Along the picturesque Highway 58 through Southwest Virginia is Wilderness Road State Park. Built around a recreation of the historic Martin’s Station, the park was the site of the last fortification before crossing into Kentucky on Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road. Today it is an exciting day trip visit with hiking trails, living history, and a fantastic annual reenactment.
Daniel Boone and the Wilderness Road
As large herds of American Bison roamed across North America they created massive trail systems. As settlers inched further west they began using these bison trails as routes.
In 1775 Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina formed the Transylvania Company with the purpose of settling across the Appalachian Mountain. Henderson negotiated the Transylvania Purchase with several chiefs of the Cherokee Nation, including three of my ancestors. The purchase included 20 million acres of land across modern day Tennessee and Kentucky.
Did You Know? The Transylvania Purchase, also called the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, was the largest private land purchase in North American history. The treaty was signed by Judge Henderson of North Carolina and five chiefs of the Cherokee Nation.
A few months later Boone began blazing the Wilderness Road in modern day Kingsport, Tennessee with twenty men. They stopped at Martin’s Station, the last frontier fortification before reaching Cumberland Gap and crossing into Kentucky. After resuming their blazing Daniel Boone made it to modern day Madison County, Kentucky at the Kentucky River.
American Bison Field
The first thing you will see when visiting Wilderness Road State Park is a small field at the entrance with a few American bison roaming around. At one point in history massive herds of tens of thousands of bison roamed across the entire continent. Those initial trails were used by Native Americans, frontier settlers, and have become the routes of highways we drive today.
Visitor Center and Gift Shop
The visitor center is a great place to start exploring the small Virginia state park. Here you will find restrooms, a gift shop, information about the park, and you can rent a bicycle for riding the Wilderness Road Trail.
Historic Martin’s Station
In 1769 Joseph Martin settled in Powell’s Valley, built a small stockade fort, and planted some crops. But just a few months later a roving band of Native Americans attacked the fort and drove Martin away. He returned in 1775, built a large and more permanent fort, and eventually became an overseer of land for Judge Henderson after the Transylvania Purchase.
Today Martin’s Station is a rather amazing recreation of the second fort built on this location complete with cabins, interior structures, and several outbuildings. The first time I visited was a weekend so I found reenactors inside cooking meals, hanging out in the barracks, and working in the gunsmith shop.
Visitors can take a leisure self-guided tour through historic Martin’s Station, learn about the local history, and maybe catch some reenactors at work. The biggest event of the year at this small state park is the annual Raid on Martin’s Station reenactment that portrays that initial attack by Native Americans in 1769.
Indian Ridge Trail
This short 0.77-mile trail loops through the wilderness across the parking lot from Martin’s Station. The self-guided trail takes about 15 minutes to walk.
Wilderness Road Trail
The Wilderness Road Trail is an 8.5-mile rail-trail along Highway 58. The east end of the trail can be accessed from a small parking lot along Highway 58. The west end of the trail ends at the Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
The trail is made of crushed gravel and pretty easy to walk. Visitors can walk the trail, bring their own bicycles, or rent a bicycle from the visitor center at Wilderness Road State Park.
The Raid at Martin’s Station Reenactment
Each year about a week before Mother’s Day weekend hundreds of reenactors descend on Wilderness Road State Park for the Raid at Martin’s Station Reenactment. This annual event includes a suttler’s village, tours of Martin’s Station, and both a daylight and dusk reenactment of the 1769 raid.