Timing was wrong to join a tour of the cave, but even without the tour, you can go poke your head in. From the Daniel Boone Visitor Center, it's about a half mile hike up the hill. If you follow the trail to the right (to the cave), it quickly becomes a fork in the road. Take the left fork, and you will be near a closed off section of the cave. What was sweet was that on a hot day, you can duck into this small tunnel, get a few blasts of cool air, and see a few formations.
In viewing some of the other pictures from Gap Cave, it does look like the cave tour itself could be worthwhile if you have the time.
If you travel through the town of Cumberland Gap, you'll eventually hit a small parking lot maintained by the NPS. From there, it is an extremely short jaunt along a paved trail to find the remains of the Iron furnace. This was used in the mind-1800's to turn limestone and iron ore into pig iron, which was then shipped to factories. You can walk up to the furnace, and even duck in if you are interested.
Note that the trail continues past the furnace, and hooks up with the Wilderness Road trail after about a quarter mile.
It's a short, but very windy road up to the top of the mountain, which gives you the chance to see KY, VA, and TN all together. From the parking lot, you just have to hike a few hundred feet to the actual overlook, which is full of placards to help point out some of the areas features. You can see the mountains and the town of Cumberland Gap, TN. There is a large bathroom facility, and there also are a number of trails that converge here.
Nearby is the site of Fort Lyon from the Civil war. There are some cannons and placards at this site. From here, you can take an extended hike in the mountains, or enjoy the trip back down the mountain.
I have been in a lot of caves, and this may be my favorite. The park ranger guides were very informative and personable. The cave is beautiful. It isn't very commercialized. We got to see quite a few bats at close range. There are even signatures from the civil war. (ask your guide what the gave was like before it became part of the National Park)
Start at the park visitor center on the Kentucky side. It's full of information about the historic trail and information about where you can go hiking and the drive to the top of the Pinnacles. See the movie (25 minutes or less). It's a great summary.
It's a steep drive, but once you're on top, the view is wonderful. You can see south along the chain of mountains. This is a rare place in each of the three states it's in. Technically, the Pinnacles is in Virginia, but you reach it from Kentucky.
Sounds silly, but tunnels are rare in most countries and especially in the U.S. Here, you can quickly pass under the mountain and visit the Tennessee side. Little to do, but it's the historic eastern end of gap and the eastern segment of the Wilderness Trail (Daniel Boone Trail).
There are also other areas of the park that extend further into Virginia. If you are a hiker and enjoy beautiful views and want to be able to see for miles then I would suggest making a trip to Ewing Virginia for a visit to the sand cave and also to the white rocks where you can see for miles. The trail is steep and rugged. If you have weak ankles like I do, you will want to be extra careful. If you get hurt up here, it may take some time for help to arrive. The rescue personnel here are volunteers. The trail is roughly over a mile and a half long to the white rocks. When you get to the top of the mountain, it will be mostly straight walking to the white rocks. To get to the rocks themselves will require a small steep climb through some narrow rocks. Once you climb through the rocks, the view will be worth the effort that you put into the hike to get here. My suggestion is to pack a small lunch and sit down on the rocks to eat lunch and enjoy the view. It is very relaxing up there and you will meet relatively few people on the hike and will most likely have the entire white rocks to yourselves. You will have views equally impressive to that of visiting the pinnacle but without so many people there. However, there are no rails to hold on to as you look over. So you won't want to get to close to the edge.
The tri state peak trail is just a little over a mile and begins at the saddle of Cumberland Gap. On the way to the top, you'll find the remains of a Union brigade's camp which was blown up when the Union had to retreat. The Gap actually changed hands between the north and south several times during the war and ultimately fell, obviously, to the Union. At the top, just like the name implies, you'll actually be in three states at once, and on top of a mountain. That's worth a little exertion.
The Wilderness Trail, also named after Daniel Boone, runs from Tennessee through the gap and into Kentucky. This was the road that hundreds of pioneers crossed on foot and later in covered wagons in their quest for establishing settlements in the west. You can walk a portion of the Wilderness Trail from the Iron Furnace Trail. The plaque dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution marks the place where the Wilderness Trail diverges from the Iron Furnace Trail.
When driving to the top of Pinnacle Overlook, you'll notice a turnout for one of the lookout points along the gap. A canon still stands as memory to the war fought on this terrain. Later in the war, when the Union army advanced, soldiers dug earthworks and took defensive positions to maintain their hold on Cumberland Gap.
The plaque explains a bit about the invasion of the area. As always, the terrain stands in silent and poignant tribute to the battles fought during the war.
This beautiful overlook is the high point of the park, both literally and figuratively. From the visitor's center, a twisting hairpin curved road leads up a mountain to the overlook. A short trail leads to the observation deck and the gap appears below.
The cave tour was very informative. Each person carried their own flashlight which allowed us all to look where we wanted to. The cave had a lot of history associated with it. It was intresting to learn how the cave had been used in the past (for instance, it was used as a hospital during the civil war by both sides). It even had civil war era graffiti carved into the rock from the soliders. I did the two hour tour, I think it was $8 per adult. It is also a nice way to cool off on a hot day as the cave temperature is much colder.
This small wooded point, at an elevation of 1,990 feet, would seem insignificant among the surrounding higher peaks and ridges, except for one thing. Here is where the three states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia come together. A small pavilion has been built by the National Park Service, and on the concrete floor are maked the lines of the three states.
To reach the point begins with a one and a half mile hike up the Wilderness Road Trail (See our earlier tip), to the crest of the Cumberland Gap. Then from the crest of the gap take a spur trail to the left for another mile, and an additional 390-feet elevation gain, up to the peak. The trail is well graded and a moderate climb. Along the way you will see the remains earthworks from the Civil War, as Cumberland Gap was a significant point of defense for the Confederacy against Northern aggression.
From the Visitor's Center a winding four-mile-long road leads to the Pinnacle Overlook parking lot. Here you find an easy paved pathway will take you to the Pinnacle Overlook. Along the way you will step over the Virginia/Kentucky border. The overlook offers spectacular views of three states, down onto the little town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and of the new highway disappearing into the tunnel.
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