14 April, 2021

A road trip on the Wilderness Road in Southwest Virginia

The pages of your history books will absolutely come to life when you set your GPS to the Wilderness Road in Southwest Virginia. Also known as U.S. Route 58, this famous 100-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of highway follows the path once traveled west by settlers in the 1700s.

At the time, frontiersman Daniel Boone led the way, bravely paving the path to Kentucky via the Cumberland Gap. This rugged path would later be called the Wilderness Road and would be walked by more than 200,000 early pioneers. They all wanted to reach the West in search of a better life, despite severe hardships such as bitter cold, hunger and disease, even attacks from Native Americans.

Photo Credit: Scott County Tourism

Today, the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail stretches west from Bristol to the gateway through the Appalachians known as the Cumberland Gap. Increase your knowledge of the westward migration, traverse living history museums and state parks, and even explore huge caves and historic settlements.


Your journey along the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail may begin in Bristol, but this town is more about the beginnings of country music than expanding west. Still, it is practically required to stop at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, if only to be taught music recording sessions that ushered in the country music industry.


From here, head to State Street, a popular two-mile road through the city that spans Virginia and Tennessee, from Lee Highway on the west side of town to Slater Park on the east side of the city. You are in Virginia on one side of State Street. Cross the street, you're in Tennessee. As you can imagine, State Street is extremely popular, especially among those who would like a & # 39; I was here & # 39; photo for the & # 39; gram & # 39 ;.


Make Gate City's Homeplace Mountain Farm your next stop along Wilderness Road. This outdoor history museum is 35 minutes' drive from Bristol. It is an ideal stop to stretch your legs while walking through a rebuilt farm. Imagine what life was like as you get close to the original structures of early pioneers in Southwest Virginia.

Photo credit: Scott County Tourism

Continue to have lunch at Hob-Nob Drive-In on Daniel Boone Road. Eat slaw dogs, onion rings, burgers and tater tots in this family-run 50s-style diner that has been appealing and astonishing customers for over 60 years. PS, a hand-scooped milkshake is mandatory. The milkshakes are among the best in the state.


From here, Natural Tunnel State Park in nearby Duffield is a 15-minute drive away. This stop on Wilderness Road is a two-fer, as it captivates both American history and natural history thanks to its namesake, a huge 10-story limestone cave. This naturally carved cave is so large that it is used as a railroad tunnel through Purchase Ridge.


Photo Credit: Scott K. Brown

Even more interesting is that this limestone cave is really very old. As in, more than a million years old. Well, it started to form over a million years ago, when acid-soaked groundwater began to seep through crevices and slowly dissolve the limestone and rock. An underground river called Stock Creek also contributed to erosion.

Since 1894, Natural Tunnel has been used as a train tunnel for the transport of passengers and natural materials, such as iron ore. Today, the tracks running through Natural Tunnel are operated by Norfolk Southern and used only to transport coal.

Ride the chairlift to the base of the tunnel, where you can walk on a paved path to the mouth of the Natural Tunnel. You can also explore Carter Log Cabin, which is located next to Stock Creek. Once you return to the top, hike the Lover's Leap Trail to Lover's Leap Overlook for spectacular views of the tunnel and surrounding area.

HA10020807V_064.TIF Photo Credit: Scott K. Brown

In the southeast corner of the park you will find Wilderness Road Historical Area. Here you can explore Wilderness Road Blockhouse, which was built in 2003. Although it is not original, it is typical of bunkers that were manned in the late 1700s by the Holston Militia, a group of settlers tasked with fending off Indians. organized by the British.


Photo Credit: Joshua Moore, IG Account: @ jtm71

Continue to Kane Gap, a natural notch (much like Cumberland Gap) that was a favored sight to weary settlers slowly moving west on their way to and through Cumberland Gap. For sensational views of Kane Gap, head west on US Route 58 to Powell Mountain Overlook, between Duffield and Stickleyville.

