the saddle of the Cumberland Gap and eventually to the Tri-State Peak marker.
The Civil War history that took place in this park was so interesting. While there was never a battle fought at this spot, both the Union and Confederacy held the Cumberland Gap at different times during the war. At one point on the trail, we walked through a crater where the Union had housed its munitions. When they received word the Confederacy was gaining on them, they were instructed to set fire to everything and “leave nothing useful behind.” We learned we were essentially standing in the crater caused by the explosions. We also took a short side trail to Fort Foote, which remains only in the incredible vantage point it had over the valley below.
The trail to Tri-State Peak was a total of 1.2 miles according to the signs. It was 1.2 miles of a slow but steady grade that only got steeper toward the peak. The trail was so well maintained and was in great condition, but it still required a little effort to get to the top. The effort was well worth it when we crested the top and could see different states in every direction. There is something so interesting about how and where state lines come together and it was odd standing on the top of a mountain and being in 3 states at once. We wondered for some time about why here?
On the way down, we took a longer trail back to the parking lot that was once an old road. I think the thing that boggled my mind more than where the state lines were was that people used to take horse and buggies over these “roads,” over the Cumberland Gap saddle, and to the other side of the mountain. I truly wondered what it was like for the people living in the area when the tunnel was completed. What an amazing change that would make to everyday life!
We truly enjoyed our visit to this park and cannot recommend it enough if you ever find yourself in the area. We learned so much about the history of the Gap, and while it did not spark any memories of why I wanted to visit, it reinforced why I had filed this place away in my brain and insisted we make the trip. We continually marveled throughout our hike how we were following the path that started out as buffalo crossing the mountains and how many thousands of people have traversed this same place. We love that in so many of our hikes, we get to live and walk through history.
Make sure to check the YouTube video and photos from this adventure below, and we look forward to seeing you on our next adventure.