When I was very little, I vaguely but fondly remember going to Cumberland Gap with my mom. We were on our way to visit relatives somewhere and I don’t remember much except the Iron Furnace, wading across the waterfall, and the tiny condensed town.
My song for this entry is Thou’s cover of the infamous “In the Pines” by Leadbelly:
Cumberland Gap, also called the “first great gateway to the west,” is in the Cumberland Mountain ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. This region was accessed by many Native American tribes long before Daniel Boone, Thomas Walker, and the like “discovered” it in the 1750s.
WHEF (Witnessing History Education Foundation) created this documentary to share the real story of Daniel Boone and Cumberland Gap. I heard he hated fur hats, by the way.
Cumberland Gap’s location at the meeting point of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee and its status as being the only continuous pass in the Cumberland Mountains made it a highly desired area to control.
We arrived around noon and it was not very crowded. A simple, flat parking lot connects with about a dozen broad stairs past the public restrooms. Just follow the sign.
Surprisingly, I recalled a few other memories once we were there, like this distinct rock formation.
Lots of quiet creeks lead visitors to the overlook.
From the main path, you can access other trails like Fort McCook and Harlan Road Trails. Reserved ranger-guided hikes are also available and you can view the full hiking and camping map here.
The overlook itself is a spacious flagstone area with lots of room to check out the panorama view.
Once you reach the outlook, the view is spectacular.
The Pine Mountain Thrust Sheet and Pineville Gap are two geological structures that helped create this unique region. You can learn more about the geology and biological history of Cumberland Gap here or the National Parks Services geological guide here.
A couple guys hopped over the safety railing and were milling about below us. We watched for a while to make sure they didn’t die, but we eventually lost track of them and made our way back.
I won’t spoil the view too much. You will just have to see it for yourself.
Before you go: there is plenty of parking and the walk is not steep or dangerous. The overlook has handrails and there is a public restroom where the parking lot meets the stairs to the path.
Follow normal mountain precautions like bringing water and wearing sunscreen and proper shoes. We forgot all of those things and I wore flip flops, but don’t be like us.
Cumberland Gap is synonymous for both the Pinnacle overlook where three states meet, and the town of Cumberland Gap itself.
The Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast, with original water wheel on the side.
Twenty five years ago , the small number of businesses open were pretty much found one central block. I found the image below on Pinterest with no author or origin listed, and I am pretty certain the building on the right is what is now the Olde Mill Inn.
Now the town has expanded into several blocks lined with antique shops, a bar, coffee shops, cafes, a gallery, commissary, a bed & breakfast, and a bicycle museum.
Multiple websites said to visit the Pineapple Tea Room. I am an incredibly patient/tolerant traveler, but we were not impressed at all by their attitude or service, and decided to go to Gap Creek Coffeehouse instead.
At Gap Creek, the staff was on point and the chai, latte, and smoothies were all delicious. This cafe is a known hotspot for the Lincoln Memorial University college students and many active / athletic types. My favourite part about this location is the large dog-friendly spaces outside, near the creek, and under the shade trees.
Pick up a new treasure at Whistle Stop Antiques and Gertie’s Commissary while you are here.
Around the edges of the town are some really lovely buildings like this church and multiple Victorian and Colonial houses.
The Iron Furnace is another notorious place to visit in Cumberland Gap.
This blast furnace was built out of large sandstones in the early 1800s during a boom of iron and limestone mining.
Beside the furnace, known then as Newlee’s Iron Furnace, a great waterfall serviced a hammer mill.
It has bars over the entrance but a camera trick allowed me to capture this view through the top.
I remember my mother telling me that she used to go swimming in the waterfall when she visited as a kid, and that the water was so fresh and clean back then. In the early 90s, I was still able to wade around in a shallow basin. The waterfall has since dried out and is shamefully full of garbage now.
We spotted a baby deer enjoying itself in the quiet clearing as we walked back to our car. Next time I will remember to bring a picnic.
Jack Barlow’s Songs of the Cumberland Gap
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