Wandering animals, buffalo and deer, were the first to discover this natural break in the daunting Appalachian Mountains. These migratory mammals blazed the trail that American Indian tribes would later follow. American settlers seemed destined to be bottled up on the East Coast until April 1750 when Dr. Thomas Walker discovered the gap through the mountains.
Later, Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Gap in 1775. Over the next 20 years, although no wagons rolled through the pass, more than 200,000 people made the journey west into the wilderness of Kentucky and beyond. The Cumberland Gap was honored as a national Historic Park in 1940 and a new tunnel through the mountains will enable the Wilderness Road to one day be restored to its 1700s appearance.
The Cumberland Gap National Historic Park encompasses more than 20,000 acres of dog-friendly forest lands in the mountains on the Kentucky-Virginia border. The best spot to view the gap with your dog is at Pinnacle Overlook, accessible on a 4-mile paved road. Most visitors don't make it beyond the overlook but canine hikers can take off on a wide, rolling walk at the top of mountains with good views through thin trees and from rocky perches. The Ridge Trail is an easy walk from the tourist parking lot or can be climbed to from a campground. It runs for 19 miles through the woods on the ridgetop; all told, there are more than 50 miles of marked trail in the park.
To walk on the Wilderness Road, try the Tri-State Peak Trail, a steady 1.3-mile climb around the mountain. After a narrow, rocky beginning up switchbacks, the trail goes through the historic gap before heading to the 1,990-foot summit on a wide logging road. From the pavilion on the summit are views of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
At the base of the Tri-State Peak Trail are the remains of a 30-foot-high, charcoal-burning blast furnace that produced iron through much of the 19th century. Built of limestone slid down the mountain, the Newlee Iron Furnace was the focal point for an iron-making community here. The furnace could produce about 3 tons of iron a day to be shipped down the Powell River to Chattanooga.
The Visitor Center for the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is located on the Kentucky side, on US 25E.
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