When Lois Jean and I look for a getaway, we usually turn to the National Park Service or an area that has an abundance of outdoor activities. With only a couple days to spare in our schedules and having never really spent much time in this area, we decided to knock Cumberland Gap National Historic Park (CGNHP) off the list. Little did Lois Jean know, I had been planning this trip for a pretty good amount of time and had something special in mind.
We headed south Sunday afternoon with pit stops at You and Me Coffee and Tea and the local Kroger on the way. The first thing we did once we got to CGNHP was stop in at their Visitor Center and stamp our National Parks Passport. It may seem silly, but it’s actually a ton of fun and a great way to keep up with all the places you have been. I highly recommend always stopping in at the visitors center when you visit a National Park. After we checked out the Visitor Center and Museum we headed up the road to the Pinnacle Lookout.
The Pinnacle is a very well known spot for CGNHP, it’s a must do for anyone passing by or visiting the area. The overlook parking lot is located in Kentucky, but the actual lookout is located in Virginia. Note, the parking lot and the lookout are only a couple hundred yards apart with a sidewalk leading between the two. The overlook allows you to see Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all at the same time. Aside from being a beautiful lookout, you can observe the interesting geography of the land between the areas. On a clear day looking south you may be able to see the edge of the Smokies. This is well worth the trip for any and all ages, especially if you are close by!
After we loafed around the Pinnacle area for a bit, we decided to go grab our camping spot in the NPS Campground. We tent camped which only costs $14, a bit cheaper than some other NPS Campgrounds. After we set up our tent and grabbed some firewood, which was everywhere from the park's rangers doing some recent chainsaw cleanup work, we headed out for a hike to Skylight Cave.
This hike from the campground is only about 3 miles roundtrip, mainly flat until the final approach up to the cave. Unfortunately we were not able to walk back into the cave upon arriving due to posted signs asking to stay out to help keep the spread of White Nose Syndrome down. Being good citizens and nature lovers we respected the signs and enjoyed it from the outside. After heading back to camp we made dinner, sat by the fire, and then called it a night to get ready for the Monday’s hike up to White Rocks.
Waking up Monday morning I was tired, hungry and cold. Lois Jean slept great, but I just couldn't get warm. I had not prepared adequately and I am very disappointed with myself. The overnight temperature reached down around freezing or a bit lower, so I woke up and said “Let’s get Cracker Barrel.” Lois Jean, being a firm believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, didn’t fight me about that idea. After a big breakfast that we drove through three states before 7:30a.m. for, we felt energized, warm, and ready for the hike! It was no more than a 10 minute drive by the way.
We arrived at the trail head parking lot at the far end of the park and it was warming up quickly. Standing in the parking lot looking up at White Rocks, I knew that this was going to be the best and most memorable hike of my life. Lois Jean was just dreading the 2000 foot ascent. We started the hike and took our time, not rushing it and letting it be enjoyable. When the trail flattened out after about 3 miles we came to a trail intersection. I started to get an anxious feeling because I knew we were about to reach our destination. We made our way to the top, and the view was more than I expected it to be. I was excited and knew that it was a great decision to come here. We piddled around up on top, enjoying the view, taking photos, talking and trying not to let anything blow away. After some tripod photos and me trying to be discreet I did what I had sat out to accomplish on this hike, at the location of 36* 40’ 02” N 83* 26’ 36” W.
I turned the video camera on and acted as if it was set up for a remote picture. She hardly even notices the constant clicking of my camera, so she was still oblivious. I went over to Lois Jean and held her in my arms then asked her the magic question, “Will you marry me?”. In tears she said yes, and we remained there for a bit in each others arms, enjoying this once in a lifetime moment. It could not have been more perfect.
After coming back down from White Rocks we were only a mile from Sand Cave and wanted to check it out. When we arrived there my mind was blown. I did not expect it to be nearly as big as it is. Also, as a side note, Sand Cave is actually on the Kentucky side of the park. A must see if you are willing to put in the 9 mile round trip hike with 2000ft plus elevation gain. We spent a few minutes there then decided to head down the mountain to make the trip back home at a decent hour. The hike down was a great one, only took about 50 minutes because it was all down hill!
Looking back at this day it was to us an absolutely perfect day for Lois Jean and I. Starting with a Cracker Barrel breakfast, great hiking with your best friend, and on that hike a decision to continue the journey with each other for the rest of our lives. It easily qualifies as the most memorable hike of my life, and I wouldn't want it any other way.