More than 850 feet long and as tall as a 10-story building, Natural Tunnel was naturally carved through a limestone ridge over thousands of years. William Jennings Bryan called it the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Other scenic features include a wide chasm between steep stone walls surrounded by several pinnacles, or "chimneys." Facilities include two campgrounds, cabins, picnic areas, an amphitheater, a visitor center, a camp store and a gift shop. You'll also find the Wilderness Road historic area, a swimming pool with a 100-foot slide and a chairlift to the tunnel floor. Guests enjoy cave tours and canoe trips on the Clinch River, as well as the Cove Ridge Center, which offers environmental education, conference facilities and overnight dorm accommodations. A camp store and kayak programs are new this year.
8 a.m. - dusk.
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.
Its address is 1420 Natural Tunnel Parkway. Duffield, VA 24244-9361; Latitude, 36.696984. Longitude, -82.738577.
Drive Time: Northern Virginia, eight hours; Richmond, six hours; Tidewater/Norfolk/Virginia Beach, eight to nine hours; Roanoke, three and a half hours; Knoxville, Tenn., one and a half hours; Winston-Salem, N.C., three hours; Lexington, Ky., two and a half hours.
909 acres. The tunnel is 850 feet long and 100 feet high inside.
Cabins and Camping. For information on availability of overnight accommodations, particular park amenities or to make a reservation, you can reserve online or call 1-800-933-PARK. Click here for park fees.
Visit a Flickr photoset of cabins at the park. Cabins vary. Dwellings may not match what's shown in the photos.
Click here for details on reservation cancellation and transfer policies. A fee is charged per pet per night for cabin stays.
NOTE: Four cabins are under construction. Completion is expected in June 2016.
Weekly rentals, which are required for these facilities during prime season, start on Saturday or Sunday. Prime season runs annually from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Guests who wish to stay less than a week during prime season may call 30 days prior to desired arrival date to see if there is vacancy for two-night minimum stay. During prime season, cabin rentals begin on either Saturday or Sunday. See below for details. The park has 10 cabins. There are no extra bed rentals. A two-night minimum stay is required outside of prime season. Cabins and lodges are open year-round and may be reserved up to 11 months in advance. Cabin check-in is 4 p.m., check-out is 10 a.m.
The cabins are on a mountain ridge offering mountain views and access to the park’s trails. Winter weather can vary here, so be sure to read policies regarding transferring and cancellation of cabin rentals because of inclement weather. Late arriving guests should phone the park to arrange check-in several days before arrival, if possible.
Cabins: During prime season, cabins 1 through 5 rent weekly starting on Sunday. Cabins 6, 7, 10 and 11 rent weekly starting on Saturday.
Cabins 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are two-bedroom frame cabins. They sleep up to six and have parking for two vehicles. The cabins have one queen bed and two sets of bunk beds (sleep four) in a second bedroom. No extra bed rentals.
Cabins 3 and 10 are three-bedroom frame cabins. Cabin 3 is accessible to the disabled. They sleep up to eight and have parking for three vehicles. The cabins have one queen bed, two twin beds in second bedroom and two sets of bunk beds (sleeps four) in third bedroom. No extra bed rentals.
Cabin 11 is a two-bedroom frame cabin. It is accessible to the disabled and sleeps up to four. The cabin has one queen bed and a set of bunk beds (sleeps two) in a second bedroom. No extra bed rentals.
Natural Tunnel has one six-bedroom lodge (LOD 09-SAT). During prime season, it is rented for week-long stays that start on Saturday.
The park has two campgrounds, Cove View Campground and Lover’s Leap Campground. All sites have electricity and water (EW).
Cove View Campground - 16 electric-water hookup sites
EW - Electric and Water Hookup Sites (001 EW – 016 EW). Shaded and sunny sites are for tents, pop-ups and RVs up to 38 feet. Electrical service is 20 and 30-amp. All sites are gravel pull-through with a grassy area and have a campfire-ring grill and a picnic table. A bathhouse with hot showers is at the end of the campground loop.
