Cumberland Mountains

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Cumberland Mountains
Cross Mountain TN.jpg
View of Cross Mountain in Tennessee
Highest point
Peak High Knob
Elevation 4,223 ft (1,287 m)
Length131 mi (211 km)
Width20 mi (32 km)
Map showing the Cumberland Mountains in orange
CountryUnited States
States West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee
Range coordinates 36°36′14″N83°40′27″W / 36.6038°N 83.6742°W / 36.6038; -83.6742 Coordinates: 36°36′14″N83°40′27″W / 36.6038°N 83.6742°W / 36.6038; -83.6742

The Cumberland Mountains are a mountain range in the southeastern section of the Appalachian Mountains. They are located in western Virginia, eastern edges of Kentucky, and eastern middle Tennessee, including the Crab Orchard Mountains. [1] Their highest peak, with an elevation of 4,223 feet (1,287 m) above mean sea level, is High Knob, which is located near Norton, Virginia.

Appalachian Mountains mountain range in the eastern United States and Canada

The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. They once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before experiencing natural erosion. The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east–west travel, as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to most highways and railroads running east–west.

Virginia State in the United States

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

Kentucky U.S. state

Kentucky, officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state located in the east south-central region of the United States. Although styled as the "State of Kentucky" in the law creating it,, Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth. Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 Kentucky split from it and became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th most extensive and the 26th most populous of the 50 United States.


According to the USGS, the Cumberland Mountain range is 131 miles (211 km) long and 20 miles (32 km) wide, bounded by the Russell Fork on the northeast, the Pound River and Powell River on the southeast, Cove Creek on the southwest, and Tackett Creek, the Cumberland River, Poor Fork Cumberland River, and Elkhorn Creek on the northwest. The crest of the range forms the Kentucky and Virginia boundary from the Tennessee border to the Russell Fork River. [1]

Russell Fork river in the United States of America

The Russell Fork is a 51.9-mile-long (83.5 km) tributary of the Levisa Fork in southwestern Virginia and southeastern Kentucky in the United States. Known for its whitewater, it rises in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, in southern Dickenson County, and flows north through the town of Haysi, Virginia, the Breaks Interstate Park, and the town of Elkhorn City, Kentucky, in Pike County, where it flows into the Levisa Fork which, together with the Tug Fork, form the Big Sandy River.

Pound River river in the United States of America

Running through Part of Wise County Virginia, and through Dickenson County Virginia, The Pound River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia. It runs from the North Fork Pound Reservoir to the John W. Flannagan Dam. Via the Russell Fork, the Levisa Fork, the Big Sandy River, and the Ohio River, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed.

Cumberland River river in the United States of America

The Cumberland River is a major waterway of the Southern United States. The 688-mile-long (1,107 km) river drains almost 18,000 square miles (47,000 km2) of southern Kentucky and north-central Tennessee. The river flows generally west from a source in the Appalachian Mountains to its confluence with the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, and the mouth of the Tennessee River. Major tributaries include the Obey, Caney Fork, Stones, and Red rivers.

Variant names of the Cumberland Mountains include Cumberland Mountain, Cumberland Range, Ouasioto Mountains, Ouasiota Mountains, Laurel Mountain, and Pine Mountain. [1] They are named for Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. [2]

Prince William, Duke of Cumberland Duke of Cumberland

Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland,, was the third and youngest son of King George II of Great Britain and Ireland and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach. He was Duke of Cumberland from 1726. He is best remembered for his role in putting down the Jacobite Rising at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, which made him immensely popular throughout Britain. He is often referred to by the nickname given to him by his Tory opponents: 'Butcher' Cumberland. Despite his triumph at Culloden, he had a largely unsuccessful military career. Between 1748 and 1755 he attempted to enact a series of army reforms that were resisted by the opposition and by the army itself. Following the Convention of Klosterzeven in 1757, he never again held active military command and switched his attentions to politics and horse racing.

The Cumberland Mountains range includes Pine Mountain, Cumberland Mountain, Log Mountain, Little Black Mountain and Black (Big Black) Mountain, as well as others.

Pine Mountain (Appalachian Mountains) ridge in the Appalachian Mountains running through Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee

Pine Mountain is a ridge in the Appalachian Mountains running through Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. It extends about 125 miles from near Jellico, Tennessee, to a location near Elkhorn City, Kentucky. Birch Knob, the highest point, is 3,273 feet above sea level and is located on the Kentucky-Virginia border. It has been a barrier to transportation as the Cumberland River at Pineville, Kentucky is one of only two streams passing through the entire ridge. The other is Hickory Creek near Jellico, TN.


Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) is involved with the conservation of the mixed mesophytic forests within the northern Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. The conservation organizations include The Nature Conservancy, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council with focus on the Cumberland Plateau. [3]

Oak Ridge National Laboratory government research facility in Tennessee, United States

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is an American multiprogram science and technology national laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered, managed, and operated by UT–Battelle as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) under a contract with the DOE. Established in 1942, ORNL is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system by size and by annual budget. ORNL is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near Knoxville. ORNL's scientific programs focus on materials, neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology and national security.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee City in Tennessee, United States

Oak Ridge is a suburban city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge's population was 29,330 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Knoxville Metropolitan Area. Oak Ridge's nicknames include the Atomic City, the Secret City, the Ridge, and the City Behind the Fence.

Cumberland Plateau

The Cumberland Plateau is the southern part of the Appalachian Plateau in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. It includes much of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and portions of northern Alabama and northwest Georgia. The terms "Allegheny Plateau" and the "Cumberland Plateau" both refer to the dissected plateau lands lying west of the main Appalachian Mountains. The terms stem from historical usage rather than geological difference, so there is no strict dividing line between the two. Two major rivers share the names of the plateaus, with the Allegheny River rising in the Allegheny Plateau and the Cumberland River rising in the Cumberland Plateau in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Geology and physiography

The Cumberland Mountains are a physiographic section of the larger Appalachian Plateau province, which in turn is part of the larger Appalachian physiographic division. [4]

Physiographic regions of the world are a means of defining the Earth's landforms into distinct regions, based upon the classic three-tiered approach by Nevin M. Fenneman in 1916, that separates landforms into physiographic divisions, physiographic provinces, and physiographic sections. The model became the basis for similar classifications of other continents, and is still considered valid as of 1951.

Appalachian Plateau Series of rugged dissected plateaus in the eastern United States

The Appalachian Plateau is a series of rugged dissected plateaus located on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Mountains are a mountain range that run down the entire East Coast of the United States. The Appalachian Plateau is the northwestern part of the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from New York to Alabama. The plateau is a second level United States physiographic region, covering parts of the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.

Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain is a long, narrow ridge starting in northern Tennessee and extending northeastward into southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Its southwestern terminus is near Pioneer, Tennessee, and it extends approximately 122 miles (196 km) to the northeast to near the Breaks Interstate Park in Kentucky and Virginia.


Pine Mountain is at the headward ramp of the Pine Mountain Thrust Fault. The hard Lee-type sandstones of the Early Pennsylvanian form the ridge line. The sandstone strata crop out here because northwestward movement along the thrust fault caused these sandstones to be pushed up the ramp and over younger strata. Because the sandstones are resistant to erosion, they form a prominent ridge along this ramp. The southwestern terminus of Pine Mountain is marked by the northwest-trending Jacksboro Fault, a lateral ramp fault (part of the Pine Mountain Thrust Fault).

The northwestern slope of Pine Mountain is cliff-lined (escarpment slope) whereas the southeastern slope is gentle, this is the dip slope, and it is roughly parallel to the dip of the sandstones. This is also the northern limb of the Middlesboro Syncline.

Several gaps occur along Pine Mountain, and these are usually caused by erosion along cross-cutting faults. These gaps include the gap at High Cliff, Tennessee (near Jellico), the Narrows gap at Pineville, Kentucky, and Pound Gap near Jenkins, Kentucky. There are other minor gaps as well.

Cumberland Mountain

Cumberland Mountain, not to be confused with the Cumberland Mountains within which it resides, is a long ridge extending from northeastern Tennessee, southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Its peak forms the boundary between Kentucky and Virginia in some areas. The southeastern side of Cumberland Mountain is a cliff-lined wall that was a barrier to exploration and settlement in Kentucky during the westward expansion in the late eighteenth century. The famous Cumberland Gap is one of several gaps along Cumberland Mountain that allowed access across the mountain.

Cumberland Mountain is a long ridge running from near Caryville, Tennessee, northeastward to near Norton, Virginia, a distance of approximately 97 miles (156 km). The southeastern slope of the ridge is cliff lined, whereas the northwestern slope is more gentle. The ridge is interrupted by several gaps, including Cumberland Gap, Big Creek Gap between Ivydell and LaFollette, Tennessee, Pennington Gap near Pennington Gap, Virginia, and Big Stone Gap near Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The crest of Cumberland Mountain ranges from 2,200 feet (670 m) to 3,500 feet (1,100 m) in elevation. [5] Cumberland Mountain is roughly parallel to Pine Mountain which lies from eight to ten miles to the northwest.


Cumberland Mountain is part of the Cumberland Overthrust Sheet or block and is the northern limb of the Powell Valley Anticline, a ramp anticline. The ridge exists because hard Lee-type sandstones of Early Pennsylvanian Age crop out along this line. Softer rocks have been eroded away, leaving the resistant sandstones to form a ridge. The southwestern terminus of Cumberland Mountain is marked by the northwest-trending Jacksboro Fault, a lateral ramp fault (part of the Pine Mountain Thrust Fault). The northwestern terminus is located near Norton, Virginia, where the hard sandstones dip below the surface as the axis of the Powell Valley anticline plunges to the northeast. The various gaps in Cumberland Mountain are caused by rock weaknesses at cross-cutting faults or joints. For example, Cumberland Gap was caused by erosion along the cross-cutting Rocky Face Fault.

