This is actually our second summer exploring the far western reaches of Virginia in order to drop-off, then pick up #1 Son to and from his summer job with Appalachia Service Project. After passing the sign to Natural Tunnel so many times coming and going, we were curious. This time we were on our way for a visit, and the pace was more relaxed. We were actually ahead of schedule so we decided to turn off the road for a leg-stretch adventure.
The Visitor Center greets you at the top of the drive. It offers the usual gift shop with books, postcards, t-shirts etc, as well as a small museum with basic information about Natural Tunnel geology and Wilderness Trail history. The Daughter, ever the rock hound, found an inexpensive mineral collection for sale.
Across the parking lot is a chair lift available to take visitors down to the viewing area and back. There are several wonderful scenic trails at the park, and one of them accomplishes this same goal, but it was late in the day, and we were not equipped for hiking, so we indulged ourselves! The chair lift ride is quite steep, but the beauty of green trees and high cliff wall catch your attention once you catch your breath from looking down. At the bottom, we hopped off our seats and followed the short path to the tunnel viewing platform. Photos don’t do it justice; at least none of mine did. 🙂 This old postcard with an aerial view does a pretty good job.
There is an immense curved canyon wall with tunnels at each end, carved out of the limestone by what is now Stock Creek. We were at the bottom of the canyon down where you see the train. Entering the tunnel is prohibited because the tracks are actively in use. After standing amazed, and trying rather unsuccessfully to get a good photograph, we took a short hike that follows the creek in the opposite direction to the Wilderness Trail Era Carter Cabin. The cabin, built of stacked stone and logs, is the oldest structure in Scott County.
The Visitor Center closes at 5 pm, so we hurried back to the chair lift for our ride back up the hill, and reluctantly got back in the car to continue our journey. We barely scratched the surface of Natural Tunnel State Park, but it was a wonderful way to stretch our legs, breathe some fresh air, cool off under green leafy trees, and see one of the wonders of the world! We hope to visit again!
A few photos:
The Carter Cabin is explained on this Virtual Tour video.
Natural Tunnel: Nature’s Marvel in Stone, by Tony Scales
This post, The World’s 20 Most Amazing Tunnels, has an aerial view of Natural Tunnel which shows the Park office and the chair lifts down to the river level.