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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park - BEST Places to Picnic

US 25E South
P.O. Box 1848
Middlesboro, KY 40965-1848

By Phone: (606)248-2817

GPS: 36.604167, -83.687222

View Larger Map 

Established on June 11, 1940, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park located at the border between Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The Cumberland Gap is a sizable natural break in the Appalachian Mountains.  The gap was long used by Native Americans, as many species of migratory animals passed through it from north to south each year. 

It was fertile hunting territory and the only easy cut through the mountains from the southern wintering grounds of wild deer and buffalo to their northern summer range.  Starting around 1775, the Gap became the primary route of transit for American settlers moving west into Kentucky; between 1775 and 1810 as many as 300,000 settlers may have used the Gap.

The current Park preserves the natural beauty of the surrounding area while focusing more on historic preservation, including tours through the old Hensley Settlement, trips into Gap Cave, also known as Cudjo's Cave, (once used for shelter by traveling Indians and settlers), campfire programs and demonstrations of the settlers' lifestyle, Living History events, and Appalachian music festivals and concerts. 

In recent years, the former roadbed of U.S. Highway 25E through the park was restored to an early 19th century wagon path; this was made possible with the 1996 completion of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, which rerouted US 25E under the park.

The park lies in parts of Bell and Harlan counties in Kentucky, Claiborne County in Tennessee, and Lee County in Virginia. The park contains the Kentucky-Virginia-Tennessee tri-state area, accessible via a short trail.

The Park covers 20,508 acres and saw just over 1 million visitors in 2005.

The Cumberland Gap Visitor Center is located on U.S. Highway 25E just south of Middlesboro, Kentucky. The visitor center features a museum with interactive exhibits about the Gap's role as a transportation corridor, an auditorium that shows films about the area's cultural and natural history, a book store and the Cumberland Crafts gift shop. The visitor center is open every day except Christmas.

Included in the park is Hensley Settlement, an early 20th century mountain community that has been preserved by the park service as representative of the early settler's life on top of Brush Mountain. 

Two families by the name of Hensley and Gibbons moved to the mountain to escape the many changes that were taking place in the early 1900's. Eventually, more family members followed and a community was begun. A church and school was established under the jurisdiction of the Bell County School System of Bell County, Kentucky. 

Settlers continued their pioneer lifestyle until future generations began accepting employment and marriage partners off the mountain. Sherman Hensley, the founder of the settlement, was the last to leave in 1951.


There are a number of picnic areas in the park. Most have shaded picnic tables, water fountains, and trash containers. Some of the picnic areas also have covered shelters which can accommodate large groups.

External links: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

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