Tag Archives: Kentucky

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Overview

Fort Donelson National Battlefield commemorates the first major Union victory of the Civil War.  It quickly followed the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River (which is now flooded by Kentucky Lake).  The battle earned Union General U.S. Grant fame for his reply to Confederate General Simon Buckner: “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”  This led to the joke that his initials stood for “Unconditional Surrender.”  After more than 12,000 Confederate troops were taken prisoner on February 16, 1862, the Union army soon took Nashville, Tennessee.

Highlights

Dover Hotel, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Visitors today can take a six-mile driving tour to see the rifle pits, lower river battery, and earthworks along the Cumberland River, in addition to an exhibit on the first floor of the Dover Hotel (where terms of surrender were signed).  This hilly riverside park is also a nice place to exercise and watch for bald eagles and other wildlife. Fort Donelson National Cemetery is located nearby.

Best Trail

Fort Donelson National Battlefield is neighbors with Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.  Tucked between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, this area was claimed through eminent domain by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) when dams were built.  Outdoor recreation is now the focus with reservoirs, trails, bison and elk herds, a living history museum, and a planetarium.  Also, there are more than 200 cemeteries in this 170,000-acre area.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Giant cannons are mounted in the lower river battery along the Cumberland River.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fodo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None for the National Battlefield, but there are entry fees for portions of Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, as well as at Paris Landing State Park.

Related Sites

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee)

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Explore More – Fort Donelson and which other nearby fort were havens for escaped slaves later in the Civil War?

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cuga/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Overview

Crossing the Tennessee – Kentucky border, the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River cuts a 90-mile long gorge that was spared damming in 1974 when 125,000 acres were set aside by the federal government.  The area is renowned for its Class IV rapids and 400 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.  Seasonally, a concessionaire runs the Big South Fork Scenic Railway from Stearns Depot to the Blue Heron Mining Community, an outdoor museum.

Fork

Highlights

Natural bridges, waterfalls, whitewater, train ride, trails, new film

Must-Do Activity

The film shown in the 6 visitor centers was released in 2016 and provides an excellent overview of the area.  You might want to ask for the subtitles to be turned on so you can understand the regional accents.

Best Trail

We enjoyed our 2-mile hike to Twin Arches (which are actually natural bridges formed by water).  We look forward to returning to this park to explore its other trails and waterways, especially to see Wagon Arch, Yahoo Falls, and Devil’s Jump Rapids.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Of the two Twin Arches, North Arch (93-foot span) is easier to photograph than South Arch (135-foot span) because there are fewer trees in the way.

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Peak Season

Summer, though the Spring Planting Festival (April) and “Haunting in the Hills” Storytelling Festival (September) offer many free activities.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/biso/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None, except to ride the concessionaire-operated Big South Fork Scenic Railway.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads we drove (Divide Road and Twin Arches Road) were passable for any vehicle.

Camping

There are many options, from full service Bandy Creek Campground in Scott State Forest to dispersed backpack camping along the trails.

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Tiff on the way to Twin Arch

Scott on the "trail" to Twin Arch

Scott exploring a slot
Exploring a slot in the sandstone behind North Arch of the Twin Arches.

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North Arch spans 93 feet with a 51-foot clearance, making me look small underneath it.

Explore More – How deep is the gorge cut by the Big South Fork River?

1WonsTiny2

 

WONDON WAS HERE

Mammoth Cave National Park

Overview

Archaeologists have found evidence of exploration dating back 4,000 years when torches of cane were used to light the way.  Mammoth Cave does not get its name from hairy prehistoric mammals, though, but rather from the vast size of its tunnels.  It has been a tourist attraction since the 1700s when slaves served as tour guides, but only became a national park in 1941.

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Highlights

Bottomless Pit and Fat Man’s Misery on the Historic Tour, Frozen Niagara flowstone formation on the Domes and Dripstones Tour, Wild Caving Tour

Must-Do Activity

There are many great options to explore the cave, including the Violet City Lantern Tour, but we most enjoyed the Wild Caving Tour.  Make an advanced reservation online to secure your spot (and your blue jumpsuit to keep the mud off your clothes).

Best Trail

There are nearly 80 miles of hiking trails in the park, but start by hiking downhill past the Natural Entrance of Mammoth Cave to the River Styx Spring, a short walk from the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Keep your eye out for 2-inch long cave crickets on the Domes and Dripstones Tour.  Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed on the Wild Caving Tour.

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Peak Season

The park receives the majority of its half-million annual visitors in the summer, making December a great time to visit the park (though not all tours are offered).

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/maca/planyourvisit/operatinghoursandseasons.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but cave tours have varying prices.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

A large, shaded campground is located near the visitor center, as well as a smaller one at Houchin’s Ferry (not suitable for trailers or RVs).

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Tiff at the Natural Entrance to the cave where you start the Historic Tour
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Scott on the Historic Tour
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Frozen Niagara flowstone formation on the Domes and Dripstones Tour
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Tiff traversing Fat Man’s Missery.

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Ready for the Wild Caving Tour
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This design we created to celebrate Mammoth Cave National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the entire world; how many miles of cave have been explored and mapped?

1WonsTiny2

WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE

 

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