Lover’s Leap Campground - 18 electric-water hookup sites
EW - Electric and Water Hookup Sites (LL 01- LL 18). These sites are for tents, pop-ups and RV’s up to 50 feet. Electrical service is 20, 30 and 50-amp. All are back-in sites and have a campfire-ring grill, picnic table, lantern post and utility table. Campsite 9 is accessible to the disabled and is near the bathhouse. The site is not reserved strictly for those with disabilities. Because sites are assigned upon arrival, ask park personnel for this site when you get there. Tents and all other recreational equipment should be set up within the campsite’s boundaries. The campground bathhouse has showers, restrooms and a laundry facility.
Total camp sites in the park of each type: EW: 34
Natural Tunnel's group site is in a partially wooded area about half a mile from main campgrounds and bathhouses. Parking is available at the site, but RV’s and camping units are not allowed.
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.
Visit the Explore Virginia Outdoors website for enhanced maps and video tours of Natural Tunnel's trails.
Complex includes a 5,400-square-foot pool, a large bathhouse, and a snack bar in the concession building. The pool is open daily from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Prior to mid-June, swimming may be available only on weekends, and the pool is closed on weekdays during the last two weeks of August. Click here for park fees. Except for group campers, swimming is free for cabin and camping guests. It cannot be guaranteed, however, should circumstances beyond the park's control require that swimming be closed. We do not give refunds for swimming to overnight guests under any circumstances.
There is limited fishing within the park along Stock Creek. Other trout streams also are near the park. The Clinch River, which is about five miles from the park, is known for a great variety of fish including, walleye, smallmouth bass, red-eye, bluegill and musky.
Throughout the year, the Scott County Regional Horse Association sponsors shows at the Scott County Horse Park, which is about 15 miles from the park.
Nearby Jefferson National Forest has several areas open to public hunting.
Click here for the park's trail guide.
Also be sure to visit Scott County's homepage.
Natural Tunnel State Park has five picnic shelters - three small and two large - for rent. They can be rented from 8 a.m. - dusk (all day). The shelters are available from March 1 - Nov. 30. Parking and swimming fees are not included in shelter rental (see above for details). Click here for park fees.
Cancellation policy: No refund within 14 days before reserved date. Before then, there's a cancellation fee.
Shelter 1 (small): This shelter accommodates up to 40. It's about 225 feet from the parking area and 500 feet from the nearest restroom and is ill-suited for guests with disabilities. It has eight 6-foot tables, a 36 by 36-inch grill, a water fountain and an electrical outlet.
Shelter 2 (small): This shelter accommodates up to 40 and is well suited for kids as it's just over 300 feet away from the playground. It's about 150 feet from the parking area and 275 feet from the nearest restroom. It includes eight 6-foot tables, a 36 by 36-inch grill, a water fountain and an electrical outlet.
Shelter 3 (large - 30 by 40 feet): This shelter, which overlooks the valley, accommodates up to 100. It features horseshoe pits, swings nearby, portable toilet units, a water fountain-spigot, electrical outlets, 16 six-foot picnic tables, a deck with another six tables and a 36 by 36-inch grill. People and supplies can be ferried to and from the parking lot, which is about 150 feet away, however cars must afterwards return to the parking lot.
Shelter 4 (small): This shelter, built by the Manville Ruritan Club, is well-suited for those with disabilities. It comfortably accommodates up to 30. It features fixed tables designed for wheelchair accessibility. It's about 160 feet from the playground, 50 feet from the parking lot and 20 feet from the restroom. It includes a 36 by 36-inch grill.
Shelter 5 (large - 30 by 60 feet): This shelter, the park's largest, was built by the Duffield Lions Club and accommodates up to 150. There are 20 six-foot picnic tables, two "Texas style" grills, horseshoe pits, a water fountain, electrical outlets, a sand volleyball court and a 230-foot paved walkway, easing accessibility. It's 280 feet from the parking area, 230 feet from the volleyball court, 180 feet from the restroom and 390 feet from the playground. Caterers may use the shelter's back entrance but must arrange for such access with park staff beforehand.
The park houses the Cove Ridge Center, a year-round day-use/overnight educational resource facility that incorporates educational principles and concepts within a natural resource environment. The center, which accommodates up to 100 for meetings and 48 overnight guests, features an auditorium, classroom, catering kitchen, resource library (complete with Internet access), observation deck, audiovisual equipment, great room with stone fireplace, dorm, after-hours swimming (in season and by reservation) and environmental education equipment.
The park also rents family lodges that may be use for small retreats and get-togethers.
The visitor center is open daily, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It's open on weekends from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. in April, May, September and October. Except for a Christmas lighting, the center closes after the last weekend in October. Visitors are provided with information on the park and its programs along with the surrounding area’s attractions. The facility has restrooms available for public use. You'll also find a gift shop and exhibits on the history and geology of the park there.
The Wilderness Road Blockhouse and Visitor Center, an interpretive area next to the park's picnic area, illustrates the role the blockhouse played in the 1700s during westward expansion of the nation. Hours vary so please call the park for specific dates and times. The park lies along the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail driving tour; click here for more information about the tour.
None in the park; the nearest grocery store is in Duffield, about five miles from the park. Fast food restaurants are there as well. This park has a snack bar in season.
The Lover's Leap Campground restroom has a coin-operated laundry.
The park houses the Cove Ridge Center.
Amphitheater - Located near the picnic area, the park’s amphitheater offers seating for approximately 4,000 people. The facility is ideal for many of the park’s interpretive programs and hosts a variety of musical programs throughout the year. Groups may reserve the amphitheater for a fee by calling the park at (276) 940-2674.
Chairlift - The Virginia State Park system has only one chairlift, and you'll find it at Natural Tunnel State Park. The lift runs seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. It also runs on weekends from the first weekend in May through the last full weekend of October. Contact the park for hours of operation.
Natural Tunnel State Park is also popular for weddings. It offers four distinct settings, one that can handle up to 200 guests. Learn more about this park's wedding options.
Weather and river conditions permitting, guided canoe and kayak trips of the Clinch River are offered on Saturdays and Sundays in season. Trips to Natural Tunnel via Stock Creek are offered throughout summer. Wild Cave Tours are available from April 1 through Oct. 31. Groups of eight or more may schedule tours at other times. Reservations are required for these programs - call the park at (276) 940-1643 to make a reservation or for more information. Guided wildflower walks are offered in mid-April; guided bird watching hikes are offered in mid-May. Guided walks, campfire get-togethers, astronomy programs and various kids activities are also offered. Candlelight Series at Cove Ridge, monthly, January - April. Run the Tunnel, late April. Pickin' in the Park, select Sundays, June - August. Click here to view all parks' events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs.
Open seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend to mid-August. This includes snack bars at the pool and by the chairlift. The snack bar operates during normal pool hours and has several tables. Mountain bike rentals are available at the campground host campsite.
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.
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.
Natural Tunnel was first surveyed as a proposed route in 1852 via a branch line, the Virginia & Kentucky Railroad, from the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. Plans ceased because of the Civil War, and areas near the tunnel were instead mined for saltpeter. However, in 1890 the South Atlantic & Ohio (SA&O) Railroad opened the line from Bristol to Big Stone Gap (and shortly thereafter, Appalachia), Va. In 1899, the Virginia & Southwestern (V&SW) succeeded to the rights of the SA&O and promoted the line as "The Natural Tunnel Route." The Southern Railway purchased controlling rights in the V&SW in 1906 and operated the line under the V&SW name until 1916 when it was formally absorbed into the Southern system. Under Southern Railway's control, passenger service continued, including the famous "Lonesome Pine Special," until 1939. In 1982, Southern Railway and Norfolk & Western merged to become Norfolk Southern, the present line. Hauling coal has always been the lifeblood of the line, and currently CSX Corporation also has track rights, so visitors may see either line operating through the tunnel. The trains now carry only coal, and the number of trains per day depends on the coal market. Those interested in possibly hearing train radio communication as they approach the Natural Tunnel can tune a scanner to 160.950.
The Cove Ridge Foundation has been instrumental in providing the support needed to host many special programs at Cove Ridge Center. The foundation is made up of cultural arts and education councils. Each council pursues programs that benefit the region. Click here to email the group.
Master plans must be written for parks before they're built. The plans are updated at least once every 10 years thereafter. The plans cover the size, types, infrastructure and locations of facilities as well as the site's special features and resources. Three public meetings are held during the initial development of each plan. Click here for this park's master plan.
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. Here are a few recent natural encounters others have had at Natural Tunnel State Park.
View all wildlife encounter photos from Natural Tunnel State Park.