Exploring Tennessee: Hiking the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Roughly 800,000 people visit the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park every year to check out the hiking and stand in three states at the same time.
Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 11:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2023 at 1:03 AM EDT
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MIDDLESBORO, KY (WVLT) - WVLT First Alert Meteorologist Jacob Durham and Photojournalist Christopher Covert took a trip up north to explore the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The park spans across 20,508 acres and three state lines and features numerous hiking trails and the longest tunnel in the state of Tennessee. The park is about an hour and a half drive from Knoxville.

About 800,000 people visit the park every year to hike and camp.

“We have front country camping, we have our wilderness road campground that has sites with electrical hookups and sites without electrical hookups, where you can camp,” said Chief of Interpretation Jody Mays. “We have five back country camping areas where you have to hike in to get to the camping site and you need a permit to go to those. We have 85 miles of hiking trails, we have several caves in the park.”

They offer guided cave tours throughout the summer months as well.

About 300,000 settlers moved through the gap over 20 years and spread across the country.

“It’s an area that Daniel Boone explored, and he started leading settlers through there and I kind of think of it as the Ellis Island of its day because it was kind of a funnel point,” said Mays.

One of the cool features of the park is the way visitors cross between Kentucky and Tennessee; through a tunnel. The mile-long tunnel is the longest in Tennessee.

It provided a safe way to travel along the gap and has cut down on travel issues over the last 26 years.

For those exploring the park and might be riding a bike or hiking, it’s possible to encounter the tunnel. Guests are asked to stop at the beginning of the tunnel, but make sure to have an I.D. while crossing the state line.

“We’ll carry them in the back of a truck, or we’ll just give them a ride, but that way everyone gets through,” System Administrator for Unit II Robert Lawton said. “It’s not safe to go through the tunnel without a full vehicle.”

Crews monitor the tunnel for 24 hours a day and are trained in case of an emergency.

Once visitors get through the tunnel visitors said their favorite things to do was the Pinnacle overlook and Tri-State Peak.

“One of the areas people like to hike to is called Tri-State Peak and you can actually stand in three states at the same time, because you’re right where they come together,” said Mays.

The town of Middlesboro can be seen from the top of the overlook with some of the best views happening when fog forms in the bowl-like feature and spills over the hills.