Growing up in nearby North Carolina, I had heard of Natural Bridge in Virginia, but never Natural Tunnel. This geological formation and its namesake state park in the southwestern part of the state was our next stop for two nights. Here's a description of the tunnel's history and geology from Wikipedia:
The Natural tunnel, which is up to 200 feet (61 m) wide and 80 feet (24 m) high, began to form more than a million years ago when groundwater bearing carbonic acide percolated through crevices and slowly dissolved limestone and dolomite bedrock. A small river, which is now called Stock Creek, was diverted underground and continued to erode the tunnel over many millennia.
There are a couple of steep park roads to get to the park's campground (come on Pearl!), but once we finally arrived, it was level and worth the drive. There are two camping loops. We chose the Lover’s Leap loop, which has 50-amp electric/water back-in gravel sites plus a new and very nice, clean bath house. The other loop is older and has 30-amp electric/water pull-through sites.
By our frugal standards, this is a relatively expensive park at $35/night plus a $5 parking fee per stay and state tax. However, an unexpected surprise was the laundry room in the bath house. It was super reasonable at just $1 each for a the washer and dryer, so I did an unplanned load. The campground is up high, so we got a good Verizon 4G LTE signal for internet but only one TV station with our over-the-air antenna, PBS. Better than nothing!
We chose site 6, which was large and level and had privacy from foliage behind, but no privacy in front, and not 15 minutes after we got settled, another rig came in and chose site 7 right in front of us, so we wished we’d chosen a different site. Oh well, at least it was a quiet couple! Our loop was only about half full on our first night, a Tuesday, and we noted on our walk with Paisley that the other loop was even more sparsely populated.
On Wednesday night two couples checked in after dark and took the sites on either side of us. They did not respect quiet hours, and their kids were running back and forth from site to site and chattering loudly until at least 11 pm, while the adults hung out around the campfire on site 7 (the quiet couple had left, unfortunately). This is one of the only times since we started RVing that we’ve had problems with noise after quiet hours, other than the occasional truck coming or going.
The next morning one of the women from the party put signs on all the site posts around us, so we think they were having a reunion or a large group of friends coming in later that day. We were relieved to pull out of there and leave them to it as we would have been totally surrounded. This is the level of activity we expect in state parks on weekends, but we were surprised to have this many folks mid-week after the start of the school year.
But the hiking was nice!
On our first afternoon in the park, we took a hike on the Purchase Ridge Trail. We had the trail all to ourselves, and it was so pretty, with beautiful fall foliage along the way.
I have always been a fan of this pretty evergreen ground cover, and there was lots of it along this trail.
The foliage was nice too!
At the highest part of the trail, we got a peekaboo view of the natural tunnel that gives the park its name. We'd see it much closer up the following day.
The next morning and our only full day in the park, we headed out to hike the rest of the numerous but short trails. The only one we missed on the map below was the Spring Hollow Trail. We would have hiked it, but we simply didn't notice it until I pulled this map up afterwards. Darn!
The Lover's Leap Trail is where to go to see the view of the Natural Tunnel from above. The chasm depth is 400 feet. It was a beautiful mid-October day for tunnel gazing and leaf peeping!
At the Visitor's Center, we bought a magnet for our board and a sticker for the back of Pearl. We also took in this cool locomotive engine, where I had fun playing train conductor. A busload of school children were just leaving from a field trip, so we had really good timing!
At the Visitor's Center we picked up the Tunnel Trail to get a closer look at the natural tunnel. This trail is only a third of a mile but has lots of stairs and switchbacks, so most folks take a chair lift down and back up for a small fee. Naturally, we chose to walk it!
Once at the bottom of the chasm, we were actually able to walk right across the rails to a deck where you could get a closer look at the tunnel.
Here's the tunnel from the side...
and the front! Too bad there wasn't a pedestrian walkway.
Here's a smaller, man-made tunnel looking back in the other direction. This is where we were able to cross the tracks.
After checking out the tunnel, we took a short spur trail (not shown on the map above) along the creek to the charming Carter Cabin.
After climbing all the stairs back up the Tunnel Trail, we hiked the Tunnel Hill Trail (actually much less hilly!) and saw this pretty specimen in full fall color.
We stopped for one last look at fall foliage from the Lover's Leap Trail on our way back to the campground.
Noisy campers notwithstanding, we had a good time visiting this state park. I am sure it is much busier during the summer, but we had the hiking trails mostly to ourselves, always a plus.
Next up, we enjoy four days in beautiful eastern Tennessee, where the fall foliage is absolutely PEAK.
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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