Trail Report: Ewing Trail to White Rocks at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
The Ewing Trail up to White Rocks in Cumberland Gap NHP, is a strenuous hike that is not to be taken lightly. It’s not extremely difficult in technicality, but the terrain and the elevation gain make this hike a challenge.
The trail, which starts in Civic Park in Ewing, Virginia, has two entrances. One is for horses but hikers can take their pick. The hike’s one-way distance is 3.2 miles with an elevation gain of over 1,500 feet. Ewing Trail goes 2.5 miles to the White Rocks Trail, which continues .5 mile to White Rocks overlook, which has one heck of a view. Definitely worth the work getting up there.
Ewing Trail is a rugged double-track, wide enough for horses, all the way to the connection with White Rocks Trail. It is quite rooty and rocky the whole way. You won’t want to spend much time looking around while walking; otherwise you will end up staring face-first at a nice pile of … yes, I said the trail is for horses, and plenty use it. We actually ran across a group on horseback on our way up the mountain. On farther up, horses are not allowed.
Another word of caution on this hike during spring, summer and fall: Be vigilant and be smart. Bears are in the area. When we hiked this trail last year, we were a good mile and a half in when we came upon a bag of garbage that had been thrown around and obviously rooted through by a black bear. There are several little neighborhoods at the base of the Cumberland Mountains along the stretch of Highway 58 that runs along the mountains. It appeared as though a bear had made its way down the mountain, found an easily accessible bag of garbage and decided to bring it home for supper. Needless to say, we didn’t hang around the area long.
By the end of the Ewing Trail, just when you think things can’t get tougher, they do. At the 2.5-mile mark, you take the White Rocks Trail for the final push to the White Rocks summit. This portion of the trail is definitely harder in elevation gain than I have done anywhere else, including up Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains NP. On this portion of the trail, it’s best to take your time, keep your head down and push forward until things level out; otherwise, you might seriously consider turning back, but I promise you, it is totally worth it. Once you reach the top of the climb, you have another 200 feet along the ridge top before you climb out to the overlook.
When you finally make it to the top, the views are astounding. The thermal vents up the side of the mountain are constant and the birds of prey seem to glide around effortlessly. You can see all around for miles on a clear day. Looking back south and east into Tennessee and Virginia, you can glimpse the Poor and Powell valleys. To the north is Kentucky. Take your time up top to really soak in the views and enjoy the achievement.
We did. It was magnificent.
The hike back down isn’t as tough as climbing up, but it is just as rugged, so exercise caution. At the end, you will have completed a 6.4-mile trek just as we did, and will wonder how long before you can make it back to do it again. We’ve yet to make it back up; I think it might be awhile since our newest family member is due to arrive in December. However, I look forward to getting back up there, because there is more than just the overlook to see. There is also the sand cave, which is accessible by going to the left on the Ridge Trail instead of the right once you get on top of the ridge.
Tim and Robin