You can also plan a several mile scenic hike to Kane Gap along the Daniel Boone Trail. This section of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail ascends through a hardwood forest on Powell Mountain and ends at Kane Gap.


From here it is less than an hour's drive to Wilderness Road State Park. But first consider a hike to the 250-meter wide, semi-domed sand cave. Nestled among colossal hemlock spruces and rhododendron thickets, sand cave was once a giant sandstone rock. For millions of years, the wind has tirelessly eroded the sandstone, resulting in an oasis-like stretch of sand in a rocky cave.

Photo Credit: Erin Gifford

From the same path that comes from Civic Park, visitors can scramble to the top of White Rocks. These wide sandstone cliffs were once used as a beacon for west-facing settlers in search of Cumberland Gap.

Photo Credit: Erin Gifford

Continuing along US Route 58, you will be greeted by a small herd of buffalo as you drive into Wilderness Road State Park. These mighty creatures are enclosed in a pasture from the entrance of the 310 acre state park. Before the early settlers trudged wearily west, the indomitable buffalo did the same, forging a path for buffalo through the canyon at Cumberland Mountain.

At the visitor center, brush up on the westbound extension all about Daniel Boone and his role in carving out the Cumberland Gap. You can also rent bicycles from the Visitor Center for an informal ride along the yellow-blue Wilderness Trail or the green-blue Fisherman's Loop. Pack lunch to enjoy at the wooden picnic table that sits next to the buffalo meadow along the Wilderness Trail.

At the Visitor Center, an award-winning docudrama, "Wilderness Road, Spirit of a Nation," tells the story of the westward movement by early pioneers. There is also a gift shop and a small border museum in the visitor center.

Outside, the park is home to the reconstruction of Martin & # 39; s Station, an open-air living history museum that depicts life on the Virginia border in 1775. Martin & # 39; s Station is named after Joseph Martin, a pioneer who arrived in 1769 after an arduous journey to claim 21,000 acres as the first settler on land granted by the Loyal Land Company.


Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is your last stop on this westbound expedition along the famous Wilderness Road. But plan a short hike along the Tri-State Peak Trail first. This wooded hike leads to a border triangle with views of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Stop along the way to read signs, such as & # 39; A Hard Road for a New Life, & # 39; to glimpse the challenges faced by early settlers on the road west.

HA14040803V_017.TIF Photo Credit: Keith Lanpher

About half way through the hike, you will see a pyramid shaped marker celebrating Daniel Boone & # 39; s Trail. This was posted by the Tennessee Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate his painstaking work of forging a historic path west. After the walk, drive to the park's visitor center for historical exhibits and artifacts.

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<h5 class=Photo Credit: Joshua Moore, IG Account: @ jtm71

A four mile drive along Skyland Road at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park leads to Pinnacle Overlook. Here you will be amazed by breathtaking views of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Close your eyes and imagine the mass of immigrants traveling west in search of available land and better lives.

Cumberland Gap has more to offer than a westward migration path, and it lies beneath the Earth's surface at Gap Cave. Sign up at the Visitor Center for a two-hour ranger led exploration of this majestic underground cave full of dazzling stalagmites and stalactites. Keep your eyes peeled for little bats that flutter through the four levels of this cave.

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<h5 class=Photo Credit: Tim Cox

Before Daniel Boone, even before the mighty buffalo, the first route across Cumberland Gap was through the Native American-created & # 39; Warrior & # 39; s Path & # 39 ;. This route was used by Daniel Boone before 1770 as part of his explorations outside the mountains.

It wasn't until 1775 that Boone was tapped by Richard Henderson, a wealthy claim to holdings to the west, to quickly open a westward path across the Cumberland Gap. This largely scrubby path was replaced in 1794 by a more colony-friendly wagon road through Cumberland Gap. This wagon road was the primary route used by settlers to reach Kentucky from the east for more than 50 years, serving as the forerunner of what is now U.S. Route 58.

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