The Wilderness Road was a trail blazed by American pioneer Daniel Boone (c. 1734–1820) as he led settlers westward across the Appalachian Mountains into present-day Kentucky between 1761 and 1771. By 1790 the road that passed through the Cumberland Gap (at the intersection of Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina) had become a principal route westward. Settlers traveled Wilderness Road from Virginia, across the Appalachians, and into the Ohio River Valley. The route remained well traveled until about 1840. By that time the government–built National Road extended westward from Maryland, traversing the Appalachians, and descending into the fertile lands of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Boone's westward route allowed for the early development of the nation's first frontier—the lands lying just west of the Appalachians. Wilderness Road later became part of U.S. Highway 25 and it is today part of the Dixie Highway.
WILDERNESS ROAD ran from eastern Virginia through the mountain pass known as the Cumberland Gap, to the interior of Kentucky and through to the Ohio country. This road, first used by wandering herds of buffalo and, later, Indian hunters, was later utilized by Daniel Boone for the Transylvania Company. Boone's company traveled from the treaty ground at Fort Watauga, by way of the Cumberland Gap, through the mountains and canelands of Kentucky to the Kentucky River, where they chose to settle the fortified town of Booneboro. At first, the road was little more than a footpath or packhorse trail. Spasmodic but insufficient measures were taken by the Virginia government to enlarge and improve the crowded thoroughfare. After Kentucky became a separate state, renewed efforts to grade, widen, and reinforce the road began. Sections of the road were leased to contractors who, in consideration of materials and labor furnished to maintain the road, were authorized to erect gates or turnpikes across it and collect tolls from travelers. For more than half a century after Boone's party traveled the road, the Wilderness Road was a principal avenue for the movement of eastern immigrants and others to and from the early West. Only the Ohio River offered an alternative route to the West. Thousands of settlers moved west through these converging highways. The Wilderness Road is still an important interstate roadway and constitutes a part of U.S. Route 25, known as the Dixie Highway.
Chinn, George Morgan. Kentucky Settlement and Statehood, 1750– 1800. Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1975.
Krakow, Jere. Location of the Wilderness Road at the Cumberland Gap. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1987.
Speed, Thomas. The Wilderness Road: A Description of the Routes of Travel by which the Pioneers and Early Settlers First Came to Kentucky. Louisville, Ky.: J. P. Morton., 1886.
Samuel M.Wilson/h. s.
See alsoCumberland Gap .