Backcountry campsites now open at Cumberland Gap

Published 1:40 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local public health authorities, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park’s five backcountry campsites along the Ridge Trail are now open. The National Park Service continues to work servicewide with federal, state, and local public health authorities in closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis. 

“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners are paramount.  At Cumberland Gap, we are examining each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance,” said Park Superintendent Charles Sellars.  “We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners, and volunteers.”    

The park’s 19-mile long Ridge Trail “zigzags” along the spine of Cumberland Mountain following closely the Kentucky/Virginia border.  The backcountry campsites include Gibson Gap, located 5 miles east of the Pinnacle Overlook; Hensley Camp, Martins Fork and Chadwell Gap, all near the historic Hensley Settlement; and White Rocks, situated near the far eastern end of the park.  The campsites provide a perfect respite after exploring gorgeous geologic and historic features along the trail.  “Backcountry campers are treated to the spectacularly colored Sand Cave rock shelter with a waterfall cascading over its lip, can gaze afar into Virginia from high atop the White Rocks Overlook, and meander down fence-lined lanes amongst the richly weathered chestnut hewn cabins at Hensley Settlement,” shares Park Ranger Brittony Beason, adding “Happy trails to you!”

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Backcountry campsite reservations are required and must be made by calling 606-248-2817 daily between 9 am and 4 pm or via Facebook messenger.  Group size maximum is 10.  Only one party will be assigned to each campsite.  There is no potable water along the trail.  Water must be carried in or purified.  Bear proof storage cable systems, located at each campsite, must be utilized.  Social distancing guidelines must be followed.  “Leave No Trace,” including pack it in, pack it out should be the mantra of all backcountry users.

Backcountry permits will be issued electronically.  When connecting with the park, visitors should have the following information readily available:

Backcountry campsite(s) and date(s) being requested

Name, address, phone number of permit holder

Emergency contact phone number

Number in party

Trailhead at which each vehicle will be parked

Vehicle make, model, and color

Vehicle license plate

The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces prevent the spread of infectious diseases.  Park staff will continue to monitor all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19 and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.   

Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on the park’s website and social media channels and  Visitors can also call 606-248-2817.  NPS operations will be posted on