Cumberland Gap

This spring break we decided to head down to Kentucky to spend a few days checking out Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and whatever else we could find in the area. We made our home base Pine Mountain State Resort Park and explored from there.

Cumberland Gap

Pine Mountain State Resort Park
View from our hotel room

Day 1 – Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

We spent our first day exploring the visitor’s center at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, where we learned about the 300,000 pioneers and settlers who traveled through this part of the country in the 1800s. We also learned that, although there was no battle fought here, Civil War soldiers used the Cumberland Gap as a strategic point.

After checking out the museum and the informational movies at the visitor’s center, the kids were all set to fill out their Junior Ranger activity books and earn their badges from this ranger with the coolest beard ever.

Cumberland Gap Ranger
Ranger with cool beard who gave us a helpful hint in case we were confronted by a black bear – rattle a plastic shopping bag. The noise scares bears! Who knew?

After the kids became official Junior Rangers, we embarked on a hike down Object Lesson Road and up Tri-State peak. The latter half of this hike was way more challenging than we had anticipated, but it was worth it.

Object Lesson Road
Object Lesson Road
Hiking down Object Lesson Road

At the top of Tri-State Peak we got to sign the registry (like REAL hikers) and had views of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Tri-State Peak
One foot in Tennessee
Tri-state peak
One foot in Kentucky
Tri-state Peak
One foot in Virginia

After that exhausting hike, we drove up to Pinnacle Overlook (also at Cumberland Gap) for an overview of where we were.

Pinnacle overlook

Day 2 – Gatlinburg, TN

The next day, we took a 2.5-hour drive to Gatlinburg, TN. We didn’t realize how touristy this place was — very.

I like to do things in locations that you can’t do anywhere else, so I didn’t want to visit the aquarium or any of the other touristy things around. So we decided to take the Ober tram up the mountain for lunch.

After lunch, we rode a ski lift up Mt. Harrison for a beautiful view of the Smoky Mountains. And we rode a mountain coaster down the side of another mountain. The kids loved it.



Gatlinburg smoky mountains

Day 3 – Cumberland Falls

On day 3, we took an hour and 15 minute drive to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Corbin, KY, to check out the “Niagara of the South.” Well, I can easily say that this was one of the best hikes we’ve ever been on. And the waterfalls (especially the one you reach via Eagle Falls trail) were very impressive. I recommend a walking stick, a snack, and plenty of water for this hike.

Cumberland Falls


Cumberland Falls


Day 4 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We were totally exhausted from our amazing hike the day before, so we decided to take another car trip to check out the visitor’s center at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This visitor’s center was totally crowded and the informational movie wasn’t working. And the kids had little motivation to pursue getting a Junior Ranger badge here (they were exhausted from the previous day’s hike as well). FYI: you have to purchase a Junior Ranger workbook at this location.

After checking out the museum at the visitor’s center, we decided to take a drive down the main road through the park to take in the sights without getting our sore legs out of the car.

We stopped for a quick pit-stop along the way and just happened upon a trailhead to the Appalachian Trail. None of us could pass up the opportunity to hike the Appalachian Trail (even just a tiny bit of it). So, with our daughter in the lead, we embarked on the trail.

Appalachian Trail

We weren’t prepared for a long hike and the hour was getting late, so we convinced our 7-year-old that we needed to turn around and head back to the car. She was reluctant to stop because, as she said, even though her brain said to stop “my legs just want to keep going.”

Maybe someday we’ll hike all 2,175 miles of it.

Appalachian Trail
Appalachian Trail. Maybe someday we’ll hike all 2,175 miles of it.

Appalachian Trail


Day 5 – Big South Fork National Park

On our last day, we took a day trip to Big South Fork National Park in Tennessee. We went out there to see the Twin Arches, two grand sandstone arches formed by thousands of years of erosion. It was a truly awesome sight to see.

North Arch Big South Fork National Park
North Arch Big South Fork National Park
Searching for a signal in the middle of nowhere.

Twin arches big south fork

Close-up of a sandstone arch.


Janette DeFelice, MD, MA is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. Her essay collection Resistance Essays from the Heartland and her new novel Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts are both available now. She has also published at Be The Change Mom, ChicagoNow, and She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her major essay was Hegel and Ibsen: The Evolution of Consciousness in Ibsen’s Prose Play Cycle. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University. A former professional dancer, former adjunct Humanities professor, and former lecturer in Medical Clinical Skills, as well as a mom of 9-year-old twins, she currently finds herself at a career/life crossroads at which she is trying to figure out how to use all aspects of herself (her art, her medical and scientific knowledge, her philosophical explorations, her interest in popular culture as a teaching tool, and her unique perspective) for the good of humanity.

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