& Natural Resources


Cumberland Plateau

Caney Fork River

Places Where One Can Still Sense the Pioneer Landscape

The Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Plateau, crosses ten states and extends from the southern border of New York to central Alabama. The character of the Cumberland Plateau has changed little since the Long Hunters first inhabited the area, despite the development activities that have occurred over the past hundred years. Notable differences in the character of the Plateau on the eastern and western edges are visible when traveling on the Byway over the geological formation.

Approaching the Plateau from the east, a broad, flat-topped ridge is characterized by its abrupt escarpment one-thousand feet higher than the Great Valley of East Tennessee, curving straightly and smoothly, and notched slightly by waterways draining eastward into the Tennessee River.

The western edge meeting the Eastern Highland Rim is characterized by ragged cliffs and is deeply cut by the Cumberland, Duck, and Elk River tributaries that drain it.

The dramatic differences in the character of the Plateau from east to west are due to compressional forces from the east that occurred 250 million years ago, near the end of the Paleozoic era, folding hard rock layers when the Appalachian Mountains were being formed. Erosion of various types of rock contributes to the interesting features in the Plateau topography. This can be seen at the sides of the plateaus, or the escarpments, where vertical bluffs are formed from the erosion of hard sandstone, which is also responsible for the Plateau’s flat top. The shallower, gentler slopes of the Plateau are formed from the erosion of shale and limestone.