The High Knob summit forms the highest point in the Cumberland Mountains, towering to an elevation of 4,223 feet. A recently reconstructed observation tower atop The Knob provides a 360-degree view of five states – Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee – that allows sweeping vistas of much of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains.
However, High Knob is much, much more than a scenic viewpoint – it’s a mountain that acts as the heartbeat of this portion of Southwest Virginia historically, ecologically, and culturally. Learn more about the role High Knob plays in our region below.
High Knob drives Southwest Virginia’s weather. As part of the Cumberland Mountain region of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, High Knob is a unique mountain summit. Unlike the high, rolling plateaus of the rest of the region, the Cumberlands rise in the form of rugged, steep-sided, parallel ridges, thanks to the geologic activity of the North American and African continents colliding to create the modern-day Appalachians several hundred million years ago. High Knob, in fact, is the highest-elevation point on a nearly continuous ridge that runs from near the lookout tower westward, past Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and into Tennessee.
High Knob’s dramatic rise in elevation and geographic position – facing northwest towards the interior of country – make it one of the first true high mountains that storm systems face when rolling in from the west. As a result, High Knob and region surrounding it form one of the wettest and snowiest places in Virginia, since the mountain’s slopes enhance precipitation and can even literally create their own weather, causing communities around the mountain’s base to often have dramatically different weather conditions than surrounding parts of the region. Local climate expert Wayne Browning has assembled an impressive breakdown of the role of High Knob in the region’s climate at his website here.
High Knob is the epicenter of Appalachian biodiversity. High Knob straddles the watershed divide between the Clinch and Powell Rivers: two of the main headwater tributaries of the great Tennessee River and, together, two of the most biodiverse rivers on our continent. From the unique freshwater mussels and fish in these rivers to the central Appalachians’ remarkable salamander diversity, High Knob is at the center of diverse array of wildlife characteristic of the Appalachians.
The mountain is also home to a unique hotspot of millipede diversity, and the caves found in the limestone deposits below The Knob harbor the deepest cave system in the state and several species found few other places on Earth. While some of the region’s more rare habitats are protected, much of this diversity can be encountered on something as simple as float trip on the Clinch River or a hike into one of High Knob’s many hollows and coves. Learn more about this biodiversity – and why it matters – here.
High Knob is the backbone of Southwest Virginia’s culture. The communities surrounding High Knob are distinctively Appalachian, ranging from the coal country towns of Norton, Wise, and Coeburn to rail towns like Dungannon at the mountain’s southern base. The culture this regional landscape fostered created musicians like Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Carter Family, as well as enduring music venues such as Lay’s Hardware and Norton’s Country Cabin II. Today, the region honors its past and looks towards the future, developing new outdoor recreation opportunities in the towns around The Knob. The City of Norton is developing a mountain bike trail system on The Knob’s northern flank, while Dungannon and Fort Blackmore sit adjacent to the popular Devil’s Bathtub swimming hole. ATV trails also abound in the region, with hiking trails and river outfitters nearby.