Kentucky Scenic Drives: Wilderness Road Heritage Highway

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From panoramic views of the Appalachians in Cumberland Gap National Historic Park to a community culture centered on folk art and mountain music, Wilderness Road Heritage Highway is packed with reasons to immerse yourself in the woodland culture of the Southeast. This is the way to discover Kentucky's first frontier.

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Cultural Qualities of the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway

From music to crafts, this byway is a celebration of the early influence of pioneers. Today, traditional country music and entertainment is alive in Renfro Valley, which hosts performances throughout the year.

In addition to the preservation of traditional music, many communities along the byway promote the making and selling of crafts. Berea is considered the Crafts Capital of Kentucky.

Historical Qualities of the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway

The Wilderness Road Heritage Highway begins at perhaps one of the most historically significant sites in regard to the settlement of the United States. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park celebrates an important corridor, the Cumberland Gap. Native Americans crossed the Appalachians on what they called the Warriors Path, and they relied on this naturally occurring route to provide access to the country across the Appalachian Mountains. Kentucky was seen as a great wilderness for more than 150 years after the initial pilgrims set foot on the eastern seaboard, but soon explorers such as Daniel Boone scouted out the area.

One of the most important pioneers to come through the Cumberland Gap was Dr. Thomas Walker. The Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site celebrates the life of this first pioneer to discover the Cumberland Gap and then explore Kentucky. Exploration of the new Kentucky lands opened the area up for settlement, and scores of pioneers followed in Dr. Walker's footsteps.

As America grew, debate turned to war in 1861. Many of the American Civil War battles were fought in Kentucky. The Cumberland Gap was a key transportation route throughout the war. A battle of the Civil War was fought at Camp Wildcat, located along the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway. The reenactment of this battle is a popular event.

Natural Qualities of the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway

Rivers, caves, trails, and forests all combine to give Wilderness Road Heritage Highway visitors a sense of the landscape of Kentucky. Coal is a vital part of industry along the byway. The geological formations of many years have combined to create this environment.

One of these unusual formations is found at the very beginning of the byway. The Pine Mountain geological formation runs along the border of Tennessee and Virginia, and the major opening for this feature is the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap is an 800-foot naturally occurring break in the rock. The gap was carved by wind and water long ago. The overlooks and trails allow visitors to experience the expansive nature of the outdoors of Kentucky, and within the park itself there are a variety of awe-inspiring features.

Additionally, the Daniel Boone National Forest is a dominant presence along the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway. This forest has many varieties of trees, such as red oak, birch, red maple, hemlock, Virginia pine, and many others. Rocky cliffs can be seen throughout the forest as well.

Smaller, but still full of natural wonder is the Kentucky Ridge State Forest, which is mainly accessed by visiting Pine Mountain State Resort Park.

Recreational Qualities of the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway

Whether you are in the mood for hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, biking, fishing, or boating, the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway offers travelers a variety of opportunities. There are numerous rivers, and the byway is near Laurel River Lake, where visitors can boat and fish. The byway travels over some of these rivers, making it a prime spot to view wildlife, both waterfowl and other species of critters. Near the byway you can even spot some elk, which make up the largest herd in the eastern United States.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and Pine Mountain State Resort Park offer the majority of the byway's opportunities to find hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. There is an extensive system of trails in Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, for anything from easy nature hikes to overnight trails. In Daniel Boone National Forest, the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail covers 269 miles.

There is golfing at Pine Mountain State Resort Park and dramatic views in both Cumberland Gap and Pine Mountain. At Pine Mountain State Resort Park, a swimming pool and an amphitheater set in a natural forest cove offer relaxing entertainment and fun while you travel the byway.

Find more useful information related to Kentucky's Wilderness Road Heritage Highway:

  • Kentucky Scenic Drives: The Wilderness Road Heritage Highwayis just one of the scenic byways in Kentucky. Check out the others.
  • Berea, London, Middlesboro, Renfro Valley: Find out what there is to do in these cities along the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Kentucky? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.