Wilderness Road Heritage Highway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2002)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length93.8 miles
Visitors can explore Kentucky’s natural and cultural history by travelling along the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway. The route itself was crucial to America’s settling of the west and played an important role during the Civil War. The route passes along exciting destinations such as Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Renfro Valley, the famed country music venue, and Berea, Kentucky’s crafts capital.
Story of the Byway
Visitors can explore Kentucky’s natural and cultural history by travelling along the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway. The route itself was crucial to America’s settling of the west and played an important role during the Civil War. Visitors will begin at the Tennessee-Kentucky border near Middlesboro and continue northwest to Berea. As visitors begin their journey, they should make a stop at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. The Cumberland Gap was the first great gateway to the west and was traveled by Native Americans, hunters, and pioneers alike. Visitors will find scenic trails, caves with stalagmites, and a reconstructed 20th century settlement in the park. In the area, visitors might also enjoy visiting Pine Mountain State Resort Park, which features 12 miles of self-guided trails and an 18 hole golf course.
As the route continues into Barbourville, visitors should be sure to check out the Dr. Thomas Walker State Historical Site. Dr. Thomas Walker, born in Virginia, organized and led the first expedition through Cumberland Gap in 1750. At this site, visitors can visit a replica of his cabin, the first Kentucky Home, play mini-golf, ride a giant slide, enjoy kid-friendly recreation, and shop for gifts and t-shirts. Also in the area is Union College.
Continuing northwest to London, visitors will encounter the McHargues Mill within the Levi Jackson Wilderness State Park. The mill is a reproduction working watermill built in 1939 with authentic interior works. The millstones used were brought over the Wilderness Road in 1805, and freshly ground corn meal is available for purchase. The park itself honors the pioneers who braved the wilderness to settle in Kentucky and features a museum spread across seven buildings and plenty of kid-friendly entertainment such as a pool, minigolf, and treetop adventures.
Visitors will discover the byway’s Civil War history before reaching Renfro Valley at Camp Wildcat in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Camp Wildcat Battle was fought early on in the Civil War on October 21, 1861 and was a welcomed win for the Union following Confederate victories at First Manassas and Ball’s Bluff. Upon reaching Renfro, music lovers love exploring Kentucky’s Country Music Capital. Visitors should be sure to stop at the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center featuring two unique show theaters, two RV parks, and the Renfro Valley shopping village. Visitors from April to December will be treated to classic country, bluegrass, and southern gospel music at this venue.
The route continues north to its termination point in Berea, Kentucky. In Berea is Berea College, founded in 1855. Berea College was the first college in the American south to be coeducational and racially integrated, and it charges its students no tuition. While in Berea, visitors should be sure not to miss the Berea Artisans Center. The gallery sells made-in Kentucky arts, crafts, and specialty foods and is free to visit for the public. While at the center, visitors should keep an eye out for exhibits that display the unique works of Kentucky’s craft artisans. This final destination on the byway is a great place for visitors to stop and relax before heading home!
The route begins in Middlesboro near the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Visitors will follow State Highway 229 through Pineville, Barbourville, and London before taking U.S. Highway 25 north. Visitors will then pass through Renfro Valley, Kentucky’s Country Music Capital, and Berea, Kentucky’s arts and craft center.
Points of Interest
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
The Cumberland Gap was the first great gateway to the west and was traveled by Native Americans, hunters, and pioneers alike. Visitors will find scenic trails, caves with stalagmites, and a reconstructed 20th century settlement in the park.
Renfro Valley Entertainment Center
The Renfro Valley Entertainment Center features two unique show theaters, two RV parks, and the Renfro Valley shopping village.
Berea Artisans Center
The gallery sells made-in Kentucky arts, crafts, and specialty foods and is free to visit for the public. While at the center, visitors should keep an eye out for exhibits that display the unique works of Kentucky’s craft artisans.
Begin at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where pioneers first crossed the gateway into the west. Here, visitors can experience the rugged landscapes of the pioneers by hiking along the many trails. From the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, head North on Kentucky Route 229 toward Pineville. Pine Mountain State Resort Park has many opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation, including an 18 hole golf course.
From Pineville, head northwest for 16.7 miles to Barbourville. While in Barbourville, take a while to stop and stretch your legs after a busy morning. Stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants showcasing authentic Kentucky food. While in Barbourville, check out the Dr. Thomas Walker State Historical Site to learn more about the lives of Kentucky’s first pioneers before continuing on your journey.
After following the byway for about 25 miles, you will soon reach London. Stop at McHargue's Mill, a reproduction working watermill with authentic interior works built by the CCC in 1939 to pick up some freshly ground cornmeal. Also check out the Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park, featuring a pool, amphitheater, minigolf, and more. Visitors can also choose to go on an aerial treetop adventure.
After a busy afternoon, continue for about 24 miles to Renfro Valley. If you can, try to catch a performance at the Entertainment Center, a live music venue that features the sounds of Kentucky. There are many great options for dining and lodging here as well.
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