Blue Ridge Tunnel

The Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail opened November, 2020. The Blue Ridge Tunnel is a historic railroad tunnel built during the construction of the Blue Ridge Railroad in the 1850s. It’s located just off of U.S. 250 between the town of Waynesboro and Rockfish Gap. The trail is very popular and family friendly. During our visit we saw dog walkers, bikers, and families with strollers. Plan on heading there first thing in the morning if you want to find decent parking. It gets very crowded quickly. This hike definitely offers a unique experience.

Hours: The trail is open from sunrise to sunset.

Address: The trail has two trailheads-one on each side.

  • East Trailhead: 215 Afton Depot Lane, Afton VA 22920 (~90 miles/1 h 38 m from Spotsylvania)
    • 56 parking spaces. No bus parking.
    • Do not park in the lot by the law office. You will be towed.
    • Narrow 2-way entrance–only room for one vehicle
    • Trail fully ADA accessible.
    • Flat walk to the tunnel and fairly short
    • 0.63 miles from eastern trailhead to the tunnel entrance
    • 3 port-o-potties at the entrance to trail
  • West Trailhead: 483 Three Notched Mountain Hwy, Waynesboro VA 22980 (~89 miles/1h 35m from Spotsylvania)
    • 20 parking spaces available and buses may park here. 
    • The parking loop is one-way
    • Trail is NOT ADA accessible.
    • Walk is more challenging. You will encounter several short, steep ups and downs until the trail levels out. The trail will seem very long and steep on your way back to the parking.
    • 0.81 miles from western trailhead to the tunnel entrance
    • Port-or-potty at trail entrance

The trip through the tunnel is not quite a mile long. It will take you approximately 15-20 minutes depending on how fast you walk. If you have young children, it may take longer. Of course, your walk to the tunnel will depend on where you parked.

Most visitors only proceed as far as the end of the tunnel before turning around.

Click this link to learn more:

The trail has two trailheads, one on each side of the tunnel. The East Trailhead is closer to the tunnel with a much easier walk. The parking lot was recently renovated to add more parking spots.

The West Trailhead has a longer and steeper walk but has fewer parking spaces about. The western trailhead is easier to locate, though.

Tunnel Tips:

  • Don’t forget a flashlight. A phone flashlight is really not that bright. The tunnel is not lit.
  • You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • It can be cold in the tunnel. It stays about 50 degrees inside the tunnel. Bring a light jacket or long-sleeved shirt.
  • Be careful. It’s wet in the tunnel, and there are small slopes. If you’re not careful, you could trip.
  • The tunnel is wetter near the eastern side. There are small channels to funnel the water out of the tunnel.
  • LOOK for the BATS! They blend in well and may even be mistaken for rocks. We’ve been to the tunnel twice but have not been able to find the bats.
  • Bring water. You may need it especially if you came in on the west trailhead.
  • The trail is made of crushed stone — strollers and bicycles can be used on it.
  • Interpretive signs along the way detailing the history of the tunnel and its construction.
  • The mileposts for the trail are set from the Eastern end of the trail.
  • Dogs on a leash are allowed.

Interesting Facts:

  • Bricks line the beginning of the tunnel.
  • When the brick lining ends, the interior turns to rock. All this was dug by hand or by using black powder. Dynamite had not yet been invented.
  • About halfway through the tunnel, you pass under the Appalachian Trail. At this point you will be approximately 700 feet below the surface.
  • The trail was engineered by Claudius Crozet between 1850 and 1858 beneath Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 
  • The Blue Ridge Tunnel is recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Our family couldn’t wait to check out this new trail. Our visit to the trail was in March, so it was still cold outside. We left the Spotsylvania area early and made a day of it. We visited the Blue Ridge Tunnel and parked at the West Trailhead. Because we arrived early, we had no problem finding parking. When we left, though, the parking area was full and people were waiting to park.

The walk to the tunnel from the West Trailhead was long. We were excited when we finally reached the tunnel. It really was a unique experience to walk through the tunnel. We took our time walking through checking out the walls, ceilings, and floors of the tunnel. The kids loved looking at all the interesting rocks and observing the water around the floors and walls.

We started at the West Trailhead and walked through the tunnel clear to the parking lot for the East Trailhead. Then we turned around and headed back. We were not prepared for the long, uphill walk back to our car.

After our tunnel adventure, we headed to Waynesboro for lunch. Since there was no inside dining at fast food restaurants, we took our food to a nearby park–Ridgeview Park. It had a nice pavilion and play area.

Ridgeview Park | Waynesboro, VA – Official Website

We were so close to the Rockfish Gap entrance to the Shenandoah’s, so we headed there after lunch. Rockfish is the southern entrance to the Shenandoah National Park. Unless you have a National Park Pass, it will cost you $30 to enter the park. If you plan on visiting more National Parks, it will be worth your while to purchase an annual pass for $80. Fourth graders can also receive the National Park Pass for free: Annual 4th Grade Pass – Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

There are so many hiking trails in the park. We decided on a shorter hike since we had visited the Blue Ridge Tunnel earlier in the morning. Turk Mountain Summit Trail was the perfect ending to our beautiful day. It’s a 2.2 mile round trip hike with beautiful views to the north and west. The end of the trail got a little rocky which could be challenging for little ones.

Directions – Shenandoah National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

On our way home we stopped at the Ole Country Store in Culpeper (18019 Country Store Drive) for some ice cream. On Thursdays from 3-5 p.m., their ice cream is only $1 a scoop.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Blue Ridge Tunnel, you can watch this new documentary that aired on St. Patrick’s Day this year.

The Tunnel is a new 35-minute documentary film about the creation and the re-creation of the Blue Ridge Railroad Tunnel. In the 1850s, Famine Irish immigrants dug this nearly mile-long tunnel. Many of them were maimed or even died. In 1944 the tunnel was closed. But in 2020, it was re-opened to the public as a remarkable historic preservation site and tourist attraction.

View The Tunnel trailer:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maYZkHej0PM

View The Tunnel film on St. Patrick’s Day:   https://youtu.be/IRJGKjT-ahQ

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