The cliff-lined southeastern slope (escarpment slope) of Cumberland Mountain was created by erosion along the breached side of the Powell Valley Anticline. The more-gentle northwestern slope is the dip slope and roughly parallel to the dip of the Early Pennsylvanian sandstones. This northwestward dip is the northern limb of the Powell Valley Anticline.

Cumberland Mountain forms the drainage divide between the Cumberland River to the north and the Powell River to the south.

Synclinal mountains

Several mountains that lie between Pine Mountain and Cumberland Mountain include Black Mountain and Little Black Mountain as well as a number of smaller mountains (Short, Walnut, Rich, Log, Reynolds, etc.). These are all synclinal mountains and reside along the axis of the northeast-trending Middlesboro Syncline. The Pine Mountain ramp forms the northwestern limb of this syncline and Cumberland Mountain (the northwestern limb of the Powell Valley Anticline) forms the southeastern limb.

Further reading

See also

Related Research Articles

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Great Appalachian Valley

The Great Valley, also called the Great Appalachian Valley or Great Valley Region, is one of the major landform features of eastern North America. It is a gigantic trough—a chain of valley lowlands—and the central feature of the Appalachian Mountain system. The trough stretches about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from Quebec to Alabama and has been an important north-south route of travel since prehistoric times.

Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians Physiographic province of the larger Appalachian division

The Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, also called the Ridge and Valley Province or the Valley and Ridge Appalachians, are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian division and are also a belt within the Appalachian Mountains extending from southeastern New York through northwestern New Jersey, westward into Pennsylvania and southward into Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. They form a broad arc between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau physiographic province. They are characterized by long, even ridges, with long, continuous valleys in between.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park 20,000 acres (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) operated by the U.S. National Park Service

The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park located at the border between Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, centered on the Cumberland Gap, a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains.

Cumberland Gap narrow pass through the Cumberland Mountains

The Cumberland Gap is a pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland Mountains, within the Appalachian Mountains, near the junction of the U.S. states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.

Anticline geological term

In structural geology, an anticline is a type of fold that is an arch-like shape and has its oldest beds at its core. A typical anticline is convex up in which the hinge or crest is the location where the curvature is greatest, and the limbs are the sides of the fold that dip away from the hinge. Anticlines can be recognized and differentiated from antiforms by a sequence of rock layers that become progressively older toward the center of the fold. Therefore, if age relationships between various rock strata are unknown, the term antiform should be used.

High Knob mountain in Virginia, United States of America

High Knob is the peak of Stone Mountain, that forms part of the border between Scott County and Wise County, Virginia, near the city of Norton that rises to 4,223 feet (1,287 meters) above mean sea level.

The Potomac Highlands of West Virginia centers on five West Virginian counties in the upper Potomac River watershed in the western portion of the state's Eastern Panhandle, bordering Maryland and Virginia. Because of geographical proximity, similar topography and landscapes, and shared culture and history, the Potomac Highlands region also includes Pocahontas, Randolph, and Tucker counties, even though they are in the Monongahela River or New River watersheds and not that of the Potomac River.

Frozen Head State Park

Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area is a state park in Morgan County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The park, situated in the Crab Orchard Mountains between the city of Wartburg and the community of Petros, contains some of the highest mountains in Tennessee west of the Blue Ridge.

The Tennessee Valley Divide is the boundary of the drainage basin of the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

North Fork Mountain mountain in United States of America

North Fork Mountain is a quartzite-capped mountain ridge in the Ridge and Valley physiographic province of the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia, USA. Kile Knob, at 4,588 feet, is the mountain's highest point, and Panther Knob and Pike Knob are nearly as high.

Brush Mountain (Blair County, Pennsylvania) mountain in Blair County, Pennsylvania, United States

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Wills Mountain mountain in United States of America

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Geology of Pennsylvania

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Tuscarora Sandstone

The Silurian Tuscarora Formation — also known as Tuscarora Sandstone or Tuscarora Quartzite — is a mapped bedrock unit in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, USA.

Geology of Bedford County, Pennsylvania

Bedford County, Pennsylvania is situated along the western border of the Ridge and Valley physiographic province, which is characterized by folded and faulted sedimentary rocks of early to middle Paleozoic age. The northwestern border of the county is approximately at the Allegheny Front, a geological boundary between the Ridge and Valley Province and the Allegheny Plateau.

Foreknobs Formation

The Devonian Foreknobs Formation is a mapped bedrock unit in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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