The state acquired the tunnel and 100 surrounding acres in 1967 from the Natural Tunnel Chasm and Caverns Corp. to establish Natural Tunnel State Park. Another 850 acres were later acquired, and the park opened in 1971. A modern meeting facility, the Cove Ridge Center, lies within the park. It came about thanks to a unique collaboration between the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Cove Ridge Foundation.
Natural Tunnel, called the Eighth Wonder of the World by William Jennings Bryan, has been attracting sightseers to the mountains of southwestern Virginia for more than 100 years. Today it is the focal point of Natural Tunnel State Park, a park which offers visitors not only spectacular sights but also swimming, camping, picnicking, hiking, a visitor center, an amphitheater and interpretive programs.
The creation of Natural Tunnel began more than a million years ago in the early glacial period when groundwater bearing carbonic acid percolated through crevices and slowly dissolved surrounding limestone and dolomite bedrock. Then, what is now Stock Creek was probably diverted underground to continue carving the tunnel slowly over many centuries. The walls of the tunnel show evidence of prehistoric life, and many fossils can be found in the creek bed and on tunnel walls.
Park Size: 950 acres. The tunnel is 850 feet long and 100 feet high inside.
Daniel Boone was probably among the first men of European descent to see the tunnel in that the tunnel lies along the original route he took westward. However, no one wrote of it until Lt. Col. Stephen H. Long explored the site in 1831 and published an article in a geology journal in 1832. The areas near the tunnel were mined for saltpeter during the Civil War. In 1890 the South Atlantic and Ohio Railroad arrived and, making use of the natural formation, laid tracks through the tunnel. In 1906 Southern Railway acquired the tracks and created a passenger line, the Natural Tunnel Line, which went through the tunnel. Large coal deposits were discovered in the area shortly thereafter, and although they no longer carry passengers, trains continue to this day to carry coal through Natural Tunnel.
Virginia State Parks are great places to discover and reconnect with the wild world. Bring a camera and share your captures with the world. But please don't disturb or get too close to the animals. The park is, after all, their home.
Hiking, mountain bike and self-guided trails - Natural Tunnel State Park has seven walking trails. The longest is 2.1 miles long. The trails lead to unique features of the park: the tunnel floor, Lover’s Leap, Tunnel Hill and Gorge Ridge. A 500-foot boardwalk and observation deck provide accessibility to guests with disabilities who may ride the chairlift, when operable, to the mouth of the tunnel. Most trails are open to mountain bikes.
Natural Tunnel State Park is in Scott County, about 13 miles north of Gate City and 20 miles north of Kingsport, Tenn.. To get there, from I-81, take U.S. 23 North to Gate City (about 20 miles). The turn-off to the park is at mile marker 17.4 on Rt. 23. Take Natural Tunnel Parkway about one mile east to park entrance.
Drive Time: Northern Virginia, eight hours; Richmond, six hours; Tidewater/Norfolk/Virginia Beach, eight to nine hours; Roanoke, three and a half hours Tidewater/Norfolk/Virginia Beach, three hours; Richmond, one and a half hours; Roanoke, four hours.
Scott County Park, nine-hole golf course, pro shop and picnic shelters. The golf course is in Gate City, Va., 12 miles south of the park. -- A walking track and lit tennis courts are available free of charge at an elementary school in Duffield (five miles from the park via Rt. 58). -- Carter’s Fold, birthplace of the famous Carter family (i.e., June Carter Cash, etc.) and includes country music, traditional bluegrass music every Saturday night; also a museum is open prior to show time. It's 20 miles from the park in Hiltons, Va. Click here for a schedule of performances. -- Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, 60 miles from park and offers scenic and historic areas, hiking, camping and visitor center, open year-round, fees required. -- Wilderness Road State Park is 55 miles west on Rt. 58. Wilderness Road illustrates the story of westward expansion in the late 1700s and has a replica of Martin's Station along the Daniel Boone Wilderness Road. -- Breaks Interstate Park, two hours from park and called the Grand Canyon of the South, offers 1,600-foot gorge, pool, paddleboats, trails, fishing, visitor center, camping, cabins, whitewater rafting and restaurant. -- Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, 20 miles from park in Kingsport, Tenn., Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Tenn., two hours from park in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. -- Rocky Mount Museum, 40 minutes from park. -- The Southwest Virginia Historical Museum, 20 minutes from park in Big Stone Gap, Va., illustrates the early development of the area and features exhibits on the coal boom era. -- Also visit the June Tolliver Playhouse, the seasonal outdoor performance of the musical adaptation of John Fox Jr.’s Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which is Virginia's "official outdoor drama," plus the John Fox Jr. Museum and the Harry Meader Coal Museum. -- Bristol International Raceway, 45 minutes from park. -- The High Knob Recreational Area in the Jefferson National Forest is in Norton, Va., about 45 minutes north of the park. The area offers hiking, picnicking, camping and fishing. Visitors to High Knob’s viewing area, which has an elevation of 4,223 feet, can there see five states on a clear day. -- Bristol Caverns, 50 minutes from park. -- South Holston Lake, one hour from park. -- Steele Creek and Golf Course in Bristol. -- The Lonesome Pine Country Club near Big Stone Gap. -- The Crooked Road - Virginia Heritage Music Trail
Natural Tunnel State Park, 1420 Natural Tunnel Parkway. Duffield, VA 24244-9361