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Cumberland Knob - Birthplace of the Parkway

Cumberland Knob, North Carolina is the birthplace of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Virginia is only a couple of miles to the north. It's such a fitting place to start construction of this monumental project, close to the border of the states that share the beauty of America's Highway.

Cumberland Knob Sign with Elevation and Historic Note of 1937 Opening


An initial proposal in 1906 for the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway was eventually stopped by World War I. In 1930, a road connecting the then new Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks was proposed. It was approved in 1933 as the Shenandoah-Great Smoky Mountains Parkway. Locals called it The Scenic.

In a couple of years time, the planning and preparation paid off. On September 11, 1935, the work quietly started. Brand new heavy equipment had been shipped in via the railroad station in Galax, Virginia. 100 unemployed men started clearing brush and timber.

The time was right, during the Great Depression, for a large public works project to create jobs for unemployed laborers and engineers. Contracts were awarded to private companies.

Cumberland Knob Former Sandwich Shop, Current Rest Rooms and Closed Little Visitor Center
In June of 1936, Congress renamed the highway to the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 1937, the Cumberland Knob recreation area opened to the public with picnic areas and hiking trails. In 1941, a sandwich shop was added. This era saw Cumberland Knob as the most popular area on the parkway. During the summer it hosted many church and family gatherings.


Today, the old sandwich shop at this milepost 217 recreation area is used for its rest rooms. The visitor center is closed. A series of interpretive signs tell the story of the beginnings of the parkway.

There are several nice picnic areas with both shaded and open tables and grills. Behind the visitor center is a picturesque overlook. Families come to picnic and enjoy each other's company in this quiet mountain setting.

Cumberland Knob History Sign with Mount Airy News Inset - Headlines
Cumberland Knob View Over the Foothills to the NC Midlands


After a picnic lunch, it's time to hike. Take a look at the NPS Cumberland Knob Map. It shows some good detail on the two hiking trails available here. Cumberland Knob Trail is a 0.5 mile (0.8 km) paved loop that starts by the large picnic area. It goes into the woods and up to the Cumberland Knob shelter at an elevation of 2885 feet (879 meters). This easy trail is excellent for families.

The more robust path is Gully Creek Trail. This difficult loop trail is published as 2.0 miles (3.2 km), but the sign says 2.5 miles (4.0 km). The path descends from the visitor center to Gully Creek. It follows the creek, where it passes by a small waterfall and cascades created by boulders. The loop returns by the large open picnic area.

Cumberland Knob Large Open Picnic Area
Driving this section of the parkway, milepost 217 - 245, pay close attention to the 75 year old stone guide walls. They don't look that old because they were recently restored. These classic walls were originally built by Italian and Spanish stone masons.

While visiting Cumberland Knob, make sure you go to the Blue Ridge Music Center. It's just 4 miles north in Virginia at milepost 213. Established in 1985, it's one of the newer facilities on the parkway. The interpretive exhibits and mountain music just add to your parkway Appalachian experience.

Today, this blue ridge mountain parkway is mature and beautiful. With uncompromising attention to detail, the landscape architects were able to turn a highway into an amazing parkway. The road, with its rock bridges and walls, enhance the natural beauty that surrounds visitors.

Put Cumberland Knob on your list of Blue Ridge Parkway stops. Here, where it all started, you'll gain a new appreciation for this engineering marvel.

You're at Milepost 217.

Heading North

Next Two Stops

Virginia State Line
Milepost 213 - Blue Ridge Music Center

Milepost 176 - Mabry Mill

Interested in other hiking?

You're 15 minutes to Galax, VA, and less than an hour north to New River Trail State Park, which is stretched out along the river for hiking, biking, and equestrian. Did you know there's a trail map for the entire area? National Geographic Trails Illustrated map 773 is for the New River Blueway, and includes parts of the Virginia national forests. Click below to buy from Amazon!

Cumberland Knob Historic Iron Sign Next to Parkway

Historic Iron Sign
on the Parkway

Cumberland Knob Shaded Picnic Tables and Grills

Shaded Part of
Picnic Area

Cumberland Knob Mileage Sign for Gully Creek Trail

Gully Creek Trail
Mileage Sign

Cumberland Knob Leaf Covered Gully Creek Trail in March

Gully Creek Trail
in March

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