Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

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Once the gateway to the west for 18th and 19th century Americans, the famous Gap is now a small and relatively unknown National Monument nestled in the corner of three states. Miles of mountain laurel-lined ridgeline, a giant sand cave and several grand overlooks await the next generation of pioneers.

Written by

Tim Hill


8.0 miles

Round Trip from Ewing Trailhead to Sand Cave/White Rocks

Destination Distance From Downtown

46.4 miles


4 of 5 diamonds

Steep climb up Cumberland Mountain

Time To Complete

5 hours

Estimated time for day trip from Ewing Trailhead to Sand Cave/White Rocks


All Seasons

In late Spring/early Summer go to check out the blooming mountain laurel

Dog Friendly


One of the few National Parks that are dog friendly

Land Website

Cumberland Mountain



In the late 18th and early 19th century, thousands of settlers passed through the Cumberland Gap in search of a new life in the seemingly boundless wilderness of the then-newly established United States. Now, the famous Gap is a small and relatively unknown National Monument nestled in the corner of three states. Miles of mountain laurel-lined ridgeline, a giant sand cave, and several grand overlooks await the next generation of explorers. 

What Makes It Great

Cumberland Gap National Park runs along a 26 mile stretch of Cumberland Mountain and ties in the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. A 21 mile, aptly named, Ridge Trail extends from end to end of the park along the top ridgeline with several side trails dropping off the north and south side along the way.

The best way to experience the park is to either set up an overnight shuttle from the Visitor Center to the Ewing Trailhead or plan an out-and-back backpack along the Ridge Trail. Several backcountry sites dot the trail to vary your trip. From the base of Cumberland Mountain to the top requires a stiff climb. For either route, the Thomas Walker Trail to the Pinnacles on one end or the Ewing Trail to White Rocks on the other, think ascending 1500 ft in about 3 miles.

To the modern eye the “Saddle of the Gap”, where so many Americans once passed through on their way to the new frontier, appears as a simple clearing in the woods, hardly distinguishable except for a small wooden sign marking the spot. Take a side trip up to the Tri-State Peak and stand at the intersection of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia as well as the northern terminus of Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail State Park (one day planned to extend all the way to Chattanooga).  

Return and finish the ascent to the Pinnacle Overlook. From this impressive view, consider the significance of that modest gap to wagon loaded travelers heading to start a new life.

If you only have time for a day-trip, start at the Ewing Trailhead and head up the mountain for the views at White Rocks (overlooking the rolling farmland of southwest Virginia) and then to explore the depths of the Sand Cave (a massive rock house with an oddly sandy flooring).

Who is Going to Love It

Day hikers, backpackers, equestrians, trail runners and just about everyone in between. Many of the trails are open for horse as well as foot traffic. Numerous trailheads allow for varying trip itineraries. The Wilderness Road Campground in VA has plenty of sites for an overnight stay as well. Check out the Henley Settlement or tour the Gap Cave for a less strenuous side adventure.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are several ways to access the park from Knoxville. Either head up I-75 to Exit 134 in Caryville and take Hwy 63 North through the Powell Valley or veer off Hwy 441 in Halls to Hwy 33 and wind up through Union County.

Trailheads exist at the Visitor Center (follow signs after crossing into Kentucky through the tunnel), at the Wilderness Road Campground off Hwy 58 and at the Civic Park in Ewing.

Usual National Park regulations apply, except that dogs are allowed on leash. 

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Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

Pinnacle View Rd
Middlesboro, KY, 40965
36.608145, -83.6848

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