Julie and I recently took a dream road trip, savoring the scenic vistas along Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. On the journey, you pass through one tunnel on Skyline Drive and another 26 on Blue Ridge Parkway.
To our surprise, we discovered that you could walk through a tunnel. It was one of our most memorable adventures. We will tell you everything you need to know about hiking the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail.
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Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, an adventure unknown to many awaits you. The Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail is a repurposed path that takes you through a historic railroad tunnel. You will hike in the dark through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Before reaching the tunnel, you can see the re-routed train tracks parallel to the hiking trail. You will find information signs along the course, providing insight into the tunnel’s history and the people who built it. Plenty of lovely plants inhabit the landscapes surrounding the area outside the tunnel.
The hike starts as a peaceful nature walk and a history lesson. Then you enter the long, dark tunnel with eerie sounds, dripping water, and uneven ground. Your heart races and your senses heighten as you adjust to your surroundings. Similar to a haunted house, it is scary fun.
Let’s cover a brief history of the tunnel and essential information for your adventure, and then we will give you our thoughts on the experience.
In the 1800s, the Blue Ridge Mountains were a barrier to Americans trying to transport goods westward. Crossing the mountain range by train was a monumental task that required unparalleled engineering skills.
Claudius Crozet, a French immigrant, designed the tunnel and was its chief engineer. Accordingly, the structure is known as the Crozet Tunnel or the Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel.
Construction began in 1850, with completion anticipated in three years. The hardness of the greenstone rock turned out to be a more formidable opponent than envisioned, considerably lengthening the project.
It is essential to note dynamite was not invented at the time, resulting in workers using only hand drills and black powder to dig the tunnel.
In 1858, the first train passed through the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway last used the tunnel in 1944, replacing it with an adjacent tunnel that could accommodate larger locomotives.
CSX Transportation, formerly Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, donated the tunnel to Nelson County in 2007. After restoration efforts, the Blue Ridge Tunnel reopened as a trail on November 21, 2020.
Blue Ridge Tunnel Location and Directions
When traveling in Virginia, many visitors are anxious to transition from Skyline Drive to Blue Ridge Parkway or vice versa. Blue Ridge Tunnel is under Rockfish Gap at the convergence of the two iconic roads.
I encourage you to take time to hike the tunnel trail. It is a unique experience and a hike through history.
So, where can you find the great tunnel? The Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail has two trailheads.
You can find the west trailhead at 483 Three Notched Mountain Highway, Waynesboro, Virginia 22980.
- From I-64, take Afton Exit 99.
- Go left onto 250 West towards Waynesboro.
- The trail entrance is on your left.
The east trailhead is at 215 Afton Depot Lane, Afton, Virginia 22920.
- From I-64, take Afton Exit 99.
- Go right onto 250 East for 1.5 miles.
- Take a sharp right onto VA-6 East.
- In 0.5 miles, turn right onto Afton Depot Lane.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How long is the Blue Ridge Tunnel?
The Blue Ridge Tunnel is 4,273 feet long, about 0.8 miles.
How deep is the tunnel?
At its deepest point, the tunnel is 700 feet below the surface.
How long is the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail?
It is 2.25 miles from one trailhead to the other, making the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail a 4.5-mile out-and-back hike.
How long does the hike take?
Generally rated as easy, the hike usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours of walking at a comfortable pace. The trail east of the tunnel is generally level, while the western half includes steeper sections.
How much does it cost to hike Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail?
I am happy to report there are no entrance fees to hike the historic railroad tunnel trail.
Is parking available?
The west trailhead contains 20 parking spaces, while the east trailhead parking lot has 56.
What are the hours?
Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail is open from sunrise to sunset.
Is the tunnel lit?
The tunnel is not lit. Hikers should bring a flashlight or headlamp.
Are dogs allowed on the trail and in the tunnel?
Yes, leashed dogs are permitted on the trail and in the tunnel.
Can you ride a bike on the trail and in the tunnel?
Yes, bicycle riding is allowed on the trail and in the tunnel. The Nelson County Parks staff recommends bikers walk their bikes through the tunnel due to its uneven surface and hikers.
Are restrooms available?
Portable restrooms are available at each trailhead.
What else should you know?
There are a few other essential items to note. The temperature inside the tunnel is consistently 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
In various spots, you will encounter water dripping from the sides and top of the tunnel. Due to the constantly dripping water, the tunnel contains ruts and puddles, making it another reason to bring a flashlight.
The 10-foot wide path consists of finely crushed gravel and is primarily level east of the tunnel but hilly on the west side. You will confront an average grade of 6.5%, with a maximum of 19% on the trail’s steep sections.
You will find a concrete mat stream crossing along the western portion of the trail. During or following rain, it can have water flowing over it.
What do you need to bring?
To make the most of your experience, we recommend that you bring the following:
Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail: Our Thoughts
I love opportunities that combine outdoor recreation and history. Hiking through a railroad tunnel is an absolute thrill. Walking through the mountain, I can imagine the clickety-clack echoes in the tunnel as the train speeds along the tracks.
Although not intended as a haunted trail, the dark tunnel and dripping water bring a spooky vibe to the experience. Walking through the tunnel with your light beam leading you around a minefield of ruts and puddles is fun.
I noticed that Julie walked at a much faster pace inside the tunnel. To this day, she swears the tunnel is haunted.
I have walked through covered bridges and short tunnels, but the Blue Ridge Tunnel is nearly a mile long. You are in the dark for a long stretch before you glimpse the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It adds another level of excitement, making the hike unique.
The experience is well worth your time and one that we highly recommend. Not far from here, you can find many other great places to explore:
- Crabtree Falls
- Wineries and breweries
- Orchards and farms
- Scenic drives
Visit the Nelson County site for more information on Blue Ridge Tunnel and other attractions.
Wrap-Up: Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail
The Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail is a rare combination of fun outdoor recreation and history. Your trek through the long, dark tunnel is exhilarating, making it a unique experience compared to other hikes. Grab your flashlight and get ready to traverse the Blue Ridge Mountains underground.
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