Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Where Kentucky Began

Did you know that Kentucky actually started as a county in Virginia?

Pinnacle Peak overlooking KY
Pinnacle Peak overlooking Kentucky

The Beginning

In order to understand the beginnings of what will become the state of Kentucky, we have to go back to 1609 and English rule.

You see, Virginia, being one of the original 13 colonies, was granted a charter in 1609, signed by James II of England. This charter granted Virginia a large piece of land stretching from “sea to sea, west and northwest.” ( So, Virginia laid claim to the land that would one day become Kentucky.

In 1734, the western lands claimed by Virginia became known as Orange County, and later when European settlers migrated west, Virginia began creating smaller counties in order to set up local courthouses where land surveys and deeds were recorded.

In 1776, the county of Kentucky was created, and by 1792, the population had grown so significantly that the new state of Kentucky was established. Of course, this population growth did not happen overnight, and wasn’t as easy as jumping in your car and heading down the highway. The exploration of the land west of the Appalachians was a major feat.

Crossing the Appalachians

Appalachian Mountains in KY
The Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky

The first true documentation of the crossing of the Appalachian Mountains does not occur until 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker. He was a member of the Loyal Land Company, which sent Walker to explore the western lands for the purpose of expansion. Walker wrote in his journal about crossing through an area he called Cumberland Gap. Cumberland Gap would go on to become the first “Gateway to the West,” allowing settlers and pioneers, including Daniel Boone (and over 300,000 others) to pass through the southern Appalachian Mountains into the wilderness of Kentucky.

The trail, originally created by migrating buffalo, became known as Wilderness Road. “Today, an estimated 47 million people in the United States are descendants of these early travelers!” (

A Family Connection

Some of those early travelers were my 4th and 5th great grandparents. Learning of my family’s connection to Cumberland Gap motivated me to learn more about this far southern Kentucky historical treasure.

This past summer, my husband, my daughter, one of my nephews, and I made the trip. Hiking Wilderness Road, and the mountains that Daniel Boone and my great grandparents once traveled, was a moment I will not soon forget. And to have my daughter and my nephew walk where their 5th and 6th great grandparents had once walked was priceless!

Wilderness Trail Marker
The Wilderness Road Trail Marker
Walking Wilderness Road that our 5th Great grandparents once walked
Walking in our 5th & 6th Great Grandparents Footsteps

Now a National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
The Iconic Photo

Cumberland Gap is a National Historic Park on the borders of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Before visiting, check with the National Park Service for hours. Depending on where you are traveling from, this might be more than a day trip. You definitely want to plan on the full day. It is a way off the highway, so make sure to pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water. Don’t forget your hiking shoes and your camera!

Happy Travels!!!

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