Natural Tunnel State Park
Highlights: gorge surrounded by 400 foot cliffs, water-carved 850 foot tunnel, rare plants, trains
Length: Seven trails range in length from 0.3 miles to 1.1 miles.
Difficulty: easy to difficult
Trailhead: From Duffield, drive south on Rte 23 for 4 miles until you see a sign for Natural Tunnel State Park at mile marker 17.4. Turn left and follow the Natural Tunnel Parkway about one mile east to the park entrance.
Facilities: picnic areas, visitor's center, campground, playground, swimming pool, chair lift, canoe trips, cave exploration, campfire programs, geo-ranger programs, visitor center, and ampitheater.
View a larger version of the trail map (188 KB, jpg).
Natural Tunnel State Park offers a variety of short trails close to the interstate, perfect for an afternoon of walking.
The park is named after a 1 million year old cave which runs under Purchase Ridge, allowing Stock Creek to go in one side and out the other. South of the ridge, the cave opens up into a spectacular basin encircled on three sides by 400 foot cliffs. A railroad has taken advantage of this natural passage to follow the path of the creek, and daily coal trains can be seen roaring through the tunnel.
Of the seven trails found in the park, at least two are must-see additions to any Scott County visit. The 0.3 mile trail into the gorge is steep but short, winding down the side of the cliff to the mouth of the tunnel. A chair lift follows the same route, so even those not interested in a hike can experience the gorge.
Back at the visitor's center, a 0.9 mile loop can be created by following the Lover's Leap Trail to a stunning vista overlooking the gorge, then heading back along the Gorge Ridge Trail. Botanists will be enticed by the rare, xeric (dry-loving) plants found along the cliff edge while birders often see raptors circling in the breeze.
Other trails include the 0.7 mile, easy Tunnel Hill Trail; the 1.1 mile, difficult Purchase Ridge Trail; the 0.3 mile difficult Spring Hollow Trail; and the 0.7 mile, moderate Birding and Wildlife Trail. Visit the park's website to learn about cave and canoe tours and other special events.
More about the park: Natural Tunnel, called the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by William Jennings Bryan, has been attracting visitors to the mountains of Southwest Virginia for more than 100 years. Today, it is the focal point of the Natural Tunnel State Park, an 850-acre park owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The 850-foot-long Natural Tunnel is more than one million years old. The Norfolk Southern Rail System uses the track that winds through the Natural Tunnel on a daily basis. Visitor access to the tunnel is by a hiking trail or a chair lift. Once you make the 530-foot descent, a 500-foot boardwalk and observation deck are provided --- both accessible to physically-challenged visitors.
One of the newest features of Natural Tunnel State Park is the Cove Ridge Educational Center. Cove Ridge is a beautiful lodge equipped with meeting rooms and classrooms that are ideal for school groups, retreats, etc. Dorm-style lodging accommodations are connected to the main building. A huge deck on the back of the lodge affords guests and visitors a breathtaking, panoramic view of the mountains. For more information, please contact the park at (276) 940-2674 or 800-933-PARK. Or visit their website at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/nat.shtml.