Tag Archives: Tennessee

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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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Overview

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, with both sides offering incredible views.  The park is similar to Shenandoah National Park in that it was mostly purchased from private landowners before its establishment by the federal government in 1934.  With around 11-million visitors annually, it is easily the most visited of the 62 National Parks in the National Park Service system, perhaps because it has no entrance fee.

Highlights

Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Foothills Parkway, Oconaluftee, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Many interesting sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserve the human history of the region, like the popular Cades Cove with its iconic old grist mill.  To learn more about the Cherokee indigenous to this region, visit Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side.  While there you might also spot a herd of reintroduced elk.

Best Trail

Even on the bumper to bumper Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, all you have to do is park and take a hike to find some solitude.  Grotto Falls Trail passes through old-growth hemlock forest, an area very popular with black bears.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you can imagine, this park is incredibly popular in October and November because of the beautiful fall foliage.  Early in the season, head to 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, then drop in elevation as the autumn progresses.

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Newfound Gap Road is the major thoroughfare connecting the two sides of the park and it is plowed throughout the winter.  The 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove is open year round, but the 7-mile spur road up to Clingman’s Dome and the 6-mile one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are seasonal.

Camping

There are 10 campgrounds within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you need RV hookups you will have to find a private campground outside the park.

Related Sites

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

Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

This design we created to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – While most National Parks do not allow dogs on trails, what are the two trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that do?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Overview

During the National Park Service (NPS) centennial in 2016, a new, ambitious park was established linking three far-flung sites in the states of Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee.  The purpose is to tell the story of the “Manhattan Project,” the military code name during World War II for the secret undertaking to create the world’s first atomic weapon. 

Highlights

Bradbury Science Museum (NM), American Museum of Science and Energy (TN), Hanford Reach National Monument (WA)

Must-Do Activity

In 1942, hundreds of eastern Tennessee families were displaced in order to construct Oak Ridge National Laboratory where experimental nuclear reactors produced plutonium and enriched uranium.  More than 75,000 people hurriedly built and operated this brand new industrial complex, which continues to be used as a Department of Energy research facility to this day.  Due to security and safety concerns, visitors can only enter on a 3-hour bus tour that leaves from the American Museum of Science and Energy.  The tour is well worth your time, as it is currently the only way to see Y-12, X-10, and K-25 and learn more about what those code names really mean.

Best Trail

The Hanford Reach is one of the last free-flowing sections of the Columbia River in eastern Washington and is an important site for salmon spawning.  The area is ecologically pristine, mostly untouched by development since it became the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 1943.  It is home to the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor that produced the plutonium used by Los Alamos National Laboratories for its scientific breakthroughs in 1945.  Since 2000, Hanford Reach National Monument has been managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and much of the area is off limits.  Other than boating on the river, the best place to get a feel for the area is to walk around the Ringold Fish Hatchery.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The free Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico offers tourists a closer look at the original and ongoing research conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), including a scale model of the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb built here in 1945.  Nearby, the Los Alamos Historical Museum is located in a cabin on historic Bathtub Row, so named because when the government took over the Ranch School in 1943 these were the only dwellings equipped with that luxury. 

Peak Season

Open year round, but summer is best at the high elevations of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Hours

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

Fees

$5 per adult for the American Museum of Science and Energy and a 3-hour tour (11:30-2:30, reservations recommended) of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Road Conditions

All roads paved except around Hanford Reach National Monument

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed in Santa Fe National Forest surrounding Los Alamos and it is not far to the campground in Bandelier National Monument.

Explore More – What was the job of the “Calutron Girls” in Oak Ridge during World War II?

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

Overview

At age 15, Andrew Johnson fled his apprenticeship in Raleigh,North Carolina and eventually started a tailor shop in Greeneville, Tennessee.  In 1829, he began his political career, ultimately serving as a U.S. Representative, Governor of Tennessee, U.S. Senator, Vice President, and President upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  He was the first President to be impeached after vetoing the Tenure of Office Act (later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) and was acquitted by the margin of one vote.

Highlights

House tour, tailor shop, museum, film, National Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

Start at the visitor center, which offers a film, a small museum, and the enclosed tailor shop where Andrew Johnson worked before going into politics.  Dress-up clothes are available if you want to take a photo straight out of the mid-1800s (no smiling for authenticity).  There you can also pick up a free timed ticket for the homestead tour and a ticket to vote in Johnson’s impeachment trial. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The small National Cemetery atop a hill in Greeneville, Tennessee contains the graves of Andrew Johnson, his wife, and about 200 soldiers.

Peak Season

Open year round

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved with designated parking lots at the visitor center, homestead, and cemetery.

Camping

Cherokee National Forest offers campgrounds southeast of Greeneville.

Explore More – Why did young Andrew Johnson flee North Carolina six years before his apprenticeship contract expired?


WONDON WAS HERE

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?

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WONDON WAS HERE