You’ve probably heard of Cumberland Gap, a narrow pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland Mountains that is part of the Appalachian Mountains, joining Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. But, there’s also a town called Cumberland Gap that sits at the foot of the mountain range encompassed by the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park that is often considered a secluded escape for outdoor exploration and also known as the original gateway to the west.
Cumberland Gap is made for the perfect getaway to explore the mountains and take in Northeast Tennessee’s charm at its finest, complete with an old mill turned bed & breakfast, history, artisans, antiques and underground tunnels.
Our journey started at the Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast, where guests can stay in the 1700s log cabin or sleep in a Victorian style canopy bed, both offering modern amenities. With the Inn as your starting point, you’ll be connected to nearly 85 miles of hiking trails, as the entire town sits inside the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. We met up with Innkeepers, Carol and Amy, who also provided insight on where to get the best tea, places to spot antiques in town and perfect hiking trails for any age or ability.
After listening to the soothing churn of the old mill that the historic Inn was named after, we stepped inside the Little Congress Bicycle Museum. The collection is more than 41 years old, and includes details about wages, builders, gas prices and the original prices of each featured bicycle.
The Town of Cumberland Gap is only a few blocks, but it is easy to find yourself stepping away from the downtown area to explore the many trails that seem to follow the creek. Including, the rails to trails pedestrian and bicycle walkway known as the Cumberland Gap Greenway, that leads to Lincoln Memorial University. This walkway winds through town including a covered bridge and a dog park, but perhaps the most impressive part was the underground tunnel that railway trains once traveled. Visitors can walk or bike the entire length of the tunnel, that still includes original brick and motion activated lighting.
After walking through town, we took Carol and Amy’s advice on savoring a tea at the Pineapple Tea Room, which also appeared to be a popular hangout for students attending the nearby University. Other options for snacks and food included Angelo’s in the Gap, Gap Creek Coffee House, Upper Norris Conservation Club and drinks at the Pinnacle Pub.
If searching for antiques and locally made items is on your list, then a stop by Whistle Stop Antiques, Papa Chum’s Music & Rarities, Gertie’s Commissary or The Frame Shop and Art Gallery are all within downtown walking distance. The Cumberland Gap Artist Co-Op also features a variety of décor, paintings, jewelry and gifts made my local artisans. Perhaps among the most unique shopping experience including Mitty’s Metal Art, where you can watch the owner, Ryan, form one-of-a-kind creations ranging from yard art, home decor, keychains and more.
One cannot visit Cumberland Gap without exploring the rolling mountains that form the Wilderness Road, taking the footsteps of Daniel Boone, Shawnee Indians, former home to roaming buffalo and host to nearly 300,000 people in the 1700 and 1800s traveling from Northern Virginia to Louisville, Ky. Hiking to the top is strenuous, but the view from the 2,400 ft. Pinnacle Overlook spans Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. After the four-lane tunnel replaced the winding road leading through the Cumberland Mountains, the gap has returned to a footpath resembling how it would have looked to the pioneers in the 1800s.
Shorter hikes from the Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast include the ruins of the Iron Furnace, where visitors can see the 1800 era ruins where iron ore was heated by coal and converted to “pig iron,” which was then shipped to factories. Another rewarding hike results in views of the Cumberland Gap Creek waterfall that cascades over the walkway and makes for the perfect place to hang your hammock for a relaxing day by the water.
For additional information on the Olde Mill Inn Bed & Breakfast, visit www.oldemillinnbnb.com.
For information on the Town of Cumberland Gap, visit www.townofcumberlandgap.com.
And, for information the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, https://www.nps.gov/cuga.