Wilderness Road

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United States  Gotoarrow.png  Migration  Gotoarrow.png  Trails and Roads  Gotoarrow.png  Wilderness Road

Daniel Boone and 35 axmen blazed a trail called the Wilderness Road from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky for the Transylvania Company. When the trail opened in 1775 it became the route of 70,000 settlers who came to Kentucky on foot or horseback before the trail was upgraded to wagon road in 1796.[1]Wilderness Road Map.png
The Cumberland Gap in Winter.

Historical Background

In 1774 Judge Richard Henderson, a land speculator of North Carolina, hired Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. The Wilderness Road started at Bristol, Virginia (splitting off the Great Valley Road) and headed west along the Virginia-Tennessee border to the Cumberland Gap, across the nearby Cumberland River, and then went northwest to Boonesborough, Kentucky. Eventually, an extension of the road would reach Louisville, Kentucky on the Falls of the Ohio River.

The Kentucky legislature paid for the footpath to be upgraded to a wagon road starting in 1792. The wagon road was finished in 1796.[1]

The opening of the National Road in 1818 provided an easier, more level route to the Ohio Valley and Kentucky. With the introduction of steamboats at about the same time traffic on the Wilderness Road declined until it was nearly abandoned in the 1840s. However, it was used by both Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War.[1]


  • Bristol, Washington, Virginia
  • Cumberland Gap at the juncture of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky
  • Boonesborough, Madison, Kentucky

Later extension:

  • Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky

Settlers and Records

For partial list of settlers who used the Wilderness Road, see .

Internet Sites

Wikipedia has more about this subject: Wilderness Road


  • Johnson, Robert Foster. Wilderness Road Cemeteries in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Owensboro, Kentucky: McDowell Publications, 1981. FHL US/CAN Book 973 V3j.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wikipedia contributors, "Wilderness Road" in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilderness_Road (accessed August 4, 2010).