Mon, March 10, 2014 • Clear, and 33 ° F.
Guest River Gorge Trail
Highlights: gorge geology, trestle-top views of the river, rare plants, river wildlife
Length: 5.8 miles (11.6 miles round trip)
Trailhead: From Dungannon, take Rte 72 north for 10.3 miles, a scenic route which winds around the eastern slope of High Knob. Turn right at a sign for "Guest River Gorge" onto Rte 1140. Follow the road 0.4 miles to the parking area at the end.
Facilities: Vault toilets.
View a larger version of the trail map (827 KB, jpg).
The Guest River Gorge Trail is one of the area's easiest and most scenic hiking and biking trails and is the best way to explore a State Scenic River on foot. The trail follows an old railroad bed between 400 foot cliffs on the edge of the Guest River, passing through the eighty plus year old Swede Tunnel and over railroad trestles which give the hiker sweeping views of the river.
The trail's first half mile is level and wide enough to allow a wheelchair to roll through Swede Tunnel and to the first trestle spanning the river. From there, the path stays primarily level, with a slight downhill grade which might become noticeable on the walk back. Mile markers make the Guest River Gorge Trail an excellent exercise venue, though most walkers and joggers can be found within a mile or two of the parking area. After that, the serious hiker is in for a solitary stroll with nothing but birds and wildflowers to keep him company.
The trail ends at the edge of an active train track, where the Guest River flows into the larger Clinch River. If you haven't had enough walking by this point, you can continue on the more rugged Heart of Appalachia Trail, which cuts across to the Sugar Hill trail system in St. Paul.
The Guest River Gorge Trail has something for everyone. Geologists are intrigued by the 300 million year old rocks which line the gorge and by the massive boulders which have fallen from the cliffs to lie beside the path. The railroad history of the trail appeals to amateur historians, who will check out the date inscribed over Swede Tunnel (1922) and then learn that the railroad was initially built to haul coal and saltpeter down the gorge. Birders keep their eyes open for kingfishers, heron, and waterfowl along the river, while botanists seek out the rare wild currants nestled amid the rocks beside the trail. All told, the Guest River Gorge Trail is the easiest --- and perhaps the best --- of Scott County's trails.