Blue Ridge Parkway | CUMBERLAND KNOB TRAIL (MP 217.5)

Start of the Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Start of the Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Distance: .9-mile loop
Time: 45 minutes
Difficulty:  Moderate

The Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway leads to the top of Cumberland Knob. That may sound like a mountainous hike, but Cumberland Knob is only 2,850 feet in elevation, and the trail starts out at roughly 2,700 feet, so it’s really nothing more than a moderate climb. The Knob itself is located in the forest at the far end of the large field at Cumberland Knob Recreation Area. It is essentially a very long and narrow oval. You hike out on one side of the field and return on the other.

Start the hike on the paved path next to the restroom building. This takes you past some picnic tables as it follows the tree line on the right side of the field. The trail remains paved up until the point where it enters the forest.

Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway heads towards the forest

Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway heads towards the forest

The summit of Cumberland Knob is only .3 mile from the start, which is not even the halfway point on the loop. The first tenth of a mile along the paved path rises only 15 feet in elevation. This means that the trail climbs most of the 150 foot rise to the top of the knob during the next two tenths of a mile—from the edge of the forest to the summit. The first tenth of a mile averages a grade of 17%, and most hikers consider a 15% grade the start of strenuous hiking. However, the steep climb does not last long; the tenth of a mile just before the summit averages only a 6% grade. The trail surface has minimal rocks and roots compared to many of the trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, so that certainly makes things easier.

Typical terrain on the Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Typical terrain on the Cumberland Knob Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

You’ll know when you are at the top of Cumberland Knob when you reach an old shelter. I have no idea what this was once used for, but it is abandoned now. When the Blue Ridge Parkway was first built, much of the land along the route had either been logged or was being used for farm land. I suspect that there was once a clear view from the field below to the top of the knob, and walking up here was a popular activity. In fact, the whole area was once a bustling attraction. Stop today at the Cumberland Knob Recreation Area and you are likely to find yourself with just a few other people, if not alone. Up through the 1960s, automobile touring was popular for family vacations and weekend outings. However, Parkway usage is down nearly 40% since the 1970s. The average age of a Parkway tourist is 65 years old. Kids no longer have much interest in going for a drive. Things like the shelter at the top of Cumberland Knob are now overgrown, falling down, and largely forgotten.

Shelter at the top of Cumberland Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Shelter at the top of Cumberland Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Being at the top of the knob, it should come as no surprise that you’ll be hiking downhill at this point. You are faced with a steep .2-mile descent that averages a grade of 15%. And remember, Cumberland Knob is not at the far end of the loop, so when continuing on the Cumberland Knob Trail you are actually hiking farther from the starting point.

The far end of the loop comes a half mile into the hike. At this point you will have reached the bottom of the hill, and you will also be at the intersection with the Gully Creek Trail. This is an excellent trail if you are looking for something more taxing. To continue on the Cumberland Knob Trail, follow the directional sign at the intersection towards the Picnic Ground.

Intersection of the Cumberland Knob and Gully Creek trails at the Cumberland Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Intersection of the Cumberland Knob and Gully Creek trails at the Cumberland Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Just past the intersection, the trail begins climbing once again, though this time the grade is mild. The trail follows along a ridge, with steep uphill terrain on one side and steep downhill terrain on the other.

Blue Ridge Parkway's Cumberland Knob Trail follows along a ridge on its east side

Blue Ridge Parkway’s Cumberland Knob Trail follows along a ridge on its east side

The Cumberland Knob Trail eventually comes out of the forest on the opposite side of the field from where you started. From the intersection with the Gully Creek Trail to the restroom building where the hike began, the distance is roughly .4 mile.

Blue Ridge Parkway's Cumberland Knob Trail at the far end of the field

Blue Ridge Parkway’s Cumberland Knob Trail at the far end of the field

Since there are no scenic views at the top of Cumberland Knob, there really isn’t much of a reason to hike the Cumberland Knob Trail other than for exercise. If you can stomach something much more strenuous, but much more fun, skip this and apply the time to hiking the Gully Creek Trail, one of my favorites on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Last updated on November 12, 2023
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