Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
- 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.
How To Get to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
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.
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.
Getting Around 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.
What To See and Do in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
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.
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 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
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.Hot Tip:
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.
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.
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.
Best Times To Visit Cumberland Gap National Historical 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
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.
Where To Stay in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
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
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.
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.
Where To Eat in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
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.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Facts
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.
Featured Image Credit: Scott Teodorski via NPS